Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 19 News List

Snipers, danglers skate amid unusual hockey-speak

NY Times News Service

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz knows an “honest” game when he sees one — and it has nothing to do with officiating.

“It’s total commitment,” he said. “It’s making good decisions on both sides of the puck. That’s what coaches mean when they say: ‘Play the right way.’ Play the right way is full commitment with no cheat in your game.”

When he says a player has “cheat in his game,” he is referring to taking shortcuts.

Like most sports, the NHL has its own language, but it is clear to those who play the game, whether they are from Moose Jaw or Minneapolis, Moscow or Malmo.

However, because so much of the sport is rooted in Canada, ice hockey’s terminology tends to come off a little differently to those with an untrained ear.

It is a game sometimes played in “barns” by “boys” wearing “sweaters.” An on-target shot might be “marked” or “labeled.” Members of a team’s top-two forward lines are skilled players who “pot” goals. Those with a ferocious shot are often called snipers. Others might set up goals by “dangling,” or skillfully maneuvering around defenders.

Forwards on third or fourth lines were once called enforcers or goons. Today, those players are more likely to be called checkers, muckers or grinders. They play with “jam.”

Jam has long been part of the hockey lexicon, but it reached the mainstream because Peter Laviolette used the term on HBO’s 24/7 ahead of the 2012 Winter Classic.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL player and coach who is a television analyst, defined it as: “Guts, character. A guy that will stick up for himself and for his teammates. A guy who plays with courage; it’s sort of interchangeable with courage.”

Jam is easily confused with “sandpaper” — the character of a hardworking player.

“It’s the same thing, but maybe a little grittier,” Melrose said. “A guy who instigates a little more.”

For those who venture to the NHL from overseas, it can take a while to understand some of these unusual terms and the North American hockey system.

“With time, it helped, you know, with the coaches and learning,” New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said. “I think language is one thing, but then learning a North American way of hockey, too. I think it’s all combined.”

Zubrus, who has played more NHL games than anyone else from Lithuania, picked up the language and jargon when he stayed with host families while touring North America with an elite European team.

“That helped a lot,” Zubrus said. “By the time even I got to juniors, of course I got better over the years, but I was good enough where I could at least talk to some teammates and understand jokes a little bit, so it keeps you a little more involved.”

Zubrus, 36, has noticed less of a barrier for young European players who venture to North America.

“I think now, with all the social media and the whole Internet and everything else, I see guys coming in, they can speak English better than people did 20 years ago,” Zubrus said. “Social media, and now even in Europe they have TV shows that are not even translated and maybe just subtitles in their home language. There’s a lot of ways you can learn now and guys come in a lot more ready now.”

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