Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Inside The Heart: Home of the Tough Guy: CHAPTER 1

This is the first part of a little mini-series I will be writing on my recollections of the life of being an enforcer in hockey. These will mainly be my own accounts, of my life playing that role in my hockey career, as well as other advice and points I have learned and been told by enforcers/tough guys I have played with and against, and even some that have and still play in the NHL. These players include Matt Johnson, Andrew Peters, Dennis Maxwell, Jason Clarke etc.

So here we go, with Chapter 1 of the Mini-series: Inside The Heart: Home of the Tough Guy Chapter 1 - The Beginning and Defiance of the role at a young age

"So what do you think mom? I think I am going to start fighting when I play hockey!" WHAT?!?!? Mom says. "Are you out of your mind?" "You are going to get your teeth punched out; do you want to have no teeth when you are older?" "Dad's a dentist, he can fix em" "Don't be stupid, you are going to embarrass us and get yourself into a lot of trouble, one of these big guys is going to pound you, then we will see how tough you are!" "Dad loves it. He said I should hit and fight more because the scouts look for that!" (Mom is walking away and refuses to carry on the conversation. Like any good mother, she wants her son to play, have fun, and score goals, and does not want to see any other boy throwing punches at her boy and trying to hurt him!)

I'm 14 years old, just started high school, playing hockey and loving it. I have a coach that I love, and he believes in tough hockey. But I am timid… I am learning. I am learning all the parts of the game. This hitting and fighting thing, I think its something I could do in a year, I just got to get bigger, and gutsier and learn from the older guys on the team. Ok, that's pretty simple, sounds like a plan. I got 0 PIM in 21 games and am not getting much ice time. I know I can score some goals, but I want more; I want to contribute more. I finish out the season. I thank my coach for the belief he has instilled in me.

I work hard in the off-season; I work out; I get bigger; I get stronger; I skate harder; I train harder. This is a big year for me. I will be 15 now, and this is my chance to make the AAA squad and get noticed by the OHL. I attend camp, fit and ready to compete. I hit, I play tough...I am the last cut. I was beat out of a job by an up and coming 14 year old rookie, Ryan Pepperall, a 3rd rd, 54th overall pick Toronto Maple Leafs. I go down to the AA team, still a pretty good league, and I turn into the scoring power forward with first line ice time. I score 25 goals in 40 games, and register 125 PIMs, leading the team in both categories. So I went from 0 PIM to 125 PIM in a matter of one year! I would also get into my first ever hockey fight… and many more after that. I will get back to that later.

I was recalled three times by the AAA team during the season. The first time was uneventful, the second time I was put right onto their first line with their two best players who happened to be two of my good friends. The game was in Welland, Ontario against their tough/physical squad. I decided I would create more room for them. There was this one guy on their team, a big huge guy who was always on the ice versus our best players to intimidate them. So I decided I would wait until he wasn't looking and run him in open ice to try to knock him down. So here we go...he gets the puck in open ice; he was very slow, so I charged hard with all my might and took a huge run at him, a big impact…. and I bounced off him and hit the ice. That's right, bounced off him, and he wasn't even looking! He turned around and got so mad that someone actually had the balls to take a big run at him. He came after me; I got up and went at him and he swatted me in the face with his big mitt as I got a huge jolt. But I took it and tried to get at him but I noticed all three officials were trying to restrain him, while no one had me. I looked at the three grown men struggling to hold this big kid back and I said, ‘hmmm.. I think I better go to the box now.’

The ref said, you don't get a penalty, but he gets 2+10. So I go back to my team bench and the coach chuckles and says to me, "You do know that's Matthew Johnson, don't you?" I said "Who?" Then the captain of the team says "Matt Johnson.” I said "I don't know him.” Then a scout leans over the glass hearing it all and says, "that's the big pyscho that almost ripped your head off and we scouts have him slated to be the next Bob Probert in the NHL." The scout was from Peterborough. Johnson, went up to Jr. B to play out the year with the Welland Cougars and was drafted by the Petes that summer. A couple years later, he slugged it out twice with Stu Grimson in Los Angeles for the Kings in a pre-season game. I remember after that game in Welland that night, my dad said to me, "That big kid was a tough one. The other parents were saying he has hurt five kids already, and two at the same time, and he is going up to Jr. B pretty soon." I said, "Yeah I guess he's supposed to be the next Probie or something in the NHL someday." My dad chuckled.

What did I know? Young, stupid, and willing to go with anyone, I guess I proved a lot of things that night. It inevitably would set the stage for the rest of my hockey career! Chapter 2 - My first ever hockey fights and I'm lovin it - will be written on March 12th...

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. So insightful. Keep it coming. I can't wait for part two.

Bill said...

Great read. Looking forward to the next chapter.

Posux said...

Huard, you're lucky Matt Johnson didn't Beukeboom you. Ha. Good stories.

Anonymous said...

Nice read! Cant wait for more! PS nice site Peatycap

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, going down after a check against a heavyweight like Johnson is nothing to be ashamed about. Looking forward to the next chapter! Pagey

Anonymous said...

Great story! I can't wait to read the rest of your journey that most will never experience. Thanks for taking the time to write it all out! cyn

Mike said...

Good stuff. Looking forward to more stories. I have been on FC with you forever and didn't know this about you!

DRfan said...

Nice article Huard, looking forward to the next segment.

Huard28 said...

Thanks guys for the support and kind words! I touched on many things in my career on FC, but never got into much detail about them until now, so I hope you enjoy the rest of my blogs in this mini-series..