At forward with Rick Tocchet
By Bob Cunningham
Oct 29, 2001, 20:55
There are forwards who are content to simply outscore the opposition, without much regard for preventing goals.
“Ah,” they say, “let the defensemen worry about that.”
Then there are others who take the term ‘forward’ to mean that they are the first line of defense. These are the type of players who seek out goals only when real opportunities present themselves.
And then there is Rick Tocchet of the Los Angeles Kings.
A veteran approaching the conclusion of his 12th NHL season, Tocchet represents the multifaceted, less specialized but equally effective winger of eras gone by. During his illustrious career, Tocchet has scored power play goals, killed penalties and even garnered his share of five-minute majors. Throughout his career—whether in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles—he has been the epitome of the player who will literally do whatever is necessary to help the team win.
“I try to keep things simple. I don’t want to be thinking about too many things at one time,” he says. “You want your focus to be only on your job at that moment. You can’t be thinking about that dumb penalty you took in the last game or about the game-winning goal you scored. That’s history. All that matters is now.”
Tocchet’s career makes a point for substance over style. He’s enjoyed success everywhere he’s gone, but the game’s most prolific minds are hard-pressed to assess his skills technically. He does everything adequately because he works hard at it, but he’s not better at any one thing than anyone else… except perhaps when it comes to leadership.
“You lead by example, I guess,” Tocchet says matter-of-factly. “You have to be willing to work hard all the time and work at your game. Yeah, I think it’s more important to be able to do whatever is needed rather than be the best shooter or the best skater or whatever.”
Tocchet’s a big believer in the “mood” of a game. Momentum can switch dramatically on a single play, he warns, and the object of a good player—forward or otherwise—is to make plays that either swing the momentum in his team’s favor or prevent it from getting away.
“It might be a key goal or something else that’s obvious,” he says, “or it might be a key hit that gets the guys on your team fired up.”
Despite the fact that Tocchet has scored more than 300 career goals—including an LA team-leading 18 at press time—he is more often regarded as a hard-hitting, enforcer-type. Sure, he’s got the decent scoring totals. But the man has more than 2,200 career penalty minutes.
To that, Tocchet replies, “we’re a tough team to play against this year.”
Tough and touch
At 6’0” and 205 pounds, Tocchet’s frame seems right for an appropriate mixture of tough and touch. But, he says, there are numerous players who play tough and well despite being either too small to be regarded as a physical threat or too slow to be tricky with the puck.
“It’s really about being aggressive, within the flow of the game,” Tocchet says. “Tough and smart. I say that all the time.”
While Tocchet has shouldered more than his share of the offensive load this season, he admits he prefers to see more balance. And the main reason has to do with better play on the defensive end.
“I think it’s a lot more important to have 10 or 12 guys with 20 goals than to have one or two guys with 50,” he says. “If you don’t have to rely on the same two or three guys, you can stay fresher and cover the ice better when you are out there.”
Actually, Tocchet talks and acts more like a rugged, last-line defenseman than as a right wing leading a team—one that includes future Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri—in scoring.
“When I came in here, the first thing I realized about this team was that it was allowing too many shots,” Tocchet says. “You can’t expect to win when you’re allowing 30, 40 shots every night.
“And a forward can have a big part in changing that. Good forechecking. Not giving the puck away. Good passing. It’s all important. Last year, this team didn’t do any of that very well, or they wouldn’t have struggled like they did.”
After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, the Kings plunged to fifth in the six-team Pacific Division last year, and missed the playoffs entirely.
But with Tocchet in the fold and accustomed to his new teammates, the Kings are currently making a run up the standings that had them occupying the seventh spot in the Western Conference at the end of March.
It’s ironic to some extent that Luc Robitaille was the key player given up by the Kings in the trade to get Tocchet. While he’s certainly a standout NHL performer, with seven All-Star game appearances and four 50-goal seasons to prove it, Robitaille is a completely different type of forward than is Tocchet. Robitaille achieved his excellence and statistics through finesse.
And while Tocchet has never possessed Robitaille’s pure scoring skills, his approach to playing at forward arguably makes him a more complete player.
And, heck, the two were dead even in goals scored at last look.
— Bob Cunningham
This first appeared in the 06/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
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