Ahead of the Stanley Cup Final, ESPN released an E:60 Profile on the Nashville Predators’ PK Subban.
The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman has become one of the most popular players in the league, but he’s had his challenges along the way. One of only 86 black players to ever play in the NHL, Subban has dealt with racism throughout his career. One of the most colorful players in the league, Subban has been criticized by traditionalists for his exuberant celebrations and audacious style. Subban has dealt with these issues with class and confidence, never straying from who he is.
“There’s only 700 hockey players in the league. If all of them sound the same, that’s boring,” Subban said.
“Can I not enjoy playing in the NHL? Can I not enjoy scoring a goal? I mean, I really don’t care if you don’t like it or not,” Subban continued. “It’s not that it’s disrespectful to the game, but, I’m sorry, when I score a goal in the National Hockey League against the best players in the world, if I get excited and I want to show my emotions, I will.”
Here are some of the highlights of the special.
The profile starts with Subban at Tootsie’s, a country bar in Nashville, singing a Johnny Cash song.
“I’m not afraid to be different than everyone else,” Subban said. “That’s me.”
A montage is shown of Subban dancing, kissing Pierre McGuire, and wearing a cowboy hat.
“I don’t like him. I think on the ice he’s a piece of garbage,” former All-Star MVP John Scott said. “He’s seen as a hot shot. He’s this guy that thinks he’s better than everybody.”
Subban’s parents both immigrated to Ontario from the Caribbean in the 1970s. His father Karl moved from Jamaica to Sudbury, and his mother, Maria, came from Montserrat to Hamilton. Subban’s father Karl is a retired school principal. Subban was born in Toronto and raised in the city’s Rexdale neighbourhood. He has four siblings: Nastassia, Natasha, Jordan, and Malcolm, who now plays with the Bruins.
“When PK Subban started up, I didn’t see too many black faces around the rinks,” Karl Subban said. “The first time he came out of the dressing room and he was crying, and in tears, someone used the N word on the ice. We dealt with it. We said, ‘Hey, listen. You might hear it again.’ I look at race this way. Race can be a big, big distraction. We will not allow race to get in the way of us achieving our potential or going where we want to go.”
Subban would eventually play junior hockey for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. During the 2007 NHL Draft, Subban was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, 43rd overall. Growing up, the Subbans rooted for the Canadiens despite growing up in Toronto. PK was particularly enamored with Habs legend Jean Béliveau, who was one of his biggest idols growing up as a hockey player.
“I was surprised. I was happy,” Subban said of being drafted by Montreal. “I was excited to know that I was going to able to make my mark in the NHL with the Canadiens, my favorite childhood team and my dad’s favorite childhood team.”
On November 16, 2010, after a chippy game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Mike Richards complained about PK’s brashness on the ice to a Philadelphia radio station, using threatening language.
“He’s a guy that… has come in the league and hasn’t earned respect and it’s just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here and so much as think that he’s better than a lot of people,” Richards said. “I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but something might happen to him if he continues to be that cocky.”
Subban said of the incident, “I didn’t know they send you a letter, saying, ‘PK, you’re going to be a rookie next year. We’re going to need you act like this. We’re going to need you to walk like this. I didn’t get the memo.”
Subban’s next big challenge was after scoring one of the biggest goals of his career. Subban ripped a huge slap shot past Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, tallying an OTGWG in the 2014 playoffs. Canadiens players were pelted with trash.
On Twitter, thousands of Bruins fans spewed racist language towards Subban, similar to what happened to former Capital Joel Ward.
“What people may say on Twitter and social media is not a reflection, by any means, of the league or the Boston Bruins,” Subban said to the media then. “Whoever that is, they’ll get dealt with, but it’s completely separate from this league. The NHL’s got tons of players from different backgrounds from different places around the world. That’s what makes this league so special and that’s what makes sports so special, it brings everybody together.”
It was a defining moment for Subban and his family.
“I was so proud of him,” Karl Subban said. “As a dad, he said it exactly and he dealt with it the way I would have wanted him to. Not to go down and play in the mud.”
“I never look at myself as a black player,” Subban said. “Never. I think of myself as a hockey player that wants to be the best hockey player in the league. I know I’m black. Everybody else can see that I’m black, but I don’t want to be defined as just a black hockey player. I want to be defined as one of the best hockey players or the best hockey player. Hopefully someone who can transcend the game.”
On August 2014, Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million contract, making PK the league’s highest paid defenseman.
13 months later, Subban made a $10 million donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. It was the largest donation ever by a Canadian athlete.
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) September 16, 2015
But the affection for Subban was not shared by the Canadiens. Subban got in a handful of fights in practice, he angered management during tense contract negotiations, and Habs players passed over Subban when they voted for a new captain. After missing the playoffs in 2016, the Habs traded Subban to the Predators for Shea Webber.
“I wasn’t given an explanation,” Subban said. “I didn’t expect an explanation. I really didn’t get an explanation on why I was traded. I still have no idea why I’m still not a Montreal Canadien. Quite frankly, I don’t really care.”
“The reality is, I make $9 million a year to play hockey,” Subban continued. “Does it matter? I love Montreal, but I’m going to Nashville. Well, okay. Go have fun.”
Subban scored in his first game and on his first shot as a Predator.
The biggest game of the 2016-17 regular season for Subban was when he returned to Montreal to play the Canadiens. The Habs played Subban a video tribute before the game and the crowd gave him a long standing ovation, chanting his name. Subban cried on the ice.
— FOX Sports Tennessee (@PredsOnFSTN) March 3, 2017
“All those memories come back,” Subban said. “Family, teammates, hockey games, emotional games, I felt that I shared that with all the fans and community here. That’s how it all came up.”
“PK found a way to touch the city’s emotional core,” his father Karl said. “I think that they’re forever connected.”
P.K. Subban will go down as one of the most compelling people to ever play the game of hockey pic.twitter.com/aZvLcWdpNA
— Gino Hard (@Ginohard_) May 31, 2017
Screenshot via ESPN/E:60
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