PHILADELPHIA – As Nick Grossmann removes his equipment after practice, he looks like a Roman Gladiator.
Dripping with sweat, he removes more padding and supportive gear than maybe any other athlete in the game of hockey.
There are pads beneath his shoulder pads. There are not one, but two knee braces. There is extra cushioning around his ankles. His wrists are taped. His helmet has that little bit of extra padding that guys who have suffered concussions have added to it for a bit more safety.
And as he gears down, the image of a spelunker who had just emerged from days inside an unexplored cavern comes into focus, and yet, this is after skating for about a half hour – with his own teammates.
You can imagine what it’s like for him after a game then. After battling against opponents for 60 minutes. After delivering big hits. After blocking shot after shot after shot.
It’s definitely a war of attrition. It’s definitely an under-appreciated job. But that matters little to Grossmann, who simply comes to the rink and goes to work.
And he has now done that 400 times in his career, a fine milestone in the NHL for a player who puts himself at such great physical risk nearly every shift.
“He’s played really well for us,” said his coach Craig Berube. “Really well. He’s been strong defensively. He’s done a good job with the puck. He’s defended really well and we use him in a lot of key situations. He’s played really well.”
Berube repeated himself three times there, but not because he couldn’t find the words, but rather for emphasis.
In other words, Grossmann has been the Flyers best defenseman through the first 14 games of the season.
His 44 hits rank tied for 21st in the league overall but No. 5 among defensemen. His 40 blocked shots are tied for sixth-most in the NHL.
And now that he’s paired with Mark Streit, he can simply do what he does best and not have to worry so much about moving the puck and starting offensive rushes.
“We complement each other really well,” Grossmann said. “It’s because he is completely different from me. He’s a great skater and a good puck handler and really offensive. I try to take care of all the other stuff. I take care of the back end. That’s how you are supposed to play. You help each other out. The fact that he can move the puck like he does allows me to focus on what I can do really well.”
And that’s being a defensive hammer.
“When you have a puck mover with him it really works well,” Berube said. “He’s been very good with his physical play and blocking shots. He’s in a good situation where he can move his puck to his partner and then not have to worry about that so much and can concentrate on the defensive side of the game.”
He’s one of the key reasons too why the Flyers penalty kill has been so staunch – tied for eighth in the league at 85.2 percent.
And now, 400 games into an NHL career, coming off a season filled with injury, he’s as healthy as he’s ever been, playing with a partner he’s comfortable with and is playing his best hockey.
“It’s part of the job [taking a beating],” Grossmann said. “It’s my style and it’s my job. Last year was a tough year but it feels good to be healthy and I’m just going to keep plugging away.”
The Flyers will be quite content with that approach the rest of the way.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-Spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers