Chatting with Former NHL Tough Guy Jody Shelley
Recently I had the great fortune of talking with former NHL left winger, and current Blue Jackets broadcaster, Jody Shelley. We discussed his role as an enforcer in the NHL, scrapping with Bob Probert, the current state of the Blue Jackets, and much more.
I was fortunate enough to be able to have a phone conversation with fan-favorite, and former tough guy, Jody Shelley, a veteran of 12 NHL seasons across four clubs — Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers. Over that span of 627 career games, Shelley racked up 54 points and over 1,500 minutes in the penalty box. The current Blue Jackets broadcaster and I discussed current affairs of the team, the Artemi Panarin contract situation, the state of fighting in the game, and much more.
You can read the entire transcription of the interview below and listen to the full interview at the bottom of this page.
What are your thoughts on the Artemi Panarin contract situation, but specifically how some of that can possibly impact the dressing room? I imagine when you get down to it, it’s business as usual and everyone just wants to focus on hockey. But talk about some of that extra noise that can maybe cause a distraction for the parties involved.
It’s interesting, the time leading up to training camp and right now before camp is still a time for the guys to be loose and having fun. In that locker room, it’s a special place. If there’s something that’s in the media, those guys are well aware of it. There will probably be some joking around about it, they want Artemi to be here of course, but at the end of the day when the season starts, or when you’re at game time, it’s really not a distraction at all. Everyone understands what it is, it’s a part of the game. This won't be a distraction at all for these players, I really think they respect Artemi enough, he’s got his rights, at the end of the day all these guys have the right to do what they want. There’s nothing more than they’d love, all of us would love, than to get this deal done and work that way but the reality is it sounds like he’s got options and he knows what they are so you just gotta kinda go through this.
He’s one of the best players we’ve seen, I think he’s one of the top-five players, top five forwards in the National Hockey League and he’s still young and he’s got all that upside. Just gotta enjoy it while we have him and see what Jarmo (Kekäläinen) and their team can get done, and they’ve always been ahead of it. You think about that. Picking up Artemi Panarin was a treat and try to get him here I'm sure that’s their focus right now.
Which players would you say fans should keep an eye on, maybe making that leap in production this year?
I think we a guy we got spoiled with two years ago is Zach Werenski. A guy that’s coming off an injury, he dealt with an injury all year. You’ve got to remember how great the power play was when he was healthy. Struggled last year when he took that injury. He’s one of the best players, one of the most talked about players in the National Hockey League, we get a lot of questions about Zach Werenski, he’s a quiet kid but he’s such a talented player and has gained so much respect outside of the circles we’re in here in Columbus because of the way he plays the game. So I think he is that guy, I really do.
I think we talked a lot about Seth Jones last year, for good reason, but I think a healthy Zach Werenski, now a third year National Hockey Leaguer, he’s a guy that I think is going to take this team to the next level.
Another guy for me, a guy like (Alexander) Wennberg, what’s he going to do this year? What does Wennberg want to do with this team? He’s such a talent, he’s got such a high hockey IQ, he’s so smart. He’s a guy too, at the center ice position if you recall, he was a guy that was going to play with Panarin on the top line last year, he was penciled in as the No. one center-man and he didn’t live up to that, so I think he’s a guy now that’s settled into his contract. He’s probably disappointed we left here and what he did with the Blue Jackets. I think he’s another one of those guys that quietly, with that off year, he can be the guy that brings it here for the Blue Jackets.
And you’ve got to think about William Karlsson too, for him to watch his buddy go and have that success. I guess growing up he always played behind Karlsson, those types of things you’re happy for your buddy to have success but there’s always something that drives you a little more and that could help Wennberg too.
The era of the enforcer has made way for players who are still physical, but who have skill too. Like Tom Wilson or Josh Anderson. Is this good for the game? Will the NHL ever ban fighting? Should they? And as a former enforcer you might have strong feelings on that.
