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The art of the chirp: On-ice talk rarely personal, always fun

Ever wonder what NHL players are saying to each other on the ice? Most of the time, it's rather mundane

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe / Wild.com

All Eric Fehr could do was smile. 

A week prior, Fehr was outed by Wild coach Bruce Boudreau as perhaps the chattiest player on the team. And Boudreau would know: He coached Fehr as a young player in both the American Hockey League and with the Washington Capitals. 

"I don't know how many times he'd come back to the bench and I'd have to tell him to shut up," Boudreau said with a laugh.

Approached a few minutes later, Fehr promised that was no longer his thing.

"I don't do that stuff anymore," Fehr said. 

At the neighboring locker stall, Wild forward J.T Brown overheared the commentary and howled. 

"I'm more of the motivate-the-guys kind of talker," Fehr insists. "I'm not really a chirper. Who said I was a chirper?"

Well, a few days later, Fehr did. 

In the third period of the Wild's game against Anaheim on Friday, and Minnesota holding a comfortable 4-1 lead, Fehr snapped a wrist shot labeled for the far corner, a shot Ducks goaltender John Gibson gloved down -- with a little extra sizzle. 

Fehr skated within shouting distance of the typically even-keeled Gibson, and soon after, Gibson was going after Fehr, putting him in a headlock. Tensions eventually cooled, and no penalties were called, but it was clear at that moment that Fehr likes to chat a little more than he might let on.

Asked afterward if he might have said something about the extra oomph Gibson may have put on the save, Fehr grinned.

"Something along those lines," Fehr said. "What happens on the ice, stays on the ice. I thought I made a good shot, he made a better save. And that's it."

There's certainly an art to chirping in the NHL, not to mention the different styles of smack talk. 

Of course, there's talking while competing on the ice. These are the kinds of interactions that tend to get a little more personal because players are in the heat of the moment.

Every NHLer has a story about these conversations, but few are willing to share them for fear of outing a fellow player. 

But some of the best talkers require nothing personal ... not even a cuss word. Which begs the question: Who's the best trash talker on the team?

"'Processor' ... he always gets me," Dumba said, referring to defenseman Nate Prosser. 

Prosser is one of the best humans on the roster, a family man who is a favorite in the locker room of every single one of his teammates. He's rarely, if ever, been caught on the record, or off, using a naughty word. 

But that doesn't stop him from talking trash. In fact, he might be one of the most effective at riling up an opponent.

"Nate Prosser has gotta be one of the most-chirped guys in the entire NHL," said Wild forward Jason Zucker. "Guys hate Nate Prosser but only because of the way he plays; he's always in your face. And you can ask guys on this team that have played against him, they hated him. But he's the nicest guy in the world."

Another one of Dumba's favorites is Alex Stalock, who has the unique perch most nights sitting on the bench as the team's backup goaltender. 

One of the chattiest players on the roster, both on the ice and off, Stalock is a vocal goaltender when he's between the posts, loudly communicating with his teammates about positioning. But he's also been known to get in the head of an opponent when he's not in the game.

"I love it when Al gets cooking," Dumba said.

Stalock says he's not afraid to use his status as a backup in chirping opponents and getting under their skin. 

"I don't say mean stuff; it's more stuff to just try and fire them up," Stalock said. "It's when they're already mad and I'm just adding to the fire."

During Minnesota's 4-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings in St. Paul last month, Stalock found himself in the crosshairs of Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who had taken an interference penalty earlier in the game.

"He was fired up already, so I just reminded about how dumb that penalty was," Stalock said. "It's not a chirp, it's more so to just get under a guy's skin. Then they get worked up because it's coming from the backup goalie and they tell me, 'Go play a game!' And I know, I'm the backup, what's your point?

"So they get mad that I'm the backup, then they tell me I'm the backup. It's perfect because it happened right in front of our bench, so the guys on that end of the bench were yelling at hm, 'He just played last night!'"

Said Zucker: "If you have Drew Doughty chirping at the backup goalie, you know you're doing something right."

Instagram from @minnesotawild: From the penalty box, art of chirping with @marcusfoligno17 & @ryancarter_22 for #warriorwednesdays

As effective as Stalock is in talking to opposing teams, he doesn't limit his chatter to just them. He takes great pleasure in getting after his own teammates. 

"The other day in practice, Zach [Parise] was stickhandling real quick and he lost control of the puck," Dumba said. "Then Al starts calling him MacKinnon. I laughed pretty good at that one."

No matter the target, Stalock has one rule.

"I think the simpler the better," Stalock said. "And if you have material on a guy, that's even better. My wife always yells at me for staring at people in public, but I take a lot of stuff in. I like watching habits of people. I think that helps, the ability to take stuff in. And in my position, I get to see a lot.

"Believe it or not -- and I don't think my mom would agree with this -- but I pay attention to a lot of things. Probably not in school, but I took a lot of stuff in with surroundings and it helps being aware of that stuff."

Information does tend to travel between teams as players move from city to city. Stalock used to play for the San Jose Sharks, so he can provide information to his current teammates on his former ones. 

Likewise, he's been the target more than a few times when the two clubs have hooked up. 

"That's how word spreads," Stalock said. "Guys play with one team and then go to another and maybe tell a guy, 'Hey, say this to this guy tonight.' It's word of mouth."

Zucker is another Wild player who is often caught on camera chirping opponents. But he says he's not as confident in his ability to do it well.

"By far, the worst chirper on the team," Zucker said. "I don't have anything good. There are guys that have great chirps and there are guys that don't, and I'm one that doesn't."

And while Zucker may lack skill chirping on the ice, he's certainly one to keep things lively in the dressing room. Whether he's referring to Wild radio host Kevin Falness as "Kelvin" or getting after Media Relations Director Aaron Sickman for opening the dressing room too early, no target is out of bounds for Zucker.

That includes best buddy Charlie Coyle.

"But that's too easy," Zucker said. "That doesn't count."

Perhaps Zucker's most effective way of getting under the skin of opponents is when he chooses to not use any words at all.

"That's why you just see me smiling out there, because most of the time, I've got nothing," Zucker said. "I smile. I want to say something but I can't; I can't do it."

So what makes a bad chirp? Being uninformed.

"We were playing a guy earlier this year, and I won't say his name, but we were lining up for a faceoff and he looks at [Dumba] and says, 'Nobody on your team likes you,'" Zucker said. "And I just laughed, because I like Dumbs. So he was wrong right there."

Ultimately, players in the NHL don't talk from a place of viciousness. Most are simply having fun, lightening the mood or pushing a guy's buttons to get a laugh.

Rarely is it ever personal.

"You can chirp me," Zucker said. "But I'm just gonna laugh because I got nothing."

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