An overlooked element of any winning team is the strength of its 4TH line. Throughout the history of the game the role of the “bottom” echelon of players has evolved. However, even with all the changes to the rules there has been little change to the mentality of the 4th line player. A strong 4th line brings a sense of attitude, shows no fear and increases the sense of focus throughout the entire team. With limited ice time they are expected to show consistency and they have little room for error. The mission for a 4th line player comes with bumps and bruises and little praise but it is their mentality and work ethic that lights a fire throughout the bench to kick it into overdrive. Talent can only get you so far on the path to success; blood, sweat and tears are necessary.
The role of the 4th line is not to “simply” give rest to the more talented skaters. I could not disagree more with this common notion among hockey fans. I believe the 4th line is there to do the job that so few players will or can. Play strong defensively, get the puck deep and keep it there. The most profound 4th line players know how to accomplish this all in the while of being the nightmare to their opponents. Teams that are consistently successful are said to have a sense of character. I believe this character is the warrior mentality that often stems from the 4th line work ethic. I have seen the most talented teams crumble because they do not have this “character”. The warrior mentality is necessary as it’s the mindset of having your back against the wall and never giving up.
This is why I believe that there will always be a need for the undervalued bottom-6 players and not just a team full of talent and skill. The best teams are those who are found to consistently hound the loose pucks and show a high-level of persistence. They do not let the opponent skate around freely. They are the handy-men of the roster; they are the “plumbers”.
I first heard them defined as “plumbers” while listening to Brian Burke explain his roster decisions for the 2010 USA selection for The Olympic Games. He defined the top-6 players as “artists” or the top skilled players and expressed his need for both. I believe this blueprint is what paved the way for USA to shocking the world when winning the Silver Medal in a year in which most “experts” predicted them to lose in the first round. It may very well be the same design which paved the way for many of Burke’s accomplishments in The NHL.
For as long as I could remember, I have always tried to play like a 4th line player whether I was actually one or not. Maybe it is my admiration for players like Dominic Moore, and Colton Orr who put it all on the line for the team and never shows fear. Or maybe it is because I was never the most talented on the ice and I knew I had to prove my worth through my work ethic or just go home. Why waste time on the ice if you’re not going to give it your all? I also have and always will take more pride in my defensive ability than any goal or assist. I believe this warrior mentality is necessary for all players at any level. It annoys me to see talented players who disregard this work ethic. Gliding in the defensive zone, choosing to not back check, allowing opponents to skate freely by you are acceptable only by losing organizations. Doing so consistently is a habit that must be broken in order to find success at any level. This mentality exceeds that of the game of hockey or any sport for that matter and even more needed in real life.
A 4th line player fights for his right to be given a chance on the ice and I believe we all need that warrior mentality even if you’re guaranteed a spot on the roster. We all have it inside of us, but we often forget it. Next time you see yourself not giving your 110%, look at the guy on the bench who doesn’t get all the ice time but works harder each time he is out there. Remember what you are fighting for.
Never give up.
Blood, sweat and tears are necessary for success.
- Mark Lisica
When it comes to this warrior mentality there is no better season than The NHL Playoffs. This is the time of the year where the mindset is needed even more now than ever. It’s a game of inches and you need the players who are penalty killing machines, who do not back down from anyone and who strike fear to all those who try to go up against it. My top four 4th line players of the 2015 NHL Playoffs are:
A young player who has fully embraced his role on the 4th line. He has the talent to be in the top 6 but not on a team with as much depth as The Rangers. He is defensively sound and quietly has been an important factor in the team’s success in the first round.
I may be a Ranger fan but I can respect a player like Martin. Without stepping past his boundaries, Matt is a true 4th line player who finishes his checks and sticks up for his teammates. I would love him on my team.
Another type of player who has proven he can be of value outside of the bottom 3 but we all know he is a true warrior. He is the type of guy you love to have on your team but hate going up against.
He may not be the biggest or baddest 4th line player in the league but he has proven day after day he is a jack of all trades. He is excellent on face-offs, a valuable penalty killer and has done an excellent job in defending even the best offensive players in the game.
Who is your favorite 4th Liner? Who do you hate?