November 15, 2015

Derian Hatcher

Derian Hatcher announced his retirement in the summer of 2009.

The post-NHL lockout world was not made for Derian Hatcher, and it showed. In fact, he was the poster boy of old warriors who could not play in the "new NHL." But in the years of the ultra-physical, tight checking NHL leading up to that time, Hatcher was one of the biggest, baddest and most feared men in hockey.

And one of the most effective. He was a tower of power with Dallas when he captained the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup. He was also a starring figure for the Americans at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. For a good portion of the 1990s he was a top 10 defenseman in the NHL.

He was always amongst my favorite players. From his effort and intensity, to his surprisingly effective hockey mind, he was a player I know I tried to emulate when playing street hockey and floor hockey back in the 1990s. I was too old to keep up with the young whippersnappers I played with, but I took great pride in my defensive play and my physicality, even though there was no hitting supposedly allowed.

Derian Hatcher would have been proud of me.

I liked Hatcher because he was a force. He was huge at 6'5" and 225lbs, and he hit like a Mack truck. He kept the slot clean of defenders back in the pre-lockout era when you could do so by any means necessary. Hatcher invented many of those means.

He was fearless in his intimidating physical game, demanding respect and room. He also had a real mean streak - just ask Jeremy Roenick. I could not imagine how scary it would be for a forward coming down Hatcher's wing, fully knowing he was going to jar every bone of your body and enjoy it. Hatcher intimidate me at home sitting on my couch.

Hatcher was intelligent about it though. He knew when to stay out of the penalty box, despite what his career 1581 penalty minutes might suggest. He picked his spots, knowing he was too valuable to his team. He was a real work horse, eating up big minutes in all key situations.

Hatcher was a real old school defenseman. He would have fit in wonderfully in long ago eras of Tim Horton or Fern Flaman or Terry Harper. He was almost that good. In a game which demands toughness, Derian Hatcher was the toughest.

Defense was Hatcher's specialty. He had a good head for the offensive game, just not the legs. His skating was laboured, so he learned early not get himself into spots where he could not hurry back. Instead he smartly positioned himself so that the play came to him.

He had good hands for such a big man. He had a good first pass and could handle the puck in traffic. He was a regular on the power play thanks to a smart wrist shot that he more often than not got on net. Occassionally he would move off the line and crash the net with his big body.

He was also a great leader. It was Hatcher that captained the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. He was also a key contributer to USA's World Cup of Hockey victory in 1996.

Unable to use his stick and body so liberally in the post-lockout NHL, an aging Hatcher was exposed as a player who was unable to keep up in the "new NHL." I think that was a bit of an unfair label for him. Injuries really took their toll, most notably to his knees which slowed down the already-lumbering big man even more. Had Hatcher stayed healthy I think he would have been just fine in the "new NHL."

Derian Hatcher was a very good defenseman in the NHL, the type of defenseman every team in the league wishes they had. He could play on my team any day of the week.

1 comment:

Nate Smith said...

I grew up watching Hatcher and he was the type of defenseman any team that was going to compete for the cup needed. He was the type of player that would make forwards look over their shoulder when going into corners and dislike getting to the front of the net. This definitely gave the teams he played for a psychological edge. He also had the skills and hockey smarts not to leave his teams with a weakness when he was on the ice. I agree, one of the top defensemen of his time.