GLENDALE – Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett is known for admiring and utilizing players who do the little things and/or the dirty work that help teams win hockey games. The “fancy stats” are fine, Tippett says, but teams win and lose based on how well they perform and manage the details of the game.
“All these ‘fancy stats’ sometimes don’t tell the true story of what actually happens in the game,” Tippett said after Monday’s practice. “’Fancy stats’ are for people that want to be fancy and act smart and feel like they know everything about the game, but when you get in the trenches the ‘fancy stats’ don’t matter that much. ‘Gross’ is a guy that plays in the trenches.”
“Gross” is defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, and he has made a huge impact in Arizona’s first two games of the season.
Huge is the key word. Grossmann stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds and he uses his solid frame with authority. Coyotes fans already have seen that in the first two games of the season – both wins.
“He’s just a big, heavy guy,” Tippett said. “In those crucial situations around the net he plays big and heavy… Do you want him running your power play? No. But do you want him on the ice clearing people out in front of your net with three seconds to go in the game? Yeah. He can be an effective player in certain situations.”
Grossmann, whom goalie Mike Smith calls a “Teddy bear” off the ice, plays more like an intimidating grizzly bear on it.
His approach is simple.
“I’m trying to keep the crease clear for Mike (Smith),” Grossmann said. “That’s our job. If we can do that and let him see the puck and not get bugged by other guys, I think we’re doing a good job.”
The Coyotes acquired Grossmann, 30, in a trade with Philadelphia in June for forward Sam Gagner and a conditional fourth-round draft choice in 2017. He has been paired with defenseman Connor Murphy since the first day of training camp. Both say they are enjoying the partnership.
“He’s awesome,” Murphy said. “I’ve been so impressed. I knew he was a good defenseman but he’s so strong that guys can’t get by him. He just gets an arm on them and stops the play. It’s cool to see the replays and how he manhandles some guys.”
Grossmann, whose favorite NHL player growing up was (not surprisingly) Scott Stevens, has played 533 NHL games since being drafted 56th overall by Dallas in 2004.
“I know how I have to play to contribute,” Grossmann said. “I need to play hard and have that edge to my game, and I think it’s just a habit. I’ve been doing it so long and that’s how I have to play to be good.”
He added, “Maybe it sounds weird to some guys but sometimes it almost feels better to block a shot from going in than scoring a goal. It’s just taking pride in what you do. It’s not all that fun all the time, but it can help the team win.”
And that, of course, is music to Tippett’s ears.