I do — to sit here and say, will they ban it? I don’t know. I think they are now well-aware of concussions and what they usually bring about. As far as fighting, I don’t mind the way it’s evolved, I think the league is doing a good job of getting the knowledge about the safety of the game, the impact of concussions and the role of fighting in the game so they haven’t banned it and I just like that it’s a factor from game-to-game, I like the fact that if you’re on a team, teams don’t get taken advantage of, players don’t get taken advantage of because other teams know, that hey, if you want to be silly, we can drop the gloves and settle this.
Who was your favorite, and not-so-favorite player to fight?
I never liked to fight Georges Laraque, just because I could never beat him. He’s so big and strong, and I never really seen him lose a fight, was hard to fight, he was a big lefty. I thought when I fought Bob Probert, I felt my career was going to end because I had so much respect for him, I thought he was going to kill me. But I was okay with that and that sounds crazy! (laughs) Just had so much respect for him. They were all tough, you know what I mean. The one-on-one challenge of fighting, there’s a lot of anxiety, like anything you do, leading up to it and getting involved with it and getting punched. But I wouldn’t say there was anyone I really enjoyed fighting. Well, maybe Brian Boyle. He’s so big, he’s not a real mean guy and I played with him, so I fought him after I played with him so I didn’t mind fighting him because I just felt I wasn’t going to lose.
What about Columbus made you want to retire there?
First of all my wife is from here and I put down some roots right away. I fell in love with Columbus right away. I sensed the pride that Columbus had for me and I’ve always been proud of Columbus so I think that was right off the bat. My parents live in Northern Alberta which is a tough town sometimes, especially April, May, and June when here the weather is beautiful. I love all the sports in this city. I love that they have a top-ranked college team here, I don’t know if anyone in Canada really knows that we share the same city and I kind of like that. It’s such a sports city. I love that it’s got a blue-collar attitude. I’m always fascinated with people that started their own business and done well or have tried it and there’s a lot of that here. I really identify well with the people here, so for me it was great as an athlete and as a former athlete, it might be even better.
What do you miss most about playing in the NHL?
I’m fortunate, as a broadcaster I get to travel with the team, stay at the team hotel, I get to be in the big rink. Towards the end of my career I was actually in the press box eating popcorn, and I’m still doing that now, it’s a lot like being a healthy scratch. So I still get a lot of the perks. I do miss playing cards on the plane, I know the guys do that now. And I miss warmup. I always enjoyed warmup. You go into a city that you’re playing against, or even at home, it’s amazing, the great music, your fans are coming in, that’s just something I miss is getting out during warmup.
It’s like the start of primetime, you know what I mean, the lights are on, the music’s good, the kids are there, we’re interacting, it’s pretty cool. I really enjoyed warmup, but like I said, I still get a lot of the perks now as a broadcaster.
Would you ever be interested in coaching or managing, or are you content with broadcasting?
I like where I’m at right now. I’ve always considered myself a guy that can help a lot of people on the team, maybe a leader, but I would not rule it out. I’m fascinated at the thought of coaching, helping people get better, formulating game plans to win games, strategy. But right now, I’m really happy where I am.
What has happened in your post-playing career that has surprised you, or didn’t expect to happen?
I lost a lot of muscle and I stayed the same weight so I’m surprised at how I haven’t put on a lot of weight. I guess that’s from being active. You know, maybe the transition, I got to play until I was 37-years old, and when I was done, I was done. I knew I was done. It’s funny, I talked to Jared Boll about this who just retired a month and a half ago and he knew he was done in the same role. I think for me, I was a little nervous about the transition and not being a player anymore but I’m surprised how it’s been. I’ve actually been really surprised at what goes into a hockey game. As a player, you’re kind of blinders on, focused on yourself, but you don’t realize the ticketing, the sales, the people involved. Everyone with the ice and it’s amazing what goes into the business of the hockey and I think maybe that’s one of the big surprises too.
You mentioned Boll, and it got me wondering, can you paint the picture and lend insight for fans into the head of a fighter?
