Violent Gents Q and A: Ryan Reaves and Enforcing the Game
For the past seven years, Ryan Reaves patrolled the ice for the St. Louis Blues. During that time, he racked up 695 penalty minutes and was engaged in nearly 60 regular season fights. Now, the hard hitting forward finds himself on a new journey, as he was recently traded to the reigning Stanley Cup C
hampions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. As Reaves prepares to take his style of play to Steel City, Violent Gentlemen caught up with him to talk to him about his role in the game and what he can expect as he transitions into black and gold.
Violent Gentlemen: What does the Violent Gentlemen brand mean to you?
Ryan Reaves: It’s tough for people to realize the job that some of these guys do, and especially ten years ago and before that. I think that everybody has the misconception that when you’re a fighter on the ice, you’re a boxer or an MMA fighter, and that’s your personality off the ice too. And that couldn’t be anymore wrong for 95% of us. I don’t have that mentality off the ice at all. I’m definitely not a big confrontation guy when I’m off the ice. I like to joke around a lot, I like making people laugh. You look at other guys around the league, you look at [George] Parros, who is an absolute genius, [Kevin] Westgarth and these guys who have college degrees and are really smart. You just don’t see that side of guys when you’re looking at the ice.
VG: Where were you when you found out you were getting traded to Pittsburgh?
RR: I was in my basement playing ping pong with my brother. I completely forgot it was the draft and one of my buddies, Chris Stewart, called me and asked if I was getting traded. I said, ‘I don’t think so,’ but right before that, Blues GM Doug Armstrong actually texted me and told me to call him. So, I jumped on Twitter quick and I looked at some of the rumours and it said I was getting traded for what looked like a first rounder. The next one said ‘Reaves for Crosby,’ so I texted my buddy back and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re looking at or why you’re believing what’s on Twitter.’ But then I called Army back and he said I was traded to Pittsburgh.
VG: You’ve spent your entire NHL career in St. Louis. What do you think it will be like to go back there in February when the Blues host the Penguins?
RR: Luckily, I get to get one of them out of the way right away, we open at home against St. Louis. I don’t know what it’s going to be like to go back to St. Louis, obviously it’s going to be an emotional day. I’m hoping I get a round of applause, immediately followed by some boos because I wrecked somebody on the team. That’s how I’m hoping that day goes.
VG: How do you feel about moving to the Eastern Conference?
RR: I’m not exactly sure. I think a lot of the times you play in the East, it’s a little more wide open, it’s not as tight checking, and not as much physical play at times. But that’s me just playing every team there once in a while.
VG: The two players who led the league in hits last season were both from the Eastern Conference, and they each tallied more than 300 of them. You surpassed the 200 mark for the fourth-straight season, do you think you’ve got 300 hits in you for this year?
RR: You know what, that’s a tough stat because different rinks score hits different way. I know there’s rinks where you can rub a guy out very gently and get a hit, and there’s other rinks where unless the guy is on his back crawling back to the bench you won’t get a hit. I think that’s more just the rinks you play in more.
VG: When Penguins GM Jim Rutherford traded for you, he said, “We won the Cup two years in a row, and teams played us even harder than they usually do.” How do you think your style of play will lend itself to the ultimate goal of winning that third straight championship this season?
RR: I’ve been on the other side of that against Pittsburgh. When I was with St. Louis, it was always get after their top guys, play them physical. I think I’m going to step in and my presence might make guys think twice. I think I have a good enough reputation around the league that if you’re going to go after my top players, you’re going to spark a little something in me and I’m going to come after you. I think I molded my game now to be a little quicker now so I can catch some of those top guys in a game, so I think, first and foremost, I’m bringing some presence to that team.
VG: In terms of deployment, in addition to your tough style of play, do you envision transitioning into more penalty kill time in Pittsburgh the way you did in St. Louis?
RR: I would definitely like to be on the penalty kill. I used to kill when I was younger and I really enjoyed it. I took a lot of pride when I was doing it, so if it’s something I can step into and help the team do, I’d definitely love to do that.
VG: Who has been your biggest influence as a player?
RR: I’ve always said Alex Steen was my favorite player. Obviously, I don’t play his style at all, but the work ethic he brings to the team and the battles he gets himself into really inspired me. He’s definitely been an inspiring player to play with.
VG: How about when you were younger, who did you look up to?
RR: I always liked Patrick Roy, believe it or not. I liked being a street hockey goalie. I liked playing goalie on the ice too, I just didn’t do it a whole lot. I was always a big Avalanche fan when I was younger, so Patrick Roy was my number one guy, but Peter Forsberg was another guy. He was powerful on the puck, and he brought the puck to the net with purpose. He was big on the fore-check and he had a lot of skill too, he was a hell of a plyer. He would be the player I look up to the most.
