Dunlap: An Appreciation Of Guys Like Hornqvist

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – I’m not one of these guys who needs to point out the toughness of hockey players every time one of them gets walloped in the mouth, loses a few teeth and then comes back a few minutes later.

In a way, I find the people who incessantly want to tell me how tough hockey players are off-putting. I get it, I understand it, I can see what happens with my own eyes — I don’t need you to validate someone else’s resilience by telling me about it every single time they do something hardy.

But something hit me on Wednesday night about the same time that shot — you know which one I’m talking about — hit Penguins ultra-power forward Patric Hornqvist right in the knee. Damn, these guys are amazing. I don’t know how they do it. It borders on unexplainable.

That’s what hit me.

It’s one thing to be independently tough within the course of one game and gut through that. It is quite another to pull everything together — your body bruised, damaged and smashed to just about no end – and do it again a few days later in games such as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which have so much riding on them. There are no easy shifts, no easy plays, no times where you can coast in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.

I have never been one to engage in this whole “which sport has the toughest athletes” debate. To me, it is mind-numbing and like a dog chasing its tail, as you just go around and around and never truly arrive at a point that satisfies you.
That said, however, watching Hornqvist on Wednesday night I couldn’t get away from the fact that he played about 16 minutes of ice time on the heels of playing a hard 18 minutes of ice time 48 hours earlier. He is scheduled to turn in that same kind of performance on Saturday night in Game 5 in Washington, even as his body has been flattened and stamped to the point where the pain has to be excruciating.

Saturday will mark three games in six days for the Penguins and, in particular, a guy such as Hornqvist who plays such a hard style of hockey.

And this is all after already playing the Blue Jackets in one playoff series and withstanding the rigors of a regular-season schedule.

Again, I hate the cross-sport comparisons, but the players in the National Football League are never made to turn around and play again as quickly as hockey players do. It just doesn’t happen and can’t happen.

That isn’t to say hockey players are tougher or the other way around, but I marvel at the physical beating they take and then quickly ready their bodies to absorb that same pounding again. They don’t have the luxury — as there is in football — to go through a week worth of treatment in the run-up to the next game.

So Lord only knows what a guy like Patric Hornqvist feels like the morning after a game when he tries to climb out of bed and just go through the regular tasks of a day. To get through the next day would be accomplishment enough.

But then to think Hornqvist straps it all on 48 hours later and puts his body through that same laborious enterprise again? That’s the astonishing part.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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