I used to think, as I got older, like when I was really young I was really fearless. My childhood fantasy if you will was to one day play in the NHL, and I found my vehicle — you have to specialize the higher you get, and I found a role that I never thought I would be a part of. But I was fearless. It’s a one-on-one struggle, it’s a one-on-one challenge. Like when I lined up next to Bob Probert, I remember all my buddies are watching back home on TSN, the national broadcast, it was coast-to-coast and I’m standing next to Probert during a TV timeout and I remember thinking like, in my head thinking, ‘you have to ask him’ and then in the same breath thinking in my head ‘you can’t ask him, he’s going to end your career.’ And then all of a sudden I heard my voice ask him and I thought ‘what the heck just happened’ because he obliged and then it was like okay...
So it’s an eternal struggle. The hardest part is not knowing if you’re going to fight. I remember going to St. Louis and they had a tough couple tough guys, and game day, okay I have to learn the system. I’ve got to be ready as a left winger, to be responsible in the defensive zone. Do everything the coach asks, but at the same time, I’ve got to be ready for Reed Low or Kyle McLaren or whoever’s on the other side ready to fight me. One guy’s a lefty, is he going to come after me right away or is the other guy going to come. Are we going to fight first shift. Are we going to fight later in the game, like all these things that you don’t know so there was a lot that went into it mentally. But then again when you drop the gloves, and you square off, and you size each other up and you grab — I remember a lot of the times thinking ‘boy that wasn’t as bad as I played it out in my head.’
Even if I had a bloody nose I thought ‘well ya know, it’s not that bad.’
To play in the NHL, I would have done everything exactly the same, as beat up, same as many times as I was, because I loved it and I loved being a part of it.
In recent years across the NFL and NHL with concussions and CTE, what are your thoughts with that, even relating to your own career?
Yeah I mean, I really had disregard for that which may sound crazy but personally, I was willing to do whatever my role was and I knew I was going get my nose broken. I was hoping I wasn't going to get knocked out. I fought defensively sometimes, sometimes I fought wide-open. I knew the risks. It’s scary now to hear some of the stories. It’s scary to think about dementia and what people are going through. Could I possibly go through that, I don’t know, there’s a history in my family. Does that mean I’m going to get it, does that mean it’s from hockey, all those questions are out there. But when I played, no I just, older in my career when I had kids, there was a couple times when I wondered if this was all worth it, am I doing the right thing at the moment. Not if this is all worth it, but I got a little more protective. I guess I retired five years ago when things really started coming out and there were some terrible things that happened, but personally, I guess I’m getting more educated about it now.
What in your mind do you think the Blue Jackets need to do, to not only make the playoffs, but more importantly, advance for the first time in franchise history?
You know, we’ve heard a lot about this team being young, and they’re young with experience. So I think they’re in a good spot. They’ve been through the rough start to the season, 0-8, and not being able to get out of that, and having a terrible year. The experience last year, being up 2-0 and not realizing that you’ve got no choice but to put them [Washington Capitals] away when you can. Who's going to put them away? Someone’s got to put them away when you’re in the playoffs. And I think that they need to forget about being young and rely on their experience now because they’ve got that young core that’s together now and will be together for a few years. And now is the time. I think that’s one problem with teams is — I was a part of a great team in San Jose, and we had high expectations, but we did nothing, we made it to the second round and got eliminated. And I think that this team needs to realize that they need to do it now. You’ll hear teams talk about rebuilds, the Rangers are talking about rebuilds, there’s organizations that are talking about doing it on the fly. Then some team will come out of the blue and make the playoffs like New Jersey [Devils ]did last year. They’re in the best division in hockey, they’ve got to play with the urgency from the start but realize that they’ve already been through some great experiences and the time to do it is now. Their window needs to be open now and they need to start realizing that.
They need to rely on their experiences and I think they will, I think that naturally they will. Ya know, it’s tough to go through those things but some teams go through bottom out for three years to get (Evgeni) Malkin, (Marc-Andre) Fleury, (Sidney) Crosby, we didn’t do that but we picked up some great pieces, and even look at what Werenski’s been through, like he played through that shoulder injury last year. I’m telling you, that’s not easy to do but he did it and he’s healthy and he’ll be better for it. Individually and as a team they’ve got to draw off their experiences.
*Special thanks to Jody Shelley for his time and helping make this interview possible.*