DETROIT – Players who enjoying their roles as agitators can be a referee’s worst nightmare. But not Kirk Maltby, the veteran forward, who made a career of being a grinder and was rewarded for doing so with four Stanley Cup championships.
“I always enjoyed refereeing him because he was an honest player,” said Bill McCreary, the NHL’s senior referee, who spoke to DetroitRedWings.com following Maltby’s retirement press conference on Tuesday.
“He always worked really, really hard every shift,” McCreary said. “He spoke about being a team player, and obviously he certainly was. He didn’t look for accolades, he just worked hard every night and did what he was asked to do by the coaches that he played for. Kirk was never a problem when I refereed, I always enjoyed refereeing him.”
Maltby may not have sought accolades. But thanks to his work ethic and commitment to being a role player and contributing in any way he could, they came to him.
He won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and captured gold at the 2003 World Championships, and 2004 World Cup as a member of Team Canada.
“Kirk’s one of the few guys where he really understands the team concept, and he understands what it takes to win as a team,” said Brad Pascall, vice president of hockey operations for Hockey Canada, who was involved with Maltby each time the veteran forward was added to the national team.
“I think it’s a special trait to have ... He can score big goals for you, but at the same time, his ability to block a shot or get under the skin of the other players is just as important in a team concept,” Pascall said. “There’s no question, Kirk’s work ethic and knowing his role on the ice, really the chemistry of what it takes to win is one of his strengths, and really what he brought to us. He brought that intangible to our teams that is needed in order to win.”
Pascall said Maltby’s reputation around the NHL as an agitator didn’t always make him a favorite in the Canadian’s locker room. But it didn’t take long for his Team Canada teammates to realize that Maltby was the type of guy they wanted on their side.
“I think coming in, some of the players didn’t like him just from playing against him,” Pascall said. “But once they knew he was on their team, they obviously loved him. And nothing against him as a person, but that just shows the respect other players on our team had for him. They hated playing against him, but they loved having him on the team. I think that’s a good quality to have and something he should be proud of when some of the top players in the game are telling him that they absolutely hate playing against him and hate him, but now that they got to know him and he’s on their team, they love him.”
McCreary agreed, emphasizing that Maltby was never a dirty player – he just enjoyed the physicality of the game.
And according to Maltby, that’s the type of player he’d like to be remembered as.
“I had a role, I kind of knew what my role was. ... I was a pain in the ass,” Maltby said with a laugh. “But I didn’t mind giving those shots. I know I took my share of shots too, and I didn’t mind that part. ... I liked that. It’s kind of the game within the game. Most times the other guys didn’t see it that way, but I’d just like to think I was the guy who came and worked hard, whether it’s in practice or the game, and come game time, all I wanted to do was win. I did what I had to do to help my team win.”