Rookie ruffians look to make their mark in the NHL
Have fist, will travel. That’s the motto many fledgling NHL fist-slingers find themselves adopting as they try and earn the almighty roster spot with the big club. Not every fighter in the game can be as lightning quick as a John Kordic, as powerful and relentless as all-time great Bob Probert, or pound-for-pound as tough as Tie Domi. The vast majority of hopeful ice cops face a pothole-filled, oft-traveled road to get to the majors, often living a shuttlelike existence between the locker rooms of the big club and its minor league affiliate.
Take the respective cases of Ranger ruffian P.J. Stock and Edmonton enforcer Daniel Lacroix. Stock came on the NHL scene last year and stocked up his first 10 major league do-si-dos, earning a deserved reputation around the league as a real battler. In between, he dropped the mitts 24 more times for New York’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. As for Lacroix, he was an everyday part of the Flyers’ crash line last season, totaling up 12 fights along the way.
This year? Stock hasn’t been with the Rangers but for a cup of coffee early on, getting into exactly zero scraps. He’s spent the year slugging away down at Hartford, getting into 15 fights so far. And Lacroix only recently got a stint with the Oilers and just registered his first and only bout of the season. The rest of the time he’s been in the AHL, totaling seven fights while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
This season’s list of passengers on the Enforcer Express includes Hershey Bear brawler Scott Parker, Florida Panther pugilist Peter Worrell, and Edmonton’s Georges Laraque. The hulking Parker has had multiple tours of duty this year with the Colorado Avalanche, during which he’s seen his first seven NHL bouts come and go in impressive fashion— until fight number seven, when Probert cleaned his clock with a big-time KO. Parker soon found himself back in minors, where he has 11 fighting majors to date.
The Panthers’ Worrell knows well the route from AHL New Haven to NHL Florida— he’s made the trip more than a few times this year while scrapping 16 times in the NHL and 3 down in the minors. The Oilers’ Laraque spent the first half of the year in Hamilton of the AHL, compiling 7 glove-droppers before getting called up in December. Since then he has been in nine very impressive battles royal, fighting St. Louis tough guy Tony Twist to a draw, battering Dallas’s Brent Severyn twice in one game, besting legit loony Stu Grimson of Anaheim, and completely destroying Buffalo bruiser Rob Ray with his lethal left hand.
Thanks to this latest display of handiwork, Laraque may finally be safe from another ticket back to the bush leagues. And that’s all any of these gritty warriors is after— a regular place in the NHL, and, by extention, in the big-time ice ring.
More of the season’s best bouts to date:
Feb. 6: Tie Domi (TOR) vs. Krystoff Oliwa (NJ) Is there anyone tougher than the Albanian Aggressor? Mighty mite Domi chops the hulking Oliwa down to size with his trademark left hand of granite. Lands it on the chin. G’night, Kryssy!
Feb. 12: Nolan Pratt (CAR) vs. Todd Harvey (NYR) Harvey’s first game back from the injured list, and Pratt almost puts him back on it. The lesser-known knuckle-chucker from Carolina peppers a surprised Harvey on the mug with multiple mashes right off the hop. A solid win.
Feb. 15: MARTY Mcsorley (EDM) vs. Grant Marshall (DAL) This pair of prizefighters really go at it in a free-swinger of a scrap. Marshall gets the jersey over McSorley’s dome late and lands the last few lefts to take it.
Feb. 17: Tie Domi (TOR) vs. Rob Ray (BUF) As sure as the sun will rise each morning, Domi and Ray will stand toe-to-toe when their clubs meet. This time ’round, Domi tumbles Ray to the ice with a barrage of left-hand lidshakers that would make Lennox Lewis quake.
Feb. 19: Jeff Odgers (COL) vs. Patrick Cote (NAS) It’s David versus Goliath, NHL style. But it doesn’t matter to the Av’s assassin, Odgers, who’ll stand in with absolutely anybody, size no matter. This one’s a real doozy— a fists-a-flyin’ and chins-a-cryin’ classic that ends up pretty even.
Feb. 21: Ken Baumgartner (BOS) vs. Brad Brown (CHI) You can add Brown to your list of the league’s toughest, rookie or not. The brazen Blackhawk dances with one legit toughie in Baumgartner, and lands his own bushel full of blows. A real donnybrook of a draw here.
Mar. 3: George Laraque (EDM) vs. Rob Ray (BUF) Ouch, ouch, OUCH! Ray meets his match in this one, as the southpaw Laraque does a number on the Sabres’ slugger— or in this case, sluggee. Laraque may be the best young fighter in the league, and Ray would agree after absorbing close to 20 shots to the melon in a big-league thumping.
Mar. 12: Reid Simpson (CHI) vs. Patrick Cote (NAS) Cote’s really made a name for himself this year, and it’s because he takes on guys like Chicago slugger Simpson. After about two minutes and 50 punches, they hit the sin bin with smiles on their faces . . . that’s hockey!
Mar. 14: Derian Hatcher (DAL) vs. Eric Lindros (PHI) Two tough captains start off the game right with this opening-minute mugfest. The floundering Flyers need some spirit, and Eric the Great got right after the biggest guy in the building. A center ice slugathon ensued— a fight that would electrify the fans and finish in a draw.
Mar. 15: Eric Cairns (NYI) vs. Paul Kruse (BUF) It’s about time the Islanders called up Cairns, who’s been killing time in the AHL. But he’s on the short end of a wild western shoot-out with the Sabres’ Kruse. The Buffalo bomber lands the more telling right hands to win the bout.