@Raskolnikov is perhaps our longest-serving and most loyal reader, therefore making him probably the weirdest.
Like most children, I could not properly handle my emotions. I cried for many reasons—teasing from others, being sent to my room for acting out, and, most commonly, my sports teams losing ways. My sadness would be temporarily directed towards the unfortunate circumstances, but after an hour or two, I’d calm down and resume being a typical child. It wasn’t until Derian Hatcher entered the league that I actually held onto my negative feelings after his actions stopped directly impacting me. He was my first hate.
My hatred of Hatcher was fated because the North Stars drafted him 8th overall in 1990—the first year I followed the NHL. He was not part of the team that upset the Blackhawks 4-2 in the Campbell Conference Quarterfinals, but seeing the green star on his chest was sufficient to link him to that band of Basil McRaes and Shane Churlas that brought me to tears in April 1991. Yet merely wearing the North Stars uniform was not enough to truly despise his existence. He was just an American Kjell Samuelsson—a slow, hulking defenseman that liked to punch any face in his end, whether in the Thunderdome or on the trolley tracks.
Then, on April 2nd, 1995, Hatcher went to the top of my shit list. My family was traveling, so I was listening to a Stars/Hawks game in our tan Chevy Astro van. The Blackhawks were not as talented as those early 90s teams that almost achieved the ultimate goal, but I still held out hope that they could win the Stanley Cup. They still had a solid offense with Roenick, Nicholls, Amonte, Murphy, Daze, and Savoir-Faire, a Chelios-led defense, and the Eagle in net. However, that day, my dreams burned down thanks to Hatcher:
I voraciously complained to my dad about the hit while Dale Tallon whined to the radio audience about the turn of events, but despite our lamentations, Hatcher was not penalized. Roenick missed fifteen games. At that moment, I gained my sports mortal enemy. Here was a beast that could neither be vanquished by brute force nor by the available talent on my favorite team. I wanted him to lose because he sucked, but his team was too good. I could only brood (thus explaining my love of Joy Division).
Hatcher clumsily attacked many more players during his NHL career. He broke Roenick’s jaw in 1999, put Petr Sykora on a stretcher during the 2000 NHL Finals, and fought many talented and untalented pugilists for no good reason during his sixteen year NHL career. I would not hate him so much if Hatcher had any talent other than being a black hole. But he never scored more than 31 points in a season. He took advantage of the NHL’s lax calls on obstruction during the middle of his career, as he never could skate fast enough to catch the most talented players without holding their arms. And God forbid that asshole could ever keep his feet on the ice while hitting someone—Hatcher makes Niklas Kronwall look like a Lady Byng candidate.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Hatcher’s ignominious end ironically occurred after his most successful season in which he was All-NHL Second Team. In 2003, the Red Wings used their PIZZA PIZZA money to sign him a 5-year, $30 million contract. A knee injury limited Hatcher to 15 regular season games that year, and Martin Gelinas ensured that the Red Wings would not win the Cup that year. Then, the conditions that allowed slow, large, behemoth defensemen to thrive in the league were changed after the 2004-2005 lockout. The officials would not tolerate any interference, holding, or hooking—Hatcher’s three main ways of defending. These changes, in addition to his slowing legs and his immense cap hit led the Red Wings to buy out his contract. He spent three more years in Philadelphia as a third pairing traffic cone who occasionally knocked over his teammates before retiring. He also resembled Morrissey on growth hormone.
In my pre-pubescent, then adolescent, then teenage, then young adult eyes, Derian Hatcher symbolized everything wrong with the NHL. He captained the Stars franchise during that period, and they normally whooped the Hawks’ asses. He accomplished his goals through means that would either hurt other players or, at the very least, ruin the aesthetic pleasure of watching hockey. Analysts praised his “rugged” and “hard-nosed” play, whereas I saw an ogre who couldn’t skate. And he is a symptom of a period that promoted fighting and dirty hits rather than offense. He is the embodiment of all the negative aspects of the NHL zeitgeist of the 90s and early 2000s, and for that, he earns my eternal disdain.