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SUNDAY SPECIAL / Fighting For A Job / NHL enforcers protect and

KEYWORD-HIT.

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

their insurance.

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

would expect."

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

environment."

Last July, Blues' left wing Tony Twist organized a motorcycle tour

for 35 NHL players who rumbled from Vancouver to Los Angeles and raised

$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

leagues.

"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

enforcers]."

Rangers' assistant general manager Don Maloney said, "It's always

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

fight."

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."

New York Sports