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THE WORST JOB IN SPORTS
Michael Farber
March 24, 1997
WHILE SOME NHL ENFORCERS LIKE TO BRAWL, MANY MEMBERS OF THE FRATERNITY OF FIGHTERS FIND IT DANGEROUS AND DEMEANING, AN UGLY WAY TO EARN A HANDSOME LIVING
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March 24, 1997

The Worst Job In Sports

WHILE SOME NHL ENFORCERS LIKE TO BRAWL, MANY MEMBERS OF THE FRATERNITY OF FIGHTERS FIND IT DANGEROUS AND DEMEANING, AN UGLY WAY TO EARN A HANDSOME LIVING

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"Goliath was also remembered for his defeat," says Bouchard, now a Canadiens television analyst. Even today an occasional wise guy will spot Bouchard and sing out, "How's Jonathan?"

The first myth about hockey fights is that they start spontaneously. They almost never do. They start because of a cheap shot, a team's need for an emotional lift or the mere proximity of two thugs on the ice. When opposing enforcers are sent out at the same time, a fight is going to break out.

"Most fights are caused by coaches," Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke says. "If a team's getting beat, the response is, Let's have a fight. The coaches don't have to tell the players to fight. The players aren't dumb."

No. The fighters understand what they're supposed to do. The standard invitation to an NHL bout is, Want to go? The "regulars," as Ewen calls them, even have a code of ethics: no sucker punches, just square-up matches. "Everyone accepts that," Ewen says.

What tough guys have trouble accepting is being ordered onto the ice to fight, as almost every enforcer has been at least once in his career. That slap in the face is almost as hard to take as a haymaker. Says veteran enforcer Stu (the Grim Reaper) Grimson of the Whalers, "Nobody wants to sit for 2½ periods, have your team down three or four goals, and have the coach send you out there and expect you to make it all right. That's demeaning and dehumanizing. I've gone, but after the game I've told coaches, 'Don't ask me to do my job. I know what's expected of me.' You don't order a goal scorer to go