By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The heart 'n' soul are back in Beantown. This year's Bruins have fans reminiscing about the glory days when the likes of Stan Jonathan, Terry O'Reilly, Cam Neely, and Jay Miller, a/k/a the Big Bad Bruins, made it a miserable night for all comers. A blue-collar, in-your-face style of play has Boston battling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference nearly three-quarters of the way through the season, eyeing a legitimate chance for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and a shot at Lord Stanley's chalice.
Did I mention an in-your-face style of play? This year's charges have racked up 65 fighting majors so far (second in the NHL), and their passion is best exemplified best by banger P.J. Stock (99 penalty minutes, 15 fights), a blood 'n' guts forechecker who has endeared himself to the Bruin faithful by toeing the line time after time against a lethal list of the NHL's toughest hombres and holding his ownat leastdespite his diminutive stature: He's a mere 5-10, small stuff on the fight circuit. Stock so impressed the Bruin brass with his fistic abilities that they felt able to trade away to Phoenix 6-4 mega-don Andrei Nazarov, who used to walk the Bruin beat with fists in tow. Stock's nonstop tenacitynot to mention a piston-like left handhas served as the perfect tone setter for the team this year.
While Stock is the crowd favorite at the Fleet Center, the Bruins' true leader is all-star center Joe Thornton, whose equal ability to tickle twine and deliver a well-placed elbow hasn't been seen in a Bruin sweater since ol' No. 8, Cam Neely, was staking a claim on Boston Garden ice. Thornton has developed into one of the game's premier performers, leading his team in scoring (22 goals and 38 assists), while racking up 99 penalty minutes and three fights of his own along the way. Wunderkind Joe offers up a double threat of fist and stick that hasn't been enjoyed in Boston in almost 15 seasons. Whatever the outcome this season, the Beast of the East is back, and it's wearing the black and gold this time around. Until next time, see ya in the sin bin!
More of this season's best bouts!
December 26 Donald Brashear (PHI) vs. Steve Peat (WAS)
One of the game's toughest young guns (Peat) toes the line with numero uno in the current ring rankings (the Donald). Now wearing Flyer garb, Brashear sheds the mitts and accepts a persistent invite from the Cap crusher, who learns the hard way, via a left-hand bomb to the melon from Brashear, that ice is cold and hard.
January 5 Steve Peat (WAS) vs. P.J. Stock (BOS)
This slugfest has to rank among the top five fights of the season, as the pair of pugilism majors ace the midterm with a rambunctious rough-up at center ice. A drop of the puck and the fists are a-flyin', Peat with the right-hand Scuds and P.J. with the punishing left hooks, both battlers hitting the target and drawing blood in a real main-eventer that ends up even.
January 16 Sandy McCarthy (NYR) vs. Jody Shelley (CLB)
The curtain drops, and two true heavyweights in the fight game get the spotlight in this battle royal. Shelley plays the short-toothed tussler looking to make a rep in the league, while McCarthy fills the slot of veteran slugger accepting the challenge on the road. The result is a Shelley-slanted fight early, then the experience of the Sandyman taking over in round two. The latter wins the decision with a bevy of nicely placed uppercuts from the right side.
January 16 Bob Probert (CHI) vs. Paul Laus (FLA)
The aged assassin Probert tangles with possibly the game's most underrated strongarm, Panther pug Laus, behind the play but center stage. A Probert lunge leaves the big guy off balance, and Laus takes advantage, landing a slicing uppercut right between the eyes that splits the Blackhawk basher, leaving him looking like he fell asleep in a plate of pasta, spouting scarlet from a divot in the dome.
January 21 Reed Low (STL) vs. P.J. Stock (BOS)
There won't be a better dustup than this free-swinging soiree in Beantown. Gentlemen's rules applypuck hits the ice first, then the gloves. They start to tangle, Low standing a good six inches taller than Stock. It's a rock 'em, sock 'em robotic affair: They trade piston-like punches in the slot, each throwing and landing well over 25 shots. You'd have to call it a draw as they smile and head to the sin bin amid the hearty applause of thousands.
January 22 Matthew Barnaby (NYR) vs. Jim Cummins (NYI)
Cummins is the new gun on Long Island, and he toes the line with notorious bad boy Barnaby in a crosstown, post-goal grappler. Barnaby smashes Cummins in the coconut with two hard rights, leaving the Islander dazed, wobbly, and looking for the smelling salts.
January 23 P.J. Stock (BOS) vs. Matthew Barnaby (NYR)
If there were a Most Exciting Fighter of the Year award in the NHL, P.J. Stock would win it hands downor fists up! The mighty mite of a masher gets into yet another marathon punch-up, this time trading shots with Ranger ruffian Barnaby in a bout that travels across the entire ice surface, featuring haymakers at every stop.