Thursday, December 15, 2016
The Enforcers-A Dying Breed
We will always remember that, without intending to do so, he endeared himself at the 61st All Star game in Nashville to the entire hockey world. Prior to the game, he was tossed around like a small rag doll, figuratively. At 6'8”, and 260 pounds, there are few who could move him very far. He was waived by the Coyotes, signed by Montreal, then quickly demoted to the American Hockey League. It was all too obvious to most sports fans that the league tried to shove him aside.
Scott had been an NHL player since 2008. In 286 games, he had amassed 544 minutes in penalties. He also scored 5 times, and added 6 assists. He was an enforcer.
One of the last, according to Rob Del Mundo, author of “Hockey's Enforcers-A Dying Breed”. In the book, he presents us with 48 tiny chapters, bits and pieces of information about most of the toughest guys ever to play in the NHL. He begins with Eddie Shore, infamous for ending Ace Bailey's career.
I recently asked him why he chose this particular subject. “A while ago I noticed this trend moving away from fighting in the game. There did not seem to be as many 'policemen' as there were previously, like John Ferguson.”
In the Introduction to the book, Del Mundo tells the reader that in 2008-2009 there were 734 fights in 509 of the 1230 games played that season. Last year, there were 344 fights in 288 of the 1230 games games played. That's a drop of more than 50 %.
One rule change that took place in 1987 curtailed hockey brawls. “Any player leaving the bench or the penalty box for the purpose of starting an altercation automatically received a ten game suspension,” quotes Del Mundo. The instigator rule has also dramatically affected the number of fights in the game. No player wants to leave his team a man short when evening up a score, in a pugilistic sense.
Another factor diminishing the role of the enforcer relates to increased awareness of the long term ramifications of blows to the head. The concept has been considered for years related to prize fighting. Football players are likely suspect in this regard. More than a few of hockey's tough guys have had their careers shortened because of blows to the head, although not always from fights. And there are some who have passed away at a young age, perhaps due to their hockey activities: Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Bob Probert.
Bobby Orr writes that there is a need for fighting in the game: “I would say this about the place of fighting in the game. I believe that especially at the pro level you need to be held accountable for your actions, and the threat of a fight can accomplish that.”
The main difference between hockey and all of the other pro sports is that hockey players carry a stick. And use it, sometimes illegally.
Many of the old-time enforcers in the game were actually protectors. Marty McSorley was assigned to keep the idiots away from Wayne Gretzky. Rob Ray sat patiently on the Sabres bench, biding his time until the opposition took liberties with the better players on his team. I sat in the stands at a Buffalo game, and heard the mob scream, “We want Ray! We want Ray!” Robbie confided in me that he did not always want to fight, especially when he was nursing badly-bruised hands and fingers. “It was a matter of grabbing the opponent, to see who would go down first.”
Del Mundo has covered the Maple Leafs for 16 seasons for the Fischler Report. His Leafs articles appear at: “TMLFans.ca”. Copies of this book are available at Chapters and Indigo Books, and also on line at Chapters and Indigo. My copy of the book will be available tomorrow at the Wellington Public Library. Enjoy.
“Wanna Go?” Just kidding!
December 13, 2016