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Former NHL defenseman Willie Huber dies at 52

June 30, 2010 | 12:54 pm

This probably will be a footnote on a busy day before the NHL's free-agency period begins, but I couldn't let the death of former NHL defenseman Willie Huber at 52, after he apparently had a heart attack, go by without offering a small tribute.

I encountered him during the 1980s, while he was playing for the New York Rangers and I was covering the team for Newsday. He was a behemoth of a man, standing 6 feet 5 and weighing probably 230 pounds or more during an era when someone 6-1 was considered fairly big. He had a good shot from the point and was an excellent skater, but every coach he had would see his size and demand that he become a banger.

It didn't matter that he didn't want to play that kind of game. He wanted to be a finesse player -- and he had the skills for it -- but his size consigned him to a role he never wanted, and he never got past that.

One day, after some coach or another had blistered him for not being physical, we were talking and he said, almost wistfully, "Sometimes I wish I was 5 feet 10."

I felt bad for him and for all the coaches who condemned him for not being something that just wasn't in his nature.

Rest in peace, Willie. I hope they let you carry the puck now.

-- Helene Elliott