By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
Ah yes. The air is turning crisp and cool. The trees are starting to shed their leaves. And thundering uppercuts are landing upon soft flesh. It must be hockey season! Get ready for a full dose of pugilistic pandemonium, as the league's ice warriors head into battle.
The New York area finds itself a bit thin this year when it comes to toeing the line. The Devils are the toughest of the bunch, featuring second-year yahoo Krzysztof Oliwa. The young winger led the entire league last year with 31 battles royal, and has already visited knuckle junction six times this season. Blueshirt coach John Sch-muckler gives Darren Langdon little more than a token shift each game, and rarely even dresses the mighty P.J. Stock, leaving the usually gregarious Rangers a bit weak in the fisticuff department. The Islanders? Their team motto this year should be "Where's the beef?"
Who's the baddest, most mush-mashin', knuckle-throwin' glove dropper in the league? Vancouver's Donald Brashear, who has become an intimidator with few equals, using incredible strength and a heavy left hand in registering many impressive wins over the past two years. Mighty Duck marauder Stu Grimson, Maple Leaf liberator Tie Domi, Ranger ruffian Langdon, and the Blues' Tony "TNT" Twist provide stiff competition as usual.
Meanwhile, Chicago is the squad that's stocked with a full stable of strong-arming stallions (a league-leading 19 bouts so far this season). Heading up their roughhousing roster is Bob Probert, arguably the game's greatest gladiator. Probert's usual feisty ways have him tied for the lead in fighting majors so far, with seven. Mix in toughies Reid Simpson, Doug Zmolek, Jamie Allison, Cam Russell, Mark Janssens, and Dennis Bonvie, and you've got an elite corps of ice-ring commandos that resembles a casting call for Slap Shot II.
A promising crop of rookie renegades entering the fray should make for a combustible campaign, as the old guard isn't quite ready to roll over. This potent combination should provide for quite an interesting season. See ya in the sin bin!
The season's best bouts to date:
Oct. 10 Krzysztof Oliwa (NJ) vs. Mark Janssens (CHI)
Toe-to-toer has Oliwa registering a bevy of big-time rights, highlighting a six-scrap opening-night encounter.
Oct. 13 Bob Probert (CHI) vs. Brent Severyn (DAL)
Lengthy battle of attrition in which both fighters land their share of shots, with Proby dropping Severyn on the fight's final bomb.
Oct. 14 Donald Brashear (VAN) vs. Marty McSorley (EDM)
They don't come any more one-sided than this one, with Brashear hammering longtime lesson-teacher McSorley. The year's most awful annihilation.
Oct. 19 Cam Russell (CHI) vs. Terry Ryan (MON)
This pair of surly scrappers exchanges a bucketful of rights in the most punch-filled bout of the season's first month.
Oct. 30 Tie Domi (TOR) vs. Rob Ray (BUF)
In what's become a regular ritual, Domi and Ray pound away once again. It's the 10th time these two have beaten a tattoo on each other's noggins.
Oct. 30 Ed Jovanovski (FLA) vs. Mark Janssens (CHI)
Janssens is at it again, this time trading haymakers with the Panthers' Jovo-Cop in a wild, free-swinging soiree.
Nov. 4 Jeff Odgers (COL) vs. Tie Domi (TOR)
The diminutive Domi hooks up with the Avs' Odgers in a rapid-fire roundup that sees Odgers land on top of Tie, with rights ablazin'.