Hat Tricks Bad Boy NOT a Bad Guy

by Doug Lattuca

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Daniel Amesbury’s cover is certainly a hard bound one. It’s easy to see that the Danbury Hat Tricks veteran is tough, physical, intense, and a handful to play against.

Credit: Chris Rutsch

Some would call him strictly an enforcer. Amesbury, who turns 33 on Nov. 17, led all of professional hockey with 298 penalty minutes last season. That bad boy persona which helped earn him the nickname “Diamond Hands” in his first year in the FPHL has certainly carried over into this campaign.

But once you open the hard cover and dive into chapter one you find that the Amesbury is a misunderstood and misrepresented leader who does what it takes to live up to his character as a “protector.”

“What people don’t understand about my role is that I’m not fighting for myself, I’m not fighting out of anger,” Amesbury said. “If you watch my fights, and you watch closely, I’m probably not even mad. You’ll see a lot of times where I’ll growl at a guy or say, ‘I’m coming for you next’ and the guy beside me on the bench knows I’m not mad. At the end of the day, my role is to protect my teammates and make sure they have as much time and space out there and they’re as comfortable as they can be and some of that also means trying to make the other team a little bit uncomfortable. When I step on the ice this is who I am but the second I step off I’m back to being a happy-go-lucky guy. I get to interact with the fans, my kids, and my family. It’s hugs and kisses.”

“He supplies all the energy,” captain Jonny Ruiz said. “When he speaks, everyone listens. It might be a little scary at times but he’s our tough guy, he’s our rock when it comes down to things. You get on the ice and you know he’s going to have your back. He’s the heart of the team, a bull in a china shop, and someone we all feed off of.”

Amesbury compares his on-ice role to a character in the WWF, an American professional wrestling television program that aired from the mid '80s to the early 2000s (now the WWE). As an enforcer - similar to a WWF performer - acting like a tough guy is almost as important as being one.

“I’ve been around sports like box lacrosse and hockey for a long time which both involve fighting, so there’s kind of a way to go about things and a way to come into a new league,” Amesbury said. “I learned how to play the psychological side of it and played that role in Year 1. I don’t think I need to fight this year because of what I did last year. Now everybody’s looking over their shoulder, everybody knows what I can do, so now I can play hockey. I want to play hockey. I don’t want to sit in the penalty box. I don’t want to fight every game. It’s just something I had to do last year as my first season out of retirement.”

Prior to being a kingpin and fan-favorite on last year's Championship winning team, Amesbury took a nine year break from professional hockey last suiting up for the Columbus Cottonmouths (SPHL) and Denver Cutthroats (CHL) in 2013-14.

“Ames means the world to this team and the organization,” alternate captain and player-coach Kyle Gonzalez said. “His leadership on and off of the ice is so valuable to the young guys and even to guys who have been around a bit like myself. His approach to every game and situation is second to none, along with his mental mindset on how to get through the ups and downs the game presents us, helped us reach our goal last year and is getting us through the little rough patch we’re on right now. "

Amesbury's job as an enforcer is nothing new in hockey. It’s been around since the beginning and Amesbury feels there’s a mutual understanding among those who classify as one.

“I respect those guys no matter what, even if it is somebody that I have a passionate fight with," Amesbury said. "They’re standing up for their team just like I’m standing up for mine. A lot of the guys I do have a relationship with, but as soon as that whistle goes, I have a job to do and he has a job to do. We’re not getting paid to be friends, we’re paid to do our jobs and protect our teams.”

Amesbury’s character development has people all around the League spotlighting his No. 14 jersey every time he touches the ice. This season, Amesbury leads the Hat Tricks with 67 penalty minutes already. No one is less surprised about this than Amesbury himself.

“It's inevitable,” Amesbury said. “If you play the game the way I play you’re going to have a target on your back. You can pretty much get away with doing anything you want to me but if I do it then I get suspended. We saw that last year when I got cross-checked in the back of the head, no suspension. If I did that I’d probably be kicked out of the League. I get it and I want to say I understand it in a certain sense because they’re trying to clean the game up. I don’t consider myself a dirty player and I don’t want to be a dirty player. Every single situation I’ve been in this year, the refs have told me to stop when it’s done, and I get out. I still usually end up with a penalty but it’s to be expected and I’m going to adjust my game as much as I have to to find that line.”

Most people who judge a book by its cover, tend to change their opinion once they get the full story. Amesbury said this has been the case more times than not.

"A lot of people come up to me and they’ll say to me ‘man, I can’t believe you’re so nice’,” Amesbury said. “To me, hearing that, I’m not offended by it because I get what they see on the ice but it’s like ‘yeah man, come hang out with me’. I’ve had fans in the past make comments like that and then meet me down the road and now they’re on there (social media) vouching for me and some of the people in those groups are saying good things about me now that weren’t saying good things about me last year because I’ve met them and talked to them. I may have a strong energy when I’m on the ice, but the gun’s on my hip. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want people to feel comfortable around me.”

Credit: Chris Rutsch 

For Amesbury his book is still being written, but a few chapters in he’s a Danbury hockey legend, a man not to be messed with on the ice, and, most importantly, a good guy.