Are hockey players the toughest sports athletes?

With only one game to go (game 7 tonight between the Bruins and the Lightning) before the Stanley Cup finals, the arduous road to the most difficult trophy to win is about to come to an end. The Vancouver Canucks will meet tonight’s winner in the ultimate best-of-seven series.

It amazes me that the two teams who will battle for the Stanley Cup will each have played more than 100 games of competitive hockey in order to challenge for the prized hardware. Included in this figure is September’s pre-season schedule (most NHL players play 4-5 exhibition games), where young prospects are tying to grab the veterans’ jobs. The long season includes lopsided games filled with fights and vicious body checks, intense rivalries between division opponents and four-point games over the long run against other teams battling for a playoff spot. It also includes hundreds of hit into the Plexiglas, hundreds of high sticks and cuts, hundreds of cross-checks and slashes, scores of blocked shots, numerous fights. It includes broken noses, broken jaws, stitches, separated shoulders, concussions, high-ankle sprains. It includes black eyes and swelling after receiving a deflected puck into the face or hitting a concrete wall named Douglas Murray or Zdeno Chara.

When we look at the recently eliminated San Jose Sharks and wondered why they lost in five games against a talented Canucks team, we simply need to look at all the serious injuries their elite players sustained (Source: David Pollack):

1. Jason Demers — Right ankle, high sprain from Game 7 of Detroit series.
2. Scott Nichol — Torn labrum in his left shoulder and a serious laceration above his knee requiring 20 stitches after being cut when colliding with Raffi Torres’s in Game 2 of the Canucks series.
3. Dany Heatley — A broken left hand during the season and a high-ankle injury suffered during Game 3 of the Vancouver series.
4. Ryane Clowe — Shoulder separation likely requiring a three to four months of rehab. Clowe was so badly hurt he needed help getting his jersey on!
5. Dan Boyle — A damaged MCL in his left knee from a March 17 game against the Minnesota Wild.
6. Logan Couture — Broken nose suffered when he collided with Clowe in Game 3 of the Vancouver series.
7. Joe Pavelski — Bothered by an ankle problem all season long and during the playoffs.
8. Joe Thornton — The tip of the little finger damaged late in the regular season after a slash will have to be reattached. Thornton had to adjust his grip on the stick, which created a wrist problem. Shoulder separation that occurred in Game 4 against Vancouver.

Hell former Canadiens’ GM Bob Gainey won a Stanley Cup ring, playing with both shoulders separated. He didn’t tell anyone until the playoffs were over.

Most baseball players would have hit the disabled list in a matter of seconds with such injuries, when we know all too well a starting pitcher can miss a few starts with a blister or an ingrown nail.

So this leads to the question: Who are the toughest sports athletes?

According to an extensive study done by ESPN called Sports Skills Difficulty ice hockey ranks 2nd behind boxing among the 60 sports measured, billiards and fishing being dead last understandably. Football is ranked 3rd, basketball 4th, baseball 9th and soccer 10th.


While boxing is much more demanding on a short period of time (12-round fight), the hockey season is much more strenuous on a professional athlete because players sometimes log 25 to 30 minutes of ice time, game after game, during more than 80 games per year over 15 to 20-year careers. And what about goaltenders like Martin Brodeur who play more than 70 games every season? They have to stay in the game for the full 60 minutes!

What about football players one would argue? Well, according to a Wall Street Journal study of four television broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes of actual playing time over a 60-minute game. And the season includes only 16 games plus the playoffs, so football is more about brute force, speed and strength, not so much about durability and endurance. Heck, football players play only one game per week, while hockey players often have to play back-to-back games… in different cities!

What about soccer players and the rigor of a 90-minute game? According to match reports from the 2010 World Cup, in the average 90-minute match, the average actual playing time in a soccer game was about 68 minutes and with the large size of the playing field, most of the time soccer players are not directly involved in the game. While soccer combines speed, endurance and agility, the sport is not very physical, as most physical contacts are forbidden and often results in a yellow or red cards.

In conclusion, I clearly believes ice hockey players are the toughest athletes on Earth and have to endure the harshest physical beating to win the Stanley Cup! That’s why hockey is the best sports to watch and practice! Now let’s lace them up and drop the puck!

If you don’t agree with this article, don’t hesitate to write a comment below and tell us why you think athletes from other sports are the toughest!

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About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish.

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  1. RobC/KO21 says:

    agreed 100%

  2. Mike says: