Mixin It Up
In the year 2000, if you're 6-5 and 250 pounds and can hurl your fists like a nightmare on skates, the NHL doesn't want you around. OK, so such mallet-throwing monsters might not be an extinct species in hockey just yet, but this type of hulking beast is a rare one in today's game, where you need to be able to use your stick as more than just a hooked weapon and to skate without the aid of runner blades.
Wicked Colorado winger Scott Parker (6-4, 230) found that out firsthand last year when a short stint in the NHL came to an abrupt ending thanks to a crushing pair of rights from legendary heavy Bob Probert of Chicago. Along with his limited skating ability, the loss to Proby caused the Avs to rethink their decision to use Parker as their enforcer, and he was sent down to minor-league Hershey for the rest of the season. Since that day last January, Parker has worked hard on the other facets of his game, becoming a stronger skater and forechecker, as well as a more disciplined enforcer. As a result he's earned a roster spot with the big club this year, having more to offer out on the ice than a knack for applying a double-barreled beating to some hapless opponent.
Still, the Parkers of professional hockey are a dying breed. Today, there's a new wave of ice soldiersan interchangeable mix of guys who rarely go taller than six feet, but bring a much bigger game to the rink. These mini-enforcers play a piss-'n'-vinegar brand of puck and serve to pump momentum into their teams' tanks when it's needed. Frantically forechecking, endlessly bouncing opposing players around the ice, and chipping in with the occasional goal proved a successful formula for players like St. Louis's Tyson Nash. The 5-11, 195-pound winger's energetic approach (150 penalty minutes, a +6 rating) helped bring the Blues together on their way to capturing the President's Trophy for best regular-season record in the league. Following the Blues' lead, many clubs this year have added that third-line lightning bolt in an attempt to provide their teams with a player who can frustrate opponents and elevate his mates. Here's a look at some of these other pocket pugilists:
- Ian LaPerriere (6-1, 197 pounds, Los Angeles). Last year the feisty LaPerriere led the league in fighting majors with 21, and threw in 185 penalty minutes and 22 points to go along with his fistic endeavors. He has continued to provide that spark for the Kings this season, registering three fights so far (tied for the league lead), 17 penalty minutes, and scoring a natural hat trick against Boston on October 13. And he's a tough guy who isn't a mere pylon on the ice defensively; his +2 rating makes it all the sweeter for L.A.
- Matthew Barnaby (6 feet, 188 pounds, Pittsburgh). Barnaby came into the league strictly as a fighter, but has developed greatly over the past five years. He's established himself as a solid two-way player who can hurt opponents with the gloves both on and off. Last year Barnaby posted his best numbers to date, with 24 points, 197 penalty minutes, and a +3 rating. And he certainly hasn't forgotten what got him to the NHL level either, as he dropped the mitts 15 times in 1999-2000 as the Pens' top tussler.
- Darcy Tucker (5-10, 179 pounds, Toronto). Tucker has always brought that solid, all-around game to the table when he skates. It's just that he spent the last few seasons toiling away in obscurity in Tampa Bay. A trade last season landed the heart-'n'-souler in Toronto, where a bigger national audience could appreciate his talents. The undersized, overachieving Tucker ended up with quite a season in '99-'00, tallying 51 total points (21 goals, 30 assists), racking up 163 penalty minutes, and chuckin' the knuckles 10 times. And he was one of the Leafs' bigger producers in the playoffs, scoring 6 points and 15 penalty minutes before Toronto bowed out to eventual Cup winner New Jersey.
- Bill Lindsay (6 feet, 195 pounds, Calgary). The Flames get a spark out of having Lindsay out on the ice, as his relentless forechecking and never-stop attitude embody what Calgary was during the franchise's heyday in the mid 1980s. He posted respectable numbers (20 points, 86 penalty minutes, and eight fights) in '99-'00 for a non-playoff team, and the Flames brass can only hope his enthusiasm rubs off on the younger players in the Calgary locker room.
The season's most scintillating slugfests to date:
Oct. 10 Mark Janssens (CHI) vs. Rob Ray (BUF)
On opening night, these furious fist throwers trade haymakers along the boards. Janssens uses the left and Ray the right until the zebras come a-calling. Ray cuts Janssens slightly and gets the nod.
Oct. 11 P.J. Stock (MON) vs. Sandy McCarthy (NYR)
You just knew P.J. was going to rev it up in his return to the Big Apple, and does he ever in a real toe-to-toer with the much bigger McCarthy (Sandy goes 6-3, 225; Stock, 5-10, 192). Stock is left with a bloody beak and the Ranger faithful are left cheering on their new hammer, the Sandy-man.
Oct. 11 Jeff Odgers (ATL) vs. Brendan Witt (WAS)
The oft traveled Odgers gets down and dirty in the corner with Cap crusher Witt, one of the league's most underrated in the fight game. They play rock-'em-sock-'em for a bevy of blows until Witt takes over and puts Odgers down.
Oct. 12 Greg Devries (COL) vs. Donald Brashear (VAN)
Nice showing by the overmatched Devries against the NHL's current top dog Brashear, who avenges a slug in the face from Devries earlier in the game. But the Donald needs to show more respect to those who toe the line with him and quit showing up other fighters by brushing off his hands after the deal has been done. It's a bush-league move and already cost him a stick upside the temple last year in the now infamous McSorley incident.
Oct. 13 Curtis Leschyshyn (MIN) vs. Dallas Drake (STL)
Our first undercard bout to make the year's best-of list. Leschyshyn shows Drake that, expansion team or not, the Wild just aren't gonna take it. They slug it out at center ice (after Drake knees a Minnesota player) with the bigger Leschyshyn hammering in the final few shots to take the win.
Oct. 16 Jim Cummins (ANA) vs. Rich Pilon (NYR)
You can call him KO'd Cummins after this one. The cagey vet Pilon says OK when challenged by the now regretful Cummins, who takes one big bomb on the grill and comes up one bloodied Duck. Or maybe that's what he should have done in the first place!
Mixin' It Up's Web site: www.h2net.net/~knuckle/
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