The Wild’s defensive dynamo Wes Walz on stitches, fighting, scoring goals, and hostility in the workplace.

by Bruce Leonard
Winter 2004

photo by Michelle Carpentier
Wes Walz admits it. He’s lost count. “I have absolutely no idea how many stitches I’ve taken to the face over my career,” he says flashing a smile that is missing its two front teeth. “All I know is, it’s a lot.”

In his fourth year with the Wild, Walz’s hounding in-your-face style has permanently marked up his mug, but it’s also made him one of the NHL’s top two-way players. His performance in last season’s improbable playoff run (he scored 13 points and was a continual source of frustration for opponents like Peter Forsberg and Todd Bertuzzi) garnered him league-wide acclaim. By season’s end, he was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given to the league’s top defensive forward.

Recovering in the safe confines of the Wild locker room after a particularly exhausting practice he explains why he loves a game that leaves its victims scarred, crippled, and most often spent. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was 6 years old. I don’t know any other life. I just go out and play and don’t even think about the brutality. You just get numb to it.”

MS: If such a category existed, you would probably lead the NHL in shots to the face. Do you have a magnet hidden in your noggin that attracts all the sticks and pucks?

WW: It seems that way sometimes. As a center, you’re around the puck a little more, especially defensively, so you tend to get a few more sticks in the face. Plus I tend to skate bent over. I think that’s why I eat more lumber than most guys during the course of the year.

MS: You’re not an expert, but is the old pull the jersey over his head move still the most effective way to apply a beating?

WW: It use to be years ago, but now they’ve got tie downs on the back of the jersey making it almost impossible to pull the jersey over somebody’s head. The best way now is to try and get one quick shot in before they grab your jersey.

MS: Who’s the baddest dude in the NHL?

WW: Matt Johnson. He’s one of the toughest guys for sure, and I’m glad he’s on my team.

MS: Isn’t it odd that some of the toughest men in all of sports wear girdles?

WW: Some of the things we put on are odd, but I’d never want to question one of the tough guys as to their choice of undergarments.

I remember a guy by the name of Rob Ray coming around the net and that’s all I remember. I had my head down and it was lights out. I learned to play with my head up after that.
MS: Describe the most painful hit youíve taken in an NHL game.

WW: It was in my rookie year with Boston. I was 20 years old and I remember a guy by the name of Rob Ray coming around the net and that’s all I remember. I had my head down and it was lights out. I learned to play with my head up after that.

MS: Hockey players have quite a female fan base. You’re married now, but what was the wildest thing you’ve seen an enamored fan do?

WW: In juniors, there was this bunch of girls that we called the Ferrari girls. They’d always drive by in their Ferrari whenever we were in town to play a game. They’d follow our team bus around on the highway and do different things that I won’t go into. Let’s just say you’d often catch the bus on two wheels.

MS: Violence on the ice isn’t your thing, so what drives you?

WW: Just to stay in the league. I want to play in the NHL forever. I don’t want it to end. I’m having so much fun here in Minnesota. That’s all the motivation I need.

MS: Can you flip the switch in any other sports?

WW: I used to play baseball a lot growing up, but I couldn’t play baseball year round in Canada, so I switched to hockey, which probably worked out for the best.

MS: Which can you hit harder, a baseball or a slap shot?

WW: Definitely a slap shot. I was never really a gifted hitter. I was always good in the field and had a good set of hands, but hitting was not my forte.

MS: Could you thread it into Steven Tylerís extra large pie hole from center ice?

WW: I doubt it, unless his pie hole has gotten bigger the last couple of years. The last time I saw him, it wasn’t big enough. Maybe Mick Jagger, but not Steven Tyler.

MS: Who has the deadliest slap shot in hockey?

WW: Al MacInnis has the hardest slap shot in the game. No question about it.

MS: You’re one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards. What’s the bigger thrill, shutting down your opponent or scoring a short-handed goal?

WW: Scoring a short-handed goal is very exciting. As a defensive player you don’t get that opportunity to score too often, so when you do you try to enjoy it as best you can.

photo by Michelle Carpentier
MS: If you were useless on the ice, what profession would you shoot for?

WW: I’d probably be a fireman. I’ve had a lot of cousins and uncles on my side of the family that have been fire fighters. I’ve always thought that would be something I would be interested in.

MS: Say you get an office job. How should co-workers settle a dispute hockey style?

WW: A good rule of thumb: use what is around you. A good chair over the back will take someone out. If you’re going to check someone into the wall, remember to lead with your shoulder.

MS: Time for the hockey speed round. If we were to make the Wes Walz biopic, what music would be playing during the obligatory training sequence?

WW: Anything by Creed.

MS: Worst locker room prank?

WW: Rookie year in Boston, the veterans turned my jeans into a pair of cut off shorts. I had to walk out of the arena wearing shorts when it was 20 below zero outside.

MS: Worst hockey hair cut youíve ever had?

WW: Definitely in juniors, I kind of had that mullet thing going.

MS: You list “Caddyshack” as your favorite movie. Are you more Chevy Chase or Rodney Dangerfield?

WW: Rodney Dangerfield. I just think of him saying no respect, no respect. That’s sort of how it’s gone for me throughout my career.

MS: Finally, pretend you sell a life size cutout of yourself on your Web site. Which room in my house is the appropriate place to put you and spend some quality Wes Walz time?

WW: In the bathroom. When youíre sitting on the toilet with nothing better to do, you could count how many stitches I have on my face.