Integration in the Ice Ring
Donald Brashear, Georges Laraque, and Peter Worrell all walk the beat as NHL cops, keeping the opposition from getting too rambunctious on any given night. All three are considered among the very best pugilists in the game, each getting the most out of his hulking frame, extended reach, and supreme strength. And all three are African American, something of an eye-catcher in the lily-white sport of professional ice hockey.
It's not so surprising how pale the NHL is, given the sport's Canadian and European roots and dominance. However, the league is becoming more multi-culti these daysif ever so slowly. New Jersey has young center Scott Gomez, one of a handful of Latino players in the league's history; the Rangers' Manny Malholtra is of Native American descent; and Jamal Mayers of St. Louis and Edmonton's Anson Carter, both African American, play pivotal roles in their teams' success night in and night out.
Historically speaking, athletes of color in the NHL have been much fewer and further between. But some definitely stand out. Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr is probably the most high-profile African American to ever lace up the skates, leading the Oilers to multiple Stanley Cup championships as the best backstop in the league during the Gretzky era. And Devil fans will remember rugged winger Claude Vilgrain as an integral part of the 1993?94 New Jersey squad that went all the way to the conference championship in an exciting season.
Brashear, Laraque, and Worrell stand out as well. Let's face it, in a society crudely obsessed with the specter of violent black men, these three intimidators are accorded an extra edge. But all three have also developed into solid, two-way players and have become integral parts of their respective clubs. Brashear (60 fights since 1997?98) not only keeps things on the up and up when the Canucks take the ice, he's also notched more points so far this season than ever before in his career (22 and a +3 rating through Monday). Laraque (41 fights since '97?'98) plays a vital role on Oiler power plays (18 points as of Monday), screening the goaltender in front and helping his Edmonton club into playoff position once again. Worrell (57 fights since '97?'98) takes a regular shift in Florida and also serves as his team's hulking distraction in front of the net on the power play (10 points, 217 penalty minutes as of Monday). Both Laraque (12 bouts this year) and Worrell (15) are among the league leaders in fighting majors, a tough, young pair who are always ready and willing to throw down, while Brashear (eight fights) plays more of a veteran role in Vancouver, a well-established hit man who doesn't need to take on all comers anymore, just when the duty bell tolls.
Until next time, see ya in the sin bin!
More of the year's best bouts to date:
Jan. 9 Peter Worrell (FLA) vs. Darren Langdon (CAR)
Proven NHL heavies pair up in this battle royale. Langdon is among the best, outlasting opponents until they're too tired to stop his fistic assault. But Worrell is among the best in the business of cracking coconuts, and uses his strength and reach to outlast Langdon, landing some solid rights down the stretch on his Carolina combatant.
Jan. 14 Sylvain Blouin (MIN) vs. Dale Purinton (NYR)
Ranger faithful will remember this dome denter, no doubt. In the center-ice ring, Purinton drops a bomb on the end of Blouin's chin, a heavy left hand that sends the expansion enforcer to his rear end in a hurry, as the blue seats howl in support of their rookie ruffian.
Jan. 22 Bryan Marchment (SJ) vs. Georges Laraque (EDM)
A human eclipse, Laraque darkens Marchment's day by seeking him out in retaliation for a knee-to-knee hit the Shark blueliner laid on Oiler franchise Doug Weight earlier that week. Marchment's game, but a big left hand to the temple by Laraque puts the Shark submariner down for the count.
Jan. 27 Donald Brashear (VAN) vs. Wade Belak (CAL)
Brashear is the current king of the ring, and he sets the tone right off the opening draw against another toughie in Belak. The hard-hitting left hand and superior strength of the Canuck crusher is too much as Brashear wins again.
Feb. 7 Georges Laraque (EDM) vs. Sami Helenius (DAL)
A heated rivalry boils over early in this contest, leading to a heavyweight do-si-do in D-town. The result is as expected, Laraque raining down southpaw scuds on Helenius's head, leaving Stars fans oohhing and aahhing and feeling Sami's pain.
Feb. 12 Anson Carter (EDM) vs. Kelly Buchberger (LA)
Nice showing for Carter in this toe-to-toer with veteran slugger Buchberger. Kelly starts things off, but Carter makes him regret it by landing a flurry of right hands that ends with a big uppercut, a bloody beak for Buchy, and a quiet King crowd.
Feb. 15 Jeff Odgers (ATL) vs. Rob Ray (BUF)
Could this ever be a bad fight? Both Odgers and Ray graduated from Rock-'em, Sock-'em U., and they earned their master's in this punch-filled affair. The puck drops and so do the gloves as these two warriors slug away in a pretty even scrap.
Feb. 21 Peter Worrell (FLA) vs. Krystoff Oliwa (PIT)
Almost 13 feet and 500 pounds of pugilist get it on here as two of the largest leviathans in the NHL shed the leather and raise the fists. Oliwa has quite the rep, but look out for Worrell, quietly continuing to best all comers with quite possibly the longest reach in hockey. A freed right hand leads to a pair of jabs to Oliwa's cheek, leaving the Pens puncher looking for the linesmen in a hurry.
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