Chandler: Hey, y'know what? I've got two tickets to tonight's Rangers game. You wanna come with me?
Rachel: Cute guys in little shorts? Sure.
Chandler: Well, actually it's a hockey team, so it's angry Canadians with no teeth.
—Dialogue from an episode of Friends
Maybe it takes four lines to win a Stanley Cup, but it takes only a one-liner to win the audience when the topic is hockey. Let's take those friends at face value for a moment. Suppose Chandler does snag a pair of tickets for a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. When Rachel and Chandler settle into their seats, Czechs Radek Dvorak and Tomas Kloucek and Petr Nedved, Russian Igor Ulanov, Swede Andreas Johansson and Mike Richter from greater Philadelphia might be on the ice at the same time for New York. In fact, of the 714 players in the NHL last season, only 53% were Canadian; that number was 72% as late as 1990-91.
The teeth? High sticks and errant pucks always pose a threat to the choppers, but the percentage of players with all their teeth is on the rise given the compulsory wearing of full face shields in junior hockey and by U.S. college teams and an increased use of mouth guards in the NHL. "Most young guys have their teeth," says 21-year-old Colorado Avalanche left wing Alex Tanguay. "The only time I've had work done on mine was for cleaning."
The classic 1974 Stanley Cup photograph of Bobby Clarke's jack-o'-lantern smile is as dated as rink boards without advertising. In addition to Chandler's misperceptions, there are lots of other hockey stereotypes that need debunking.
?I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out. If you're looking for fisticuffs, you're better off scoping out a mall parking lot the week before Christmas. Last season 61.9% of the games were fight-free (up from 46.0% in 1989-90). The culture of brawling, diminished by instigator and third-man-in rules legislated beginning in the 1970s, has been further marginalized by increased specialization. More than 35% of the fighting majors in 2000-01 were assessed to 33 players, resident enforcers who represent 4.6% of the NHL population.
?Those enforcers must be real animals. Todd (the Animal) Ewen, who retired in 1999 after an 11-year career, wrote children's books and made figurines from hockey tape in his spare time. Some tough guys of more recent vintage—Tie Domi of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stu Grimson of the Nashville Predators and Rob Ray of the Buffalo Sabres—are among the leaders in charitable works in their communities. "Fighters generally don't fight for themselves; they fight for their teammates and for their jersey," Detroit Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis says. "It's in their nature to be selfless. If a kid gets dropped off in the dressing room, he'll usually be put in front of an enforcer's locker. Those guys might play two minutes a game, but they're the favorites of children."
?Hockey players drink a lot of beer. The truth is, hockey players have become wine snobs. New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens estimates that his 1,200-bottle collection is worth between $60,000 and $70,000, but that is the pale blush of a white Zinfandel compared with the 5,000 bottles that Pittsburgh Penguins player-owner Mario Lemieux has in his 24-by-24-foot wine cellar. "The challenge is finding great wines priced right," says Stevens, one of several Devils who know that a premier cru has nothing to do with Tony Soprano's boys. "Everybody knows the big names, but finding sleepers is fun."
The wine trend began about 10 years ago when salaries jumped and NHL initiation rites changed from the time-honored full-body shave to the bacchanal of the rookie dinner, a team affair in which the only things shaved are the rookies' bank accounts. The wine list is often read from left to right at these meals, and if a first-year player isn't too numb from sticker shock, he might begin to develop a palate. "We had ours at Bern's," Montreal Canadiens right wing Brian Savage says of his rookie dinner seven years ago at the renowned Tampa steak house, which features a prodigious wine list. "I sat with Mark Recchi, Vincent Damphousse and Val Bure and learned a lot." Even players who still get carded in liquor stores are joining the craze: In the plans for his new house 24-year-old Sabres goalie Martin Biron has included a wine cave.
?Hockey players aren't rocket scientists. No, but some of them are close. Montreal center Jo� Juneau earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y., one of the leading engineering schools in the U.S. He did that in three years, in his second language. "The first year was tough," says Juneau, a Francophone. "In class I would repeat an English sentence in my head 10 times to make sure it would come out O.K."
Juneau, 33, who grew up in Pont-Rouge, a Quebec City suburb, is one of the smartest men in pro sports, a designation that makes him cringe. He ascribes his successes, like building a two-seat airplane with his father, Georges, in his dad's basement in 18 months or constructing a cedar canoe from scratch, not to brains but to desire. "When I have a passion for something, I seem to have whatever it takes to do it," says Juneau, who earned his pilot's license in 19 days. Ron Wilson, who coached Juneau on the Washington Capitals from 1997 to '99, taped Mensa questions to the bulletin board for Juneau's amusement. Before long Juneau and other players, such as Todd Krygier, were bringing in their own brainteasers. Juneau's favorite, which he tried on his Ottawa Senators' teammates after signing with them in 1999, was, What is one divided by zero? "Your high school math teacher probably said you couldn't divide a number by zero because he didn't want to go into it," Juneau says, "but when you get into higher mathematics, it's easy."