A Rude Welcome to Big Time Hockey, Courtesy of Willi Plett
Then again, it's another thing entirely to understand just how dangerous a shift on the ice can really be. During my own decidedly mediocre recreational hockey career, I had a near death experience with a slap shot off the stick of a former small-time college hockey player, and after having the life nearly scared out of me, came away with a new appreciation for players who regularly throw their bodies in the path of a piece of vulcanized rubber traveling at better than 100 mph.
Which leads me to the story of an old friend of mine, Jeff Grimshaw, a man who got a chance to experience first hand what it's like to get crushed by an NHL player, something he experienced at the hands of one of the game's greatest tough guys, Willi Plett.
Jeff, a former colleague I got to know well early in my career, now owns his own television production company in Maryland, but back in the late 1980s he worked for Turner Broadcasting. A former college club hockey player, Jeff was coaching a youth team and one of his players was Plett's son, Robby. It wasn't long before Jeff struck up a friendship with Plett while hoisting a few post game beverages as the team traveled throughout the Southeast.
I'll let Jeff pick it up from here:
"In the Summer of 1989 we were aggressively promoting the 1990 Goodwill Games and hockey was to be one of the sports of the 1990 SUMMER Goodwill Games in Seattle. Yeah, that made sense! There was no available international hockey footage to license at that time so we rounded up all of the area hockey players that we knew to shoot close up, swishy, non revealing shots of hits, shots and saves."
"I called Willi to see if he was interested in participating. Surprisingly he agreed - but ONLY if he could play the part of a Soviet Union hockey player and then keep the jersey. I was good with that and we also threw in a token $200 or so. It was also my chance to show my hockey talent (or lack thereof) on camera ..."
"My helmet had a visor, so Willie skates onto the ice and calls for the cameras to cut! He tells me that by wearing the visor I was a total embarrassment to the entire nation of Canada! Off came the visor. Then came Willie's turn for the hitting sequences. He was to collide at near full speed in back of the net with a human sacrifice - er, another player. As we rehearsed I was giving Willie a few tips on how to "Hollywood" up the hit."
"Willie lured me over near him to ask me a question. I should have known something was up when he winked at the still photographer who was shooting for PR purposes. So Willie says to me, "You think I should do it like this?" The next thing you know all of the air rushed out of my chest as I was plastered against the boards. Apparently the entire crew and gawkers knew this was going to happen in advance."
"Now I've taken some pretty tough hits in hockey. I've torn up a knee, broken 2 collarbones, separated a shoulder and have sustained 2 concussions -- but I don't remember ever being hit as hard as the lick Willi put on me."
Thanks to Jeff for sharing his story. For you youngsters out there, Plett is a certifiable legend who was feared by anyone with half a brain who skated in the NHL over the course of his career. To get a better idea of just how feared he was, take a look at a few of the videos posted in this forum over at Hockeyfights.com.