| San Antonio Rampage vs. Manchester Monarchs |
Sun, Jan 21
One AT&T Center Parkway
When most non-NHL fans think of ice hockey, images of burly men with bad teeth engaged in fisticuffs almost immediately come to mind. In recent years the National Hockey League has made efforts to change that perception with new rules that emphasize speed and discourage the frequent fights of old. Among the changes made for the 2005-06 season was a zero-tolerance policy for hooking, holding, tripping, slashing, cross-checking, and interference, where players who used their sticks or free hands to slow any opposing player were penalized — including additional fines and suspensions for those who instigate fights.
Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 248 pounds, San Antonio Rampage forward Ryan Flinn is the kind of guy you do not want to mess with, particularly on the ice. “He’s an enforcer,” says Rampage forward Bill Thomas, who was recently selected for this season’s American Hockey League All-Star Game. “He’s gonna go out there and use his size and his strength. He might not get as much ice time as everyone else but he takes advantage of the time he gets and makes a difference out there when he plays. I think those are key guys to have on the team who really help out when we need them to bring in that physical aspect … and when we need a jump start.”
“My role is basically to play physical, to play strong defensively, and just make sure that my teammates are protected out there, feel safe, and know that if anything happens they’ve got me,” explains the plainspoken Flinn. “More than that it’s to go out with your heart every night and finish your checks and make sure you’re playing sound hockey.”
Growing up, Flinn idolized the great Cam Neely who was a complete player and could also handle himself when things got physical. Flinn sees his gifts in the rougher component of the game as a way to compensate for his still-developing skills and credits them for helping him reach the goal of playing in professional hockey. However, the darker side of this reasoning manifested itself last season when he suffered a season-ending concussion while playing with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. Flinn has little recollection of the freak injury, the result of an on-ice fistfight that led to a frustrating rehabilitation process.
“He’s a big guy and we all know the role that he plays,” says Rampage head coach Pat Conacher. “It’s a difficult role because you have to be a dedicated athlete and at the same time you have to go out and stick up for your teammates and get involved without hurting your team, without taking minor penalties.”
“I think one thing that they’ve done over the years that I don’t agree with is they’ve taken the game out of the player’s hands as far as policing it and I think they should leave that to the players because it keeps everybody honest. Unfortunately the rules are preventing our players from doing that so Ryan’s got a tough job in a lot of ways.”
Next up for the Rampage is a showdown with the Manchester Monarchs, Flinn’s former team, whom they scored a victory over earlier this season. Coach Conacher describes Manchester as a formidable opponent, while Flynn acknowledges that his former squad will be a good test for the Rampage as they make a run at the playoffs. While Flinn considers the Monarchs to be a good, fast, transition team with lots of skill players and talent between the pipes, he still sees physical play as a key to the contest and his future.
“There’s emphasis put on a tough guy being able to play a regular shift and to keep up with the pace of the game,” says Flinn. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m here. It’s a daily effort on my part to work on the other facets of the game. I know physically I’m big enough, strong enough, and tough enough to do the job at the next level. It’s just to be consistent enough in my game play, in my puck skills, in my skating skills night in and night out that maybe keep me from `the NHL` and it’s a daily quest to get better at those things.”