VG: Some people believe that the era of enforcers is coming to an end. How do you see your role in the game?
RR: I think it’s still a very necessary part of hockey. I think we’re going to an area right now where they’re trying to eliminate the role and you’re going to see a lot of superstars go down because there’s nothing to answer to. In my gut, I think we’re going to see a lot less fighting in the next five years, but then things are going to pick back up again. I think there will be a lot more enforcers and players like me coming back into the league. I don’t think the NHL can afford to lose superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
VG: Do you recall your first fight? What was going through your mind.
RR: It was actually in my first game. I remember George Parros was chasing me around the ice the first period, and I was like, ‘let me get a couple shifts under my belt and then we’ll talk.’ If you’re going to have to go Parros, that’s a hell of a way to start your career. Before that happened, Kyle Chipchura came after me after I ran somebody.
So, we started throwing and all of a sudden, all my equipment’s off. I guess all the adrenaline of playing in my first game, I didn’t have my strap tied down. I finished that game with two minutes of ice time, three hits, and 15 minutes of penalties. Quite the first game.
VG: Speaking of George, you and him have some history. What do you recall from when the two of you tussled in Montreal back in 2013?
RR: I just took a run at Doug Murray, and I don’t know why Dougie just didn’t come after me, but Parros came out for the draw and I knew he was looking right me. It was actually right after that big fall of his where he got that concussion, so I remember we were both throwing and catching each other with some.
At the very end he went, and I looked at him to make sure he was okay and gave him a tap on the pads. All I remember was, he kind of fell weird on the ice after the fight was over, and I just didn’t want him to hit his head again. He’s another guy who I had a lot of respect for.
VG: Who was the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced?
RR: By far, Brian McGrattan. We had been jostling for a couple of games before the fight and when we faced off, they were killing us in the game, they just had all the momentum. I looked at him and said, ‘let’s go’ and he looked at me like I wasn’t serious.
The puck dropped and I dropped my gloves, and I’m pretty sure I cut him over his eye but when I got back to the box, I had four golf balls on the top of my head.
I woke up the next morning and my neck was stiff. I remember that day was Super Bowl Sunday and I could not move my head to save my life. But it was a good fight though. I think we both caught each other a couple times, but that was definitely the hardest fight I’ve been a part of.
VG: For your money, who is the most underrated tough guy in the NHL? That question comes from Twitter user @koobs87
RR: I might be a little biased here, but I’ve got to say Chris Stewart. He throws both, he’s a big boy. He fights a little different than I do. He gets really amped up, the adrenaline is pumping, and you can see it in his face when he fights. I think he’s one of the more underrated fighters in the league.
VG: You have the physical side to your game, but you also set career highs in goals and points last year. How have you adapted your game and style over the past few years?
RR: A lot of it has to do with my summer training. I used to go to the gym and sit there for three hours, strictly pumping iron and trying to get as big and strong as I could. I still skated, but I think I focused too much on the strength aspect. I was also five or six pounds heavier when I was doing that. Over the last year, I did a lot less weights and a lot more powerful movements with my legs. A lot of jumping, a lot of jumps with weighted vests, I skated with weighted vests, and did sprints. I didn’t sit in the gym for three hours. I did a workout where I could still be strong but where I didn’t get too big, and I definitely skated a lot more. I skated with a coach down in St. Louis, I did one-on-one sessions with him for a week, two times last summer and I then brought that back to Winnipeg with me. I think I just focused more on power in my legs, getting faster, and the skill aspect of hockey.
VG: The blog St. Louis Game Time wanted me to ask you this one. Who would you rather fight, Chaser [Kelly Chase] straight up or Panger [Darren Pang] with your right hand tied behind your back?
RR: Darren Pang with both hands tied behind my back. Wait, does Panger get a chair to stand up when he fights me or is he fighting on the ground?
VG: They didn’t specify…
RR: Those are big factors. If he has a chair then maybe I’ll just have my left hand undone, but if he’s on the ground he can’t reach that high so I’ll have both hands tied behind my back.
VG: Here’s another one from Twitter. @MisterMcJacob wants to know if you think you’ll finish with more fights than goals next year?
RR: I’m going to go with a split. I think I’m going to have ten of each next season.
VG: We’ll finish with another hard hitting and very important question from Twitter. @taeksguy wants to know if you like pineapple on your pizza?
RR: I do, I’m a Hawaiian guy, I don’t mind pineapple on pizza. I used to hate it back in the day, so it’s a new thing for me. It can’t be overbearing though, a couple pieces on every slice. You start getting too crazy and it’s too sweet of a pizza.