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The Biggs bang theory

December 10, 2013
Photo: Graig Abel

by Todd Crocker || AHL On The Beat Archive

Scientific theory isn’t likely what you think it is.

We’ve become so used to detective shows offering us crime theories that we forget what the word means to the people who use it accurately. Real theories aren’t just some notion or gut feeling. Science theory explains things like gravity, relativity, motion, evolution. What we know so far about something is the accepted truth until -- and this is where science is as merciless as sport -- you can prove it wrong. The longer you can’t prove it wrong the more solid the theory becomes. Time is essential to a good theory.

The act of proving is called peer review. Essentially other people try to prove your work wrong all the time.

Sound familiar? Sound like sports? Every time Tyler Biggs, a first-round draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, steps on the ice someone is trying to prove the folks who drafted him wrong. If ever there was a boatload carrying expectations this one would be displacing a supertanker of water with weight.

“I’d be lying if I said that it isn’t somewhere in the back of my mind,” said the 20-year-old Biggs, who went 22nd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, “but once you start playing professional hockey no one here in the room is thinking much about where or when you were drafted. There is only today, this game. Hockey doesn’t let you think about the past for long. The better guy is going to play.”

Biggs is honest with his feelings about his forward motion and how he sees it developing.

It’s easy to see a guy score a bunch of goals then get the call-up. It is the easiest, most visual example of cause-and-effect in the game.

However for most players in development, including Biggs, it happens the other way. An opportunity develops in the lineup somewhere in the organization and you take advantage of it.

In the “theory” we have all created to satisfy our thirst for solving television crime -- the one some would apply to sports scenarios -- Biggs should be banging boards in the NHL right now. He is, after all, a number-one pick and timetables are different for them.

That isn’t theory. That is hope.

Biggs likely shares and surpasses any hopes anyone has for him. But just as the science crucible burns away everything in search of truth, hockey needs to test every player to find the right answers. Those exams have uncountable variables, including many that the player himself has no control over.

Recently, NHL veteran Jerred Smithson was moved to the Marlies and stated that he would control what he could control, which is playing the game as hard as he could. Maybe the most interesting correlation here is that Biggs said exactly the same thing just a handful of professional games into his rink work.

“I can only do the things I do and get better at them,” Biggs said. “You look at what is happening around you but really when you get on the ice you compete and that is all you have control over.”

And peer review? Sixty minutes, three or four times a week. It could drive any player, including Biggs, to distraction and despair, but he has some built-in gravity.

“My dad was a professional player, 17 years, still holds the AHL single-season points record,” said Tyler of his father Don Biggs, who recorded 138 points with the Binghamton Rangers in 1992-93. “He has been a great part of my career, coaching me, talking to me, even if we are different styles of player.”

Don Biggs coached Tyler until the age of 14.

“I’m sure there are times when I was that age when I didn’t like it, but I look back and it was great,” Tyler said. “He has an unreal passion for the game. If you would ask my mom he would have played for free.”

The evolution of the Biggs men and their love of the game handles all inquiries. Don has distilled the love of the game to his son. Tyler plays and practices at it like there is nothing else relative.

How does that develop? As a youngster he would get to skate in places and at times that can only be unique to a professional player’s kid.

“When I was really young I would get on my skates way before my dad’s games or practices before anyone was around and skate around the rink with the lights off, shooting, playing scoring games,” Tyler recalled. “Besides winning, it was my best feeling in hockey. Freedom.”

Maybe that explains Biggs being one of the last guys off the ice most practices. He is waiting for the lights to go out and take a spin around the rink shooting pucks, feeling the game at its most basic elements.

Tyler Biggs plays hard minutes in the AHL right now. You will find him on the Marlies penalty kill, as he has a great ability to separate his AHL peers from the puck. And just when you think that is his role, he makes an eyes-wide creative move 14 inches from the goaltender.

There is more time for peer review. There is more time to see him bang into opponents, bang in rebounds, and perfect his professional game. You will see his name on the back of an NHL sweater. That is the current Theory of Biggs and it will be a hard one to prove wrong.