Thursday, 16 February 2012

In Their Own Words

The past year has been a tough one for the NHL enforcer.  Three highly publicized deaths and countless articles written about bringing about an end to fighting, and their future employment in the NHL.  It’s pretty obvious that I am in the anti-fighting camp but I won’t pretend to understand what these fighters go through.  So let’s hear from them regarding the job, and the impact on their lives.

“I never held any intentional premeditation that there was going to be a fight. Sometimes, it happened. What I see today is different than that. I would prefer today, with the way the game has gone, to see fighting completely eliminated.  I think most fights – 90 per cent – add nothing to the game and in fact, they take away from the beauty of the game. It’s in that category of mixed martial arts or WWE, and the players risk serious injury.”
Jim Peplinski

“There were lots of knocks and bruises along the way. I know there are guys who have suffered more and worse trauma than I did. I hate it for guys that don’t leave the game the same way. It’s a great game and there is a tremendous upside in terms of compensation and the style of life that you live. It’s painful to see guys who leave the game and can’t lead a normal life. I don’t think anyone owes the game that much.’’
Stu Grimson, who suffered a concussion during a fight in 2002.

“Sitting on the bench during those games, a sick feeling washed over me. My stomach churned with fear, anxiety and anticipation. I felt my teammates' expectations as they looked at me. They knew I was going to stand up for them, and I had a sense of pride in my role and responsibility.”   "I'd go in cold, my legs and back a little sore from sitting most of the game. There were 20,000 people in the building, but only one had my attention. I might as well have left my stick and gloves on the bench. The joke around the dressing room was that tough guys don't even see the puck. "You handle it like a manhole cover," my teammates joked. It's true. Like a magnet, you are always drawn to your counterpart on the other team.”
Brent Severyn

"They had to put in a mesh plate to hold the eye in place. They put in mesh rather than titanium, so I could fight again but I didn't want to do it anymore,"
Brantt Myhres, reflecting on the surgery to repair the crushed bones around his left eye socket suffered in a 2005 pre-season fight with Georges Laraque.

“I mean, you’re in a fight, you get punched out, you black out, you go blank, and deep down there’s a little voice going, C’mon, c’mon, come back!  So you come back and see the guy’s fist eight inches from your face. So is that a concussion?  Would I tell [team doctors] that I couldn’t play the next day?  No.”
Lyndon Byers

“After the Red Wings’ Martin Lapointe hits Blues’ star Chris Pronger, I drop my gloves, but Lapointe turtles - he won’t fight me.  Very next shift my coach sends me out there and who’s on the ice?  Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov - all their best skill guys - and Joey Kocur.  Joey looks at me; he goes, ‘So what’s up?’ I said, ‘Well, as soon as the puck drops, I’m gonna two-hand Yzerman.’  Joey says, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Joey, you know the job. I’m gonna two-hand him first; then you and I’ll get busy.’   I two-hand Yzerman, he goes down, Joe drops his gloves, I drop my gloves, the linesmen get in there, they break it up. We go to the penalty box together, and we’ve both got smiles on our faces. He said, ‘What was that all about?’ I said, ‘You tell that mother—— [Lapointe], if he does that to Pronger again, I’ll break Yzerman’s f—— ankle, and then you and I can fight after. But if you’d rather not have that, you can go over there and tell Lapointe to cool it, and we won’t have any problems.”
Tony Twist, explaining “the Code”.

“None of us dreamed when we were little boys of fighting at center ice in Maple Leaf Gardens. . . . You grow up dreaming of scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup finals.”
Kelly Chase

“The question becomes, “What are you willing to do?” Are you willing to kill penalties?  Block shots? Are you willing to play on a checking line? Are you willing to be a tough guy?”
Jim McKenzie

“I had to [fight] earlier in my career, to get me where I am. But I was never O.K. with it.  I have a tough time just sitting on the bench. I tried to work my ass off to make myself a better player, so I could contribute in other ways.”
Shawn Thornton

“My last year in juniors I had a little over a point a game. Not to toot my own horn, but I was a pretty skilled player. I was also a f—— maniac. I got to the NHL, and I don’t think I loved the game enough. I had long hair, I rode motorcycles, I loved the social life.  (Bruins great) Wayne Cashman was so impressed with me that when he retired, he gave me his number 12. I pissed all that away.   My third year they sent me down to Moncton (of the AHL).  They basically were telling me to grow up. In Moncton.   I told myself, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna fight the three toughest guys on the other team for the next 10 games, and if I don’t get called up,  I’m gonna quit.  Four games into it I’m losing my mind. After a fight I climb the penalty box glass to get a guy. I got called up the next day.”
Lyndon Byers

“I used to not be able to sleep before games and I would sweat in the afternoon. Sometimes I was even praying that the other guy - or even me - would be scratched so the fight wouldn’t happen.”
Georges Laraque

"On nights you knew you had to fight, there were nerves, you never slept the night before," he told an interviewer last March. "But you dealt with it or you didn't. You don't really get over it; you just go out and do your job."
Wade Belak

"A sense of fear, especially, came over me.  I did what these guys did for as long as they did, or longer. And you get the sense: is this going to happen to me, too?”
Todd Fedoruk, reflecting on the death of 3 enforcers, and whose afflictions over the past decade included a shattered cheekbone (at the hands of Boogaard) and a battle over alcohol and drug addiction.

“The guys that have played the role have never denied how it makes them feel and what it does to them emotionally.  It’s one of the hardest jobs in sports. All people see is 20,000 people standing and cheering you on. They don’t see the dark times. They don’t see you curled up in a ball in a hotel room, scared to death for the next fight.”
Brantt Myhres, who made five trips to league-mandated rehabilitation because of alcohol and drug addictions, and now works as a substance-abuse counselor.

“They scare me.  They scare me because we don’t know why this is happening.”
Ryan Vandenbussche, speaking about the death of 3 enforcers and who acknowledges bouts of memory loss.

"It got to the point where you talk about taking your life and I can honestly say that to you, I thought of suicide many times,"
Jim Thomson

"I could give you about 20 names of people that have demons still because of that job,"  “Listen, they have to step up,”  “Now more than ever, people have to realize that the job that we did is a really stressful job. Mentally, it’s one of the hardest things.  This, as sad as an incident that it is, is tainting the image of the NHL. If we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be bad. It’s not going to be safe anymore. It’s unbelievable.”
George Laraque


I can’t begin to understand what enforcers go through in their careers.  After hearing and reading their words, there is much more that I don’t understand.  Does a 15 or 16 year old hockey player understand the choice that they are making by pursuing an NHL career as an enforcer?   Do they truly comprehend that in return for the money, the fame and the adulation of the crowd, that they will get a job that takes a tremendous toll, both physically and emotionally?   How can a real hockey fan, after fully understanding what an enforcer goes through, continue to support fighting in hockey?  Can general managers and coaches look in the mirror while continuing to employ fighters, knowing what impact it has on the individual, for an activity that is not integral to the game?    Why does the NHLPA, the majority of whose members would not willingly fight in the NHL, not take steps to protect their fellow players?

Why do people still think its part of the game?

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