Over the course of 1,108 career games, Hal Gill made his fair share of enemies. That was only natural for his role as a large (6-foot-4, 243 pounds), physical defenseman who was expected to clear away trespassing forwards trying to make life miserable for his goaltender. His battles with pesky Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom (above, with Marc-Andre Fleury) during the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals were simply brutal.
But by many accounts, Gill made more friends than foes over the course of his 16 seasons in the NHL which saw him play for six teams.
A member of the Penguins for two seasons, including their run as the Stanley Cup champions of 2009, Gill announced his retirement yesterday at the age of 40.
Earlier today, following the morning skates of the Penguins and Rangers at Madison Square Garden, many of Gill's ex-teammates talked about him:
Sidney Crosby, Penguins center (Played with Gill in Pittsburgh) - “Just a real fun guy to be around. Always very talkative in the room. Joking around all the time. Kept things pretty loose. Playing against him, he was hard to get away from. With that reach, the way he laid down on the ice, blocked shots and blocked passes. So many times I thought I had him beat and he'd find a way to get his stick or his foot or something on it. A great career and obviously, had a great time playing with him here.”
Nick Spaling, Penguins center (Played with Gill in Nashville) - “He was traded to us halfway through the year or closer to the deadline and we had just finished playing him. We had a five-on-three [power play] against him at the time when he was with Montreal. He has that huge body [and] he shut it down and we were kind of all talking about it then we ended up trading for him. He was known for his penalty kill obviously being a big man and a shutdown [defenseman]. As a guy, he's one of the best teammates I've played with. He keeps it light, keeps the mood in the lockeroom always even keeled with his good mood he brought to the rink all the time so he was a fun guy to play against. … He was a competitor. He was a guy that played hard and didn't make it easy out there which you respect as a hockey player. You knew when you were playing against him, it's going to be a battle. He plays hard and plays that physical chippy game. He brought that every night and it was never an easy night against a guy like that."
Maxim Lapierre, center (Played with Gill in Montreal) –" A funny guy that likes to have fun all the time. It's pretty impressive, a guy all big and tall is having [that] skill set. I had a good ride with him in the playoffs (in 2010 when the Canadiens upset the Capitals and Penguins in the first two rounds). He did a lot of good things for his teammates blocking shots and things like that. I enjoyed my time with him … He's the type of guy that keeps things loose and it was always fun to go to the rink."
Dominic Moore, center (Played with Gill in Montreal) - “When I was in Montreal in 2010, we had a great playoff run together and he was a big part of that. He was a big body, very smart positionally, big, long stick. Just took up a lot of ground there. A very vocal guy in the dressing room and a real personality and had a real successful career. He should be proud of the career he had."
Patric Hornqvist, right winger (Played with Gill in Nashville) - “He's a great guy. One of the funniest guys I actually played with. Great teammate too. He always stepped up for teammates. Always a leader on the ice and outside the ice as well. Just a great person. His whole family is great. Too bad he's got to retire but he [had] a great run and won the [Stanley] Cup and all that. He did great for himself for sure.”
Update: Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin, who played with Gill in Pittsburgh and Boston, offered some thoughts:
What was he like as a teammate?
“Honestly, one of the great personalities in the game. He was a great teammate. A great teammate. So funny. Always kept the room loose. I remember when I got traded to Boston and Hal and I were teammates, probably the first week, I was thinking to myself, 'When is this guy going to shut the heck up?' After that week, I was like, 'Where's Hal? We need him in the room. You need him talking.' He's an infectious personality. He had a heck of a career.”
You were a net-front forward. You probably bumped heads with him as an opponent.
“Hal's a big guy. He took up a lot of room out there. If he gained body position on you, it was tough. His stick was long and he could get to you because of that. I always used to tease him about his cross-ice passes. But Hal put together a real nice career. I was lucky enough to be teammates with him twice and won a Stanley Cup with him. He's a good man. A good man.”
When the NHL introduced new rules in 2005 to speed up the game, a lot of big, slow defensemen didn't adapt and were phased out of the game. Gill seemed to adjust his game to the rules.
"He did. He's a survivor. He's a smart guy. The one thing about him was he knew what type of player he was. He knew his strengths. He knew his weaknesses. He didn't put himself in bad situations. That's the key to longevity in this industry is that you have to be honest with yourself and know what you are. And Hal was. He definitely adjusted well to the new rules."
(Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)