Big Erning Their Respect?

It’s five months since former NHL enforcer Brian McGrattan iced his first game for Nottingham Panthers. Paul Balm assesses his impact on the team this season.

Pre-determined opinions are difficult to shake and nobody probably knows that better than Brian McGrattan. It’s fair to say that opinion was divided when news of his signing was released. Panthers’ fans were in the main excited, the rest of the league shall we say less so. “He’s a goon”, “He’ll do nothing but fight”, “Waste of an import slot” were the kind of reactions that spring to mind. Personally, I wasn’t sure that he was what the club needed particularly as he came in to fill the last import slot after Cam Janssen’s late decision not to return to the club that came a week before the first pre-season game. I thought we could have used the opportunity to sign a (still in my opinion) much needed sniper but we got McGrattan. I was excited by what he could do, just not overly so.

His slow start to the season didn’t help either. I don’t know whether he found adjusting to the British game/lifestyle hard or if he just hit a bit of a bad patch but that long period before he found the net in the Elite League certainly didn’t help put his detractors off. The usual suspects took to their keyboards to crow that they were right. He was just a goon who didn’t do anything other than fight and the longer it went on, the louder the chorus. One well known EIHL media type even made a bet with a member of this fanzine that McGrattan wouldn’t score more than 10 goals in the EIHL this season, a feat he passed on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the bet wasn’t with me, nothing tastes better than a free drink, especially when it comes from having courage in your convictions.

That was then but this is now. There’s been an almost total about face since late November. He doesn’t fight now but he is scoring points. It’s something like 17 points from the last 20 games now and he seems to have a developed a penchant for scoring against Sheffield which is never a bad thing in my eyes. The rapport he appears to have built up with Robert Farmer is one of the best things on this team right now. There’s not many defences in the league that can stand up to that line when they’re at full tilt, banging and crashing their way through the opposition. If there was one thing I could moan about it’s that I’d like to see it happen more often.

I must admit that a lot of the comments that are appearing now make me smile more than anything else. The seemingly constant incredulity that Brian McGrattan, yes that Brian McGrattan, could actually be a decent player seems to have taken them all by surprise. I know they won’t have seen as much of him as us Panthers fans have but you do have to wonder what they’ve been watching. Even when he wasn’t scoring he was creating chances that just weren’t being converted by his linemates or himself. His hands belie what we were constantly told he only used them for. Surely a man who spends so much time punching things can’t control the puck like that? But he can.

There are people who say that he’s lazy, he doesn’t defend all that much, he’s slow getting back. They’re the same sort of complaints that were levelled at David Ling or David-Alexandre Beauregard and at face value there might seem to be some truth but if you watched them, Ling especially, you could see that they knew how to read a game, they didn’t get back because they felt they didn’t need to (OK DAB was usually the last out the opposition zone because he was still looking to goal hang but you can’t take that away from him). McGrattan always seems to find the space in the same way Ling did, he might not always be in the thick of it but we’re not watching school kids swarm around a football we’re watching a game that has foresight, intelligence and vision when played well.

If those pre-determined ideas are so difficult to shake off why are they so easy to form? I’m not sure but it’s probably social media. I mean, everything is the fault of social media these days isn’t it? It’s very easy to take what you’re given at face value without bothering to think about it. Stick Brian McGrattan in Youtube and you’re rewarded with a slew of fight videos so why would you think he’s anything other than a goon? Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to say those things didn’t happen or that he’s Wayne Gretzky because they did and he’s not. It’s just that some times you have to look beyond what is thrust in your face.

I just wish he looked a bit happier in photos. Maybe that’s why Patrick Bordelau was so desperate to hug him the other week, he just wanted to cheer him up.

I probably wasn’t the only one who wasn’t exactly looking forward to Saturday night’s game. It wasn’t so much that it was the umpteenth meeting between the teams, more the usual dread of playing the Steelers regardless of whether it’s the first or the 14th time you’ve played them that year. They’re the one team I always think we’re going to lose to. You can call me negative if you like, I prefer influenced by experience. I could quite cheerfully not have bothered on Saturday night. At 5 o’clock it wouldn’t have bothered me if I’d have just stayed at home and watched Let it Shine (OK, that’s partly a lie, the staying at home wouldn’t have bothered me, watching Let it Shine would have though).

By 7:30 ish (normal time doesn’t actually exist between 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday nights so I can only be approximate) it was a different story. It wasn’t an entirely different story though, we might have been 4-0 up but we’d blown leads like that to Sheffield before. We’d thrown two two-nil leads away the previous weekend maybe we’d decided to do that all in one game this time around. I was still apprehensive. I know that sounds daft when you’ve got a four goal lead but I was so very nearly proved right. I ended up watching a fairly absorbing game that both sides played 40 minutes. It looked like the ice was tilted at certain times and there were large periods when we didn’t necessarily look as though we deserved to win but then again neither did Sheffield.

He might not get the credit for getting the game winning goal (because he didn’t) but if you look at the stats you’ll see that only one player in the game scored two goals – Brian McGrattan. Not bad for a knuckle-dragging goon with a one dimensional game who’ll bring nothing but fighting to the team eh?

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