Cost of hockey forced JJ Watt to switch sports

  • Joe Ray
jj watt

Imagine the physical impact that behemoth NFL player JJ Watt could have had in the NHL. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

For Wisconsin native and current NFL star JJ Watt, being a physical presence is his game. Starting his third season with the Houston Texans, Watt has become a household name in the NFL. Watt’s pass-rushing prowess, affinity for deflecting passes, and forcing back opposing linemen with his brute strength has made him one of the league’s premier interior defensive linemen in a very short time.

But for a moment, let’s take a step down memory lane. At three years old, Watt was falling in love with a different sport growing up in Wisconsin: ice hockey. Watt sat down with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and, among other things, discussed the first sport he fell in love with.

“I grew up in Wisconsin loving hockey. I mean, I started when I was three years old on skates. I played all over—in Canada all the time, all over the U.S., over in Germany for a 10-day tournament. Hockey, honestly, was my first love. The excitement, the fast pace, the intensity of the game … I still love it to this day. Really, I had to quit. It was financial. I have two younger brothers and we were all playing on a travel team, and it was extremely expensive. My family is a middle class family. When I grew up and learned how much it actually cost for us to play hockey, I could not believe that my parents let us play as long as they did. Now I’m forever grateful for my parents even giving me the opportunity, because honestly those were some of the best years of my life. Now that I understand how much it cost, I’m so thankful to my parents.”

Watt said that, despite his current size, he wasn’t always the big, physical guy on his hockey teams.

“I wasn’t always this big, so I was more of a center back then and a goal scorer. Loved the game. Still do. I love the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s one of my favorite sporting events … And [6-9 Bruins defenseman] Zdeno Chara—he’s representing for all us big guys out there. I love him. I love his physical brand of hockey”

As an NFL defensive lineman, Watt weighs in at 6’5″ and 288 pounds. While the only plausible NHL comparison by size is 6’5″ and however much he weighs Dustin Byfuglien, Watt surely wouldn’t have packed on as much weight had he remained in the sport of hockey. Still, big, rangy skaters with a knack for separating opposing skaters from the puck are valuable commodities throughout the NHL, so with Watt’s compete level he very well could have found a spot in a different major league.

The reality of the sport of hockey is that it gets expensive to keep up with team costs, equipment costs, and everything else that goes in to the sport. That, combined with the lack of playable area throughout many parts of the United States, are major impediments to the adoption of the game throughout the country.

Around the Rink Columnist Joe Ray – @joeray119

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