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Capone had Nitti. Gotti had Sammy the Bull. Scooby-Doo had Shaggy. Notice a theme here? Strength needs support to stay on top, and it’s no different in the world of the professional hockey fighter.
No matter how battle-tested he might be, no heavyweight kingpin on the NHL level these days can shoulder the entire legion of loonies that comes at his club on a nightly basis over a demanding, 82-game schedule. When you knock down the head honcho these days, it’s good advice to keep your head on a swivel—you can be sure there will be another soldier of slug coming at you the very next shift. With this high-energy climate amping up the ice ring, shift after shift, the big boppers that log the majority of skate-patrol time not only welcome but also simply need those trusted sidekicks to share the chores of enforcer when the fur flies too fast for a single strong-arm to handle. These second-tier tough guys ensure that their squad’s main hammer isn’t in the training room with swollen knuckles after every game.
While the vast majority of NHL clubs employ multiple maulers for this potential trench duty, three teams stand out as kings of the ring as the 2002-03 season gets ready to roll. The Philadelphia Flyers boast NHL top gun Donald Brashear (17 fights in 2001-02) as their point man when things get dicey out on the ice, but it’s supporting sluggers Todd Fedoruk (19 fights in 2001-02) and Chris McAllister (11 fights in 2001-02) who help make sure that nobody gets too far out of line when colliding with the orange and black. The Buffalo Sabres have veteran noggin-knocker Rob Ray (18 fights in 2001-02) to do most of the upstate dome-denting, but slugger Eric Boulton (11 fights in 2001-02) and strongarm sidekick Rhett Warrener (5 fights in 2001-02) are ready, willing, and able to toe the line when the call to arms—and fists—goes out. Atop muscle mountain this year you’ll find the New York Rangers. While off-season signee Krzysztof Oliwa (18 fights in 2001-02 with Pittsburgh) looks poised to take the main reins of the Ranger roughriders in his busy hands, a backup cast of Sandy McCarthy (11 fights in 2001-02), Matthew Barnaby (21 fights in 2001-02), and Dale Purinton (11 fights in 2001-02) is the best in the league, gloves down. Until next time, see ya in the Sin Bin!
2002-03 PRE-SEASON PUNCH-UPS
September 19 Stephen Peat (WAS) vs. Todd Fedoruk (PHI)
One of the best young guns in the game, Peat slaps around Fedoruk, ultimately gaining a TKO win by sending the game Philly forward to the ice via a right-hand bomb.
September 20 Eric Boulton (BUF) vs. Jody Shelley (CLB)
Shelley may be the best of the new breed of enforcers, but Boulton says, “So what?,” and they each get in a barrage of blows, engaging the fans in a high-octane trip around the track that comes out pretty even.
September 22 Todd Fedoruk (PHI) vs. Dale Purinton (NYR)
Both bruisers get the pistons going big time, landing toe-to-toe blows in a spirited draw that sets up the regular season nicely for two of the league’s sturdiest squads.
September 25 Rob Ray (BUF) vs. Doug Doull (TOR)
Vets usually don’t get it going until the games count for real, but Sabre stud Ray just couldn’t wait any longer! A frisky Doull attracts the aggressive attention of Ray, much to the dismay of the youthful Doull—he eats a barrage of right hands that sends him to the locker room streaming scarlet and looking for a needle and thread to stitch his rookie face up.
September 29 Dale Purinton (NYR) vs. Brantt Myhres (BOS)
Today’s enforcer has to be able to both play and slay. Having said that, we think Myhres should sign up for hockey lessons soon. Purinton engages the resident goon of Beantown and throws hammer and tong, landing some hefty left-hand shots among the flurries, taking a split decision on the cards, and revving up the Garden faithful.
October 1 Donald Brashear (PHI) vs. Sandy McCarthy (NYR)
Next time, McCarthy will probably take a pass on hooking up with behemoth Brashear in the ice ring. This one starts off square, but a tug from Brashear sends the Sandy man off balance, and Brashear feeds him a steady diet of crunching left hands. The result is a bloodied and bruised McCarthy skating off to the dressing room for repairs—ouch!
October 4 Ryan Vandenbussche (CHI) vs. Steve McLaren (STL)
A hopeful minor leaguer, McLaren winds up in a rock-’em-sock-’em with Vandenbussche, who has been in the fight game for nearly a decade. Vandenbussche’s left can’t counter McLaren’s right, and a broken and bloody beak is Vandy’s reward for tangling with the energetic St. Louis youth, who registers a big win in his effort to make the big club.