An amazing contradiction is that some of the toughest, most violent
NHL players are giving, sensitive family men. They play the role of
enforcer, literally fighting to keep their jobs. But rarely do hockey's
heavyweights carry on-ice aggression into anti-social behavior. In fact,
the opposite seems true: when the final buzzer sounds, they tap into
their soft side.
"The people I meet can't believe I'm the same person," Maple Leafs'
left wing Kris King said. "They see what you're doing on the ice,
battling and fighting, and they think you're ornery." King is married,
has three children and is known in Toronto for work with Ronald McDonald
House and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Boston Bruins' left wing Ken Baumgartner said, "I play a physical
game and often must fight to protect myself and my teammates. That
doesn't determine what I do away from the rink. A strong family life has
been important to me. I have a wife and two children. I have things to
occupy my time." After taking correspondence and summer courses for 14
years, Baumgartner, a vice president with the NHL Players' Association,
is one course shy of a college degree.
Every team has one or two players they count on to protect finesse
players by fighting opposing tough guys. They use euphemisms for the
job: answering the bell, standing up, going. "When the time comes,"
Edmonton Oilers' assistant general manager Bruce MacGregor said, "if
somebody's leaning on one of your stars, somebody's got to go out and
take care of the problem."
Maple Leafs' right wing Tie Domi said, "You do it for your team. You
don't do it for yourself . . . What people see on the ice, they think
that's what you are. When I go on the ice, the switch goes on. When I go
off the ice, the switch goes off." Domi is involved with Toronto's Sick
Kids' Hospital and Variety Village, which helps disabled children swim
and play basketball.
No enforcers will play at the Ice Palace in Tampa at today's NHL
All-Star Game. That's for the skilled who dangle, dart and dance.
Enforcers lumber, clutch, grab and punch. They play five minutes a game
and do damage with their fists. But they tend to be the most popular
players on their teams.
St. Louis Blues' right wing Kelly Chase said, "I feel fortunate to
be playing in the league. I don't think about playing in All-Star Games
and winning individual awards." Chase founded Gateway Special Hockey,
which allows children with disabilities to play hockey by paying for
Calgary Flames' psychologist Dr. Cal Botterill said enforcers "see
themselves in a policeman role as opposed to that of a goon. A lot of
times they overcompensate [with charity work]. Deep down they are great
guys who have strong values but because of the pressure of their role
they may feel an extra respnsibility . . . I don't know whether it's an
apology or a desire to do something that shows they are caring people .
. . You see somebody totally the antithesis of what the average person
Colorado Avalanche left wing Warren Rychel said, "Most [enforcers]
are intelligent people. They don't carry it off the ice. Eighty-five per
cent of the guys are middle-class guys who grew up in great homes with
good family values . . . It would be nice to [make an All-Star team] but
within the [dressing] room you're well-respected. The other players are
glad to have enforcers in the lineup to create a good working
Last July, Blues' left wing Tony Twist organized a motorcycle tour
$150,000 for the Head First Foundation. The charity encourages children
to guard against head injuries by wearing helmets when bicycle riding.
Colorado right wing Jeff Odgers held a golf tournament that raised
$13,000 for a hockey rink in his home town of Spy Hill, Saskatchewan.
European, NCAA and Canadian college leagues eject fighters. Canada
is the only country that permits fighting in junior leagues. Most
enforcers are Canadian and tend to be from small western cities. The
Western Hockey League is the most physical of Canada's three top junior
"It's not easy," said former NHL defenseman Randy Moller, now the
Florida Panthers' radio color man. "When I played for Lethbridge [in the
WHL], we had 12-hour bus trips to Portland, 10 hours to Winnipeg. It was
cold. I just think the [WHL] guys are more prepared [to serve as
been a tough league, where you've got to stand up for yourself. It seems
like they grow the crops pretty good, not only in the fields but in the
farmhouse. It's a rugged environment . . . that seems to produce people
with a lot of character. Generally [enforcers] are from farming
communities and have been taught to be humble."
Odgers said Spy Hill is a town of 250 people, most of whom farm,
raise cattle or work in a mine. Odgers grew up pounding fence posts and
clearing rocks off a grain field. Baumgartner hails from Flin Flon,
Manitoba, where he worked several summers in a smelter where ore was
concentrated and turned into copper. Twist worked four summers in a
lumber yard in Prince George, British Columbia. Chase helped his father
run a 1,200-acre cattle and grain farm in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan.
"We learned that if you're good to people it'll be returned to
you," Chase said. "If somebody's car was broken down at the side of the
road, you stopped to help them because the next time it might be you
that broke down."
Since the hockey world recognizes enforcers' toughness, they usually
do not need to prove it outside the arena. Agent and former NHL
defenseman Tom Laidlaw said of growing up in the Toronto area, "It was
almost embarrassing if you fought somebody off the ice and beat them up.
What was the point? You learn . . . that you just don't embarrass the
game by doing that."
Agent Art Breeze said, "Being a tough guy on the ice doesn't mean
you're a rotten person; it's an idiosyncrasy of the profession." The
father of one of Breeze's clients, Anaheim Mighty Ducks' right wing Jim
McKenzie, was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. McKenzie is
involved with Phoenix DARE program, which warms children of the dangers
of drug and alcohol abuse.
Agent Roly Thompson, who represents Buffalo Sabres' enforcer Rob
Ray, said, "Rob's done work for the March of Dimes. He's always doing
things for kids. But he's like Jekyll and Hyde. Sometimes he comes out
of the locker room after a game with that look where you don't want to
mess with him. But soon, he's back to normal." Botterill said, "What you
see is people in some altered state. Those enforcers, when you give them
time, return to their value base."
Ex-defenseman and current Islanders' director of pro scouting Ken
Morrow said, "I think being able to take out your aggression . . . leads
to being a little mellower off the ice. I do think there is a release."
San Jose Sharks' television color man Steve Konroyd, a former NHL
defenseman, said, "I hate to compare [enforcers] to actors but . . .
actors kill people on the screen."
Sports psychologist Tom Ferraro said hockey fights bring about a
catharsis for fans and combatants. "The game allows for an appropriate
expression of aggression," he said.
Because enforcers see themselves as protectors, they tend to have
high self-esteem. "The game is Canadian, has its roots in Canada and
spontaneous reaction to unfair procedure always has been part of the
game," Maple Leafs' assistant to the president Bill Watters said. Mighty
Ducks' assistant general manager David McNab said, "Jim McKenzie and Stu
Grimson have been great people their whole lives. The fact they play a
certain role is not going to change them."
Islanders' assistant coach Wayne Fleming, who coached Grimson at the
University of Manitoba, said after Grimson turned pro with the Calgary
Flames, he came back to work out. "He was great with the guys, showing
them some things," Fleming said, "but when they lined up [to scrimmage],
he said, 'I have an announcement to make: when the puck is dropped, I'm
no longer responsible for my actions.'"
Rangers' team physiologist Howie Wenger said enforcers "see their
role as a legitimate one that falls within the context of the game. It's
almost like, `Here's our gladiator who comes out to fight the gladiator
on the other team.' There's honor among them. In most cases, they don't
hit people from behind. They don't go after people who are smaller or
unable to defend themselves . . . They have a strong spiritual component
to their lives."
Enforcers often nod or tap each other after a fight. "After these
great confrontations," Botterill said, "it's an unbelievable type
response. Like: `We respect one another and what we're here to do.' "
Psycholologist Frank Lodato, who has worked for 13 years with the
Los Angeles Kings and eight with the Devils, said most enforcers "would
prefer not to fight . . . They see the role as the way they are able to
make a living. I don't think the hostility and aggression is so deeply
ingrained that it becomes part of their personality."
Since the Broad Street Bullies' days in the 1970s, when the
Philadelphia Flyers used intimidation to win two Stanley Cups, the NHL
has legislated bench-clearing brawls out of existence by prescribing
harsh suspensions and fines for offenders. But league officials view
one-on-one fights as a part of the game that appeals to their fan base.
"It's the toughest way in sports to make a living," Chase said. "All
eyes are on you when you fight and you've got to [stick up for] yourself
and your teammates. It's tough going to the rink knowing you've got to
Twist said, "In order to fulfill this role, you have to be extremely
strong mentally and with that you have to build physical strength. Our
job is to protect our teammates, be a team player all night every night.
You have to have a lot of charisma. That's what it's all about. You have
to fight the biggest guy in the schoolyard every night."