You know, when I found out the NHL wasn’t going to suspend Matt Cooke for his hit on Marc Savard, it bugged me but didn’t surprise me. It just drove home how much I, and so many others, can’t deal with guys who play the game like he does. It’s too bad, because I’ve always felt Cooke brings something to a hockey team, but he’s a dirtbag, plain and simple, which de-values any of the good he does. But the whole thing also made me realize how much I appreciated players like Calgary’s Jamal Mayers.
Think of the things Cooke does well. He’s a strong, tenacious guy on the forecheck. He’s physical in the corners and will much it up along the boards. He puts forth a strong effort in the two-way game. His motor is always running. That’s all true…and there are other players that are in his same mold. I put Mayers in that ilk. But there’s a difference. Guys like Mayers will drop the gloves and be accountable for their actions on the ice. Cooke will not.
This is less of a "Cooke’s gutless" rant than a respectful look at guys who bring a lot to the game without being despised like that. There are others like Mayers in the league, no question. But from a Flames perspective, I love having that guy on the team. I think he fits real well in his role; he’s not the biggest offensive threat, nor is he the best player in his own zone. But what he is, is a guy who is going to do what he can to the best of his ability every shift. At least he has since joining the Flames. Mayers plays around nine minutes each game, maybe a little more. During that time you can count on him to be physical, continue or start a cycle, and not hurt you away from the puck. He adds something to a team and to a game with all those aspects.
Where he differs from, say, Cooke, is that he’s tough as nails. Mayers dropped the gloves twice in a game against New Jersey, against a similarly tough David Clarkson (who I’d take on my team any day). He may not have won the fights handily or anything like that, but Mayers is the type of guy you can count on to stick up for teammates, set a tone physically, and maybe lead others when it comes to his work ethic. In his time with the Flames, Mayers has dropped the gloves five times, and non of them fall in the "staged fight" category.
Who knows, maybe a change of scenery from Toronto to Calgary has changed the way he’s playing, because I know that when the deal was made, there were a lot of "Mayers is a bum, he can’t play" emails that I received. And who knows, it may not be something that carries over in the final 16 games. But in the 11 games I’ve seen of Jamal Mayers in a Flames jersey, I’ve been a big, big fan.