Clearing the boards

Hockey fans love to hate on P.K. Subban's game and his smack talk. But he can dish it right back.

Updated: August 13, 2012, 4:40 PM ET
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine

P.K. SubbanTom Szczerbowski/US Presswire"When I need to stick up for myself, I will," says Subban. "I make that decision, not the other team."

This story appears in the March 5, 2012 "Analytics Issue" of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

IT'S TAKEN P.K. SUBBAN less than two seasons to establish himself as one of the NHL's most exciting -- and controversial -- young stars. The 22-year-old Canadiens defenseman has antagonized opponents with flashy puck skills, devastating checks and endless trash-talk, all with a grin. But while Montreal has fallen for the Toronto native, many opposing fans love to hate him, at least according to what we found on hockey message boards. Subban was happy to hit right back.

"[The Jan. 12 game vs. the Bruins] is a prime example of the punk that Subban is. He throws the cheap shot at David Krejci, turtles when Andrew Ference confronts him, then laughs as he's escorted to the penalty box." -posted on

Subban: "This is obviously coming from a Bruins fan. It's pretty simple: My job isn't to fight. I'm playing the most minutes out of any player on my team right now. My job is to get a guy like Krejci off his game. Anybody I wouldn't want to be fighting I wouldn't even look at twice if he challenged me. When I do need to stick up for myself or my teammates, I will. I make that decision, not the other team. I didn't even see [Ference] coming, really. People who talk about me turtling don't talk about him jumping me and not giving me a chance to get my gloves off. If people want to say I turtle, just look at how many career fights I've had in less than two years [Ed.'s note: six through Feb. 14]."

"I have never seen a hockey player have everything he does blown way out of proportion by people in the way Subban has. He's just too 'black' for the hockey establishment. The good ole boys just won't be happy until he loses his smile." -posted on

Subban: "Everyone is going to have an opinion on what I'm being scrutinized for. There have been a lot of black players in the NHL. I don't want to be noticed for that -- I want to be noticed as being a good hockey player who can have a positive impact on his team. I hope to be a role model for kids of different ethnic backgrounds who want to play hockey."

"Subban yaps too much, even to his own teammates. He needs to tone it down." -posted on

Subban: "Sometimes things are going to happen on every team [about the fight Subban had with teammate Tomas Plekanec in a January practice]. If I played in Anaheim, you wouldn't even have known because nobody cares what's going on in their practices. I'm great friends with Tomas. It's all part of being a team. I'm still a young guy. You're going to make mistakes, learn from them and move on."

"p.k. always uses his keister to lay the big hit. Eventually that will take its toll on his spine, and he'll get injured." -posted on

Subban: "Keister? I actually think I'm less likely to get injured that way because I'm using the strongest part of my body rather than my shoulder. Guys are so big and fast nowadays that you see more dislocated shoulders or sprained AC joints. When I'm using my hip and my keister, it's probably putting me at less risk of that happening."

"He looks sloppy under pressure and always has that stupid smile on his face, even when the situation is tense." -posted on Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog

Subban: "I don't understand what's wrong with smiling. I'm here living my dream like every other player in the league. I have fun when I play, and I'm not going to let anyone wipe the smile off my face. My impact on the game is more than enough reason for people not to like me. That smile, I think, just pisses people off even more."

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Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.