Beau of the Brawl

Of all the tough guys in the NHL, Vancouver thumper Donald Brashear has ascended to the throne of those fistic by utterly dominating nearly all who have answered the call to arms against him.

A heavy and active left hand is the Donald's proven weapon of choice in the ice ring, and being among the strongest guys in the game doesn't hurt either. Brashear has also blossomed into a strong skater and effective overall player while denting domes in B.C., a pleasant surprise for the Canucks' brass, who no doubt thought they were getting only muscle when they picked up Brashear a few seasons ago.

Breathing down Brashear's neck is a group of big-time boppers. Edmonton Oiler winger Georges Laraque plays the role of ruffian quite well, and, much like top dog Brashear, totes a busting left hand that often finds the mark. Laraque is a young gun who will have to be reckoned with for a good decade or so on the NHL circuit. Rounding out the top muggers in the game are Colorado Avalanche assassin Scott Parker, Florida Panther pounder Peter Worrell, and Nashville Predator pugilist Stu Grimson. Parker has a granite chin and anvil-like punches, a lethal combination, and is bodyguard supreme for the Avs' snipers Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk. Worrell is a prototypical peacekeeper at 6-5, and his reach is unrivaled among the NHL's enforcers. Veteran "Grim Reaper" Grimson may have more frequent-flyer miles than anyone else in the NHL game, and this year he's throwing down Southern style for the Predators.

No matter what side of the line you fall on in the age-old debate over fighting in hockey, there's no doubt that its participants share a mutual respect for one another as they dole out the not-so-diplomatic justice unique to the NHL landscape. But it's the biggest dog on the porch that hasn't been playing nice lately. The Canuckleheaded Brashear has taken to taunting his opponents after a successful bout, standing over his fallen victims and wiping his hands off to signal a job well done. This disrespectful display has ruffled the feathers of more than one NHL bad boy and has put the bull's-eye directly on the No. 8 on the back of Brashear's jersey. What makes this inexplicable is that Brashear himself was the victim of arguably the league's worst case of deliberate on-ice violence just a year and a half ago. Many still remember then Boston Bruin slugger Marty McSorley, a veteran of many an NHL fracas, laying the wood—literally—to Brashear's melon in Paul Bunyan fashion. Brashear crumpled to the ice an unconscious and bleeding mass, slamming his head on the playing surface and briefly seizuring before medical personnel could stabilize the situation. The move basically ended McSorley's career in the NHL—he was suspended for a year and hasn't set foot on NHL ice since—and one would think it would have had a profound effect on Brashear as well. In a recent toe-to-toe bout against Toronto tommy gun Wade Belak, a fight that ended with many a Brashear fist print on Belak's grill, the Leaf player fell back and cracked his skull on the ice, grimacing in pain while clutching his head with what would prove to be a concussion. Respect, anyone? Hardly. There was the Donald, skating off while wiping his hands in true bush-league fashion, taunting the Toronto bench on his way off the ice. Maybe someone should cue up the VCR and show Brashear that image of himself lying on the ice just over a year ago, with a widening pool of blood under his head. Maybe that would get the message across to Brashear about exactly what NHL professionalism in the fight game is all about. If not, he risks becoming a repeat victim of the type of career-ending act McSorley blindsided him with, regardless of how tough his left hand is. Until next time, see ya in the Sin Bin!

2001's best bouts to date:

Oct. 3 Jeff Cowan (cal) vs. Steve Staios (edm). They drop the mitts before the puck even touches down, right off the draw with punches aplenty. A little toe-to-toe before Cowan starts to ring the bell with a heavy left hand, dropping a dazed Staios to the deck as the Flame faithful cheer him on.

Oct. 4 Donald Brashear (van) vs. Bob Probert (chi). An opening-night battle of heavyweight proportions, but it turns into a mismatch as the quick fists of Brashear tell old gunslinger Probert that there's a new sheriff in town, and that an ice pack is in order.

Oct. 6 Brendan Shanahan (det) vs. Jason Strudwick (van). Shanny avenges an earlier elbow he received from Strudwick by tracking down the Vancouver defenseman late in the game for a rock 'em, sock 'em contest that leaves the blood flowing.

Oct. 7 Eric Boulton (buf) vs. Sandy McCarthy (nyr). They talk it up before the puck drops, then raise the fists and get into one another at center ice. Boulton is game, but the Sandy Man is too much, taking over this conflict as they dance down the stretch.

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