Since the days of sandbox toddler tantrums, everyone has had their share of fights with their best buds.
In the case of most friendly fights, however, there are no physical injuries, no outside commentary, and definitely not thousands of spectators.
Not so in the NHL and other sports leagues, where athletes are put into regular situations where they fight some pretty fierce battles with some of their best friends.
LA Kings center Jarret Stoll is no stranger to this concept.
“I think in warmup you kind of look across and you give the guy a nod or a smile, maybe a quick ‘hello’ along the red line,” says Stoll, referring to friends he plays against. “Once the game starts you play the same way and you do the same things you would as if you weren’t playing against your good friend across the way.”
It’s fairly common amongst NHLers to go to dinner with friends from an opposing team the night before a game if the visiting team happens to arrive early enough. While this may make keeping in touch with buddies easy, what kind of effect does it have on the next night’s performance?
“Sometimes if you’re in a corner battling with a guy you might start yelling something or screaming something, but you’re still battling and you’re still being competitive and trying to get the puck and trying to make a play,” Stoll explains. “It’s pretty interesting sometimes especially the first couple times when you’re battling in the corner or you’re going to hit him.”
One of Stoll’s best friends is former Kings forward and current Vancouver Canuck, Brad Richardson. Both Stoll and Richardson came to the Kings organization during the ’08-’09 season, and played together until Richardson signed with the Canucks last summer. The two were housemates for part of their time in LA.
“You hope for the best for guys. Everyone wants to play, everybody wants an opportunity and he’s getting that in Vancouver, so I’m really happy for him,” says Stoll of Richardson. “When you play against a guy like that you’re happy they’re playing and doing what they want to do and in the lineup. It’s good to see.”
During the recent Olympic break, Stoll and Richardson vacationed in Punta Mita, Mexico with their significant others, where they had the chance to catch up, relax, and golf while enjoying some sun.
“It’s good to look across the way and you know we had a lot of good times and memories, he was a good teammate, but things change and time moves on and people end up in different places, it’s just the way it is,” Stoll admits. “But if you can keep those friendships alive and the communication there, when you get a chance to see each other you try.”
Scott Hartnell, a left-wing for the Philadelphia Flyers, is also one of Stoll’s best friends. The two grew up not far from each other in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, and although they didn’t play much hockey together, they’ve done well at keeping in touch over the years.
Each summer, Hartnell participates in Stoll’s charity golf tournament to benefit the Jarret Stoll Comfort fund and Stoll reciprocates the favor for Hartnell’s charity tournament.
“We don’t play [Philadelphia] that much, twice a year, so when we do we always get together and have dinner,” Stoll reveals. “It’s fun playing against him because he’s such a character and it’s always fun laughing at him.”
Stoll is adamant that safety is a top priority, especially when emotions may be running high while playing against a friend.
“You always make sure you make a clean play, doesn’t matter if you’re going against a friend or just the opposition,” insists Stoll, in his 10th NHL season.
During the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, Stoll was involved in a play that wasn’t rendered so clean.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks, Stoll took a hit to the head from Sharks forward Raffi Torres. The hit left Stoll with a concussion and Torres with a suspension for the remainder of the series.
Stoll was a groomsman in Torres’ wedding.
“It’s a hockey game, it’s a physical sport, things happen really quickly and there’s no blame,” says Stoll when asked about the Torres hit.
“We were great teammates and really good friends and I still talk to him occasionally. It is what it is, it’s a fast game, you try to move on,” reveals Stoll about Torres, whom he became close with during their overlapping seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
With the number of trades that transpire throughout the NHL each year, it’s highly unlikely that a player not have friends on every team.
How they deal with it is exactly what makes them professionals. Follow on Twitter: @by_DeborahLew
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