Thursday, March 15, 2007

Inside The Heart: Home of the Tough Guy: CHAPTER 2 - My first ever hockey fights and I'm lovin it!

Chapter 2 - My first ever hockey fights and I'm lovin it!

Fighting is not something you are forced to do at a young age in hockey; it's something you choose to do; either to add an extra element to your overall game or because its in you and you wouldn't know any other way. I was 15, and for the first time in my life I added some SIZE, going from 140 lbs to 155 lbs. What it did was help me around the net, fight off defenders and score more goals. It also helped me hit harder, gain confidence in hitting, and gain confidence in starting to fight in hockey. You see, this was Mike Hartman, Rob Ray, and very soon Gord Donnelly, and a rookie named Brad May time in my life. As a Sabres fan watching these guys play hard, fight, and generate excitement and good team comradery, I decided that I could add this element to my game. I wasn't sure if it was in me or not; I guess I wouldn't know until I had my first. Kind of like your first time with a girl; you're all nervous and are not sure if you can perform and if you will be good at it; and if she will like you after... And then you do it and your realize, it wasn't that bad after all, easier than you thought!

That's what it was like in my first hockey fight. It was no slug fest of course. It never is. It just finds you and before you know it, you are in it. I remember it was a home game, and I had the added bonus of one of my teammates fighting at the same time in a seperate fight away from the scrum. I was still in the scrum after a couple of the opposing team's players took a shot at our goalie, so the two of us came rushing in. My teammate was paired off and fighting, and I wound up on the bottom of a scrum and this little twirp was on top of me trying to get my helmet off so he could punch at my face. I could feel this guy trying to force my helmet off but I kept my head tucked and flat to the ice to prevent it. I had 2 or 3 other guys on top of me at the time and was pinned. I then mustered up all the energy and strength I had and managed to flip him over and get on top of him. This time he was at the disadvantge. My gloves were already off and so were his, and as I got him over I started pummeling him with quick Gord Donnelly type lefts; and he went down and stayed down until the linesmen pried me off him. I got up as the linesmen led me away to center ice away from the pack and I adjusted my elbow pads and looked for more, but none was coming. My teammate had beat the other guy who sticked our goalie and he skated by me with a smile on his face; I smiled back. And I remember the parents of the opposing team cursing and shouting at me, calling me a goon, calling me a dirty name, and I was just laughing at them. It was great! The adrenalin you feel after is amazing... just pumped right up. I said to myself right there "man this looks like the job for me!". We were both ejected and it took a few hours afterwards for me to finally calm down. I think my dad was more proud than I was. It was a funny thing. It was talked about for at least a week.... or that is until my next fight!

I quickly learned that year that fighting in hockey was much more than combat to see who can beat who. It was about protecting and sticking up for your teammates who aren't as big, who aren't as strong, and who aren't as tough, and making sure they can play their game. It's about loyalty, it's about respect, it's about honor, and it's about emotion. You could spend years watching the game and you may never get to know or understand this. It discourages me when people can't understand it. And it's usually these anti-fighting, anti-violence in sports people who think they know how the game should be played.

I would go on to score and fight; but my fights tended to be short and uneventful that year. I was still young and learning the ropes. I realized balance was a key aspect in a hockey fight, as was endurance. I learned some technique.. And I watched many NHL fight tapes to learn new things. It helped a great deal.

Did I ever get butterflies before a game knowing the opposing team had some big tough guys? Surely. All tough guys in hockey do. It's a given. The pre-game warm up you are always looking to see if their tough guys are playing that night, and you try to prepare. It's much the same in the NHL. Doesn't matter if you are 15 or 35, its the same feelings. Once you get into the game, it changes, you are focused, and whatever happens, happens. I remember one game that year, there was this one team with about 4 or 5 big tough guys thaht were all bigger than me. I thought they were pretty tough. Well one guy was mouthing off to our bench and then at our coach right in front of our bench. I was standing up, with my coach holding onto my shoulder. He kept yapping and then tried the John Wensink challenge the bench thing. As soon as I saw that, I smoked him with a glove on punch to the mug and dropped him in front of our bench. I got 2 and a game misconduct for that. But boy was it worth it! He finally got up and I thought I was going to hop the boards and fight; but he didn't want to fight at that point. Then the ref came over to grab him and he pretended like he was trying to break free from the ref. What a joke! And here I thought this guy was a tough guy. I was escorted off the ice; but my teammates all came in during the intermission and patted me on the back.

Later that season, against that same team, another one of their tough guys speared our goalie at the end of the 2nd period as we were going off the ice for the intermission. I of, course saw this, was the only one who did, and immediately went after him, jumped him, and fed him some punches. He tried to get off a few but they missed and I fell on top of him. I remember how happy our goalie was that I stuck up for him. That's what it was for me... just seeing how my teammates appreciated what I did to help him. If they didn't appreciate it, I wouldn't have done it. It wouldn't have meant anything. It was a good feeling. And slowly but surely I was developing into a pretty tough player.

Its funny, how things get around the league... news travels. I found myself later in the year getting more room on the ice. I wasn't getting run at like before. I was getting the puck and having time to do more things with it. Less guys were willing to run at me because they knew I would answer. I wasn't the toughest guy in the league by any means, but I was willing and could handle myself. I took pride in what I was doing.

That's what it is... pride. The enforcers in pro hockey today, take a good look at them and what they do. Why are they doing it? Well yes, the money is good. But its not about the money... money is further down the list for them. Its pride, taking pride in the job they are doing, taking pride in sticking up and protecting their teammates. Its an honorable job, and its a great feeling to get the accolades for doing it. But we are so humble; it just goes with the territory. After all, its part of the game. It has always has been part of the game. Someone will always be the tough guy. It will never die. As much as it seems like it might, it never will...

Chapter 3 - "Lake Placid Here I Come" will be posted next week...stay tuned!!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Huard! Another great chapter from ice level. Glad to see the aspects of honor, code, pride, and sticking up for your teammates coming through to show what being an enforcer is truly all about. cyn

DRfan said...

Excellent blog Huard. Very insightful and well written. Always interesting to get the skinny from guys who have actually 'been there and done that'.

Huard28 said...

Thanks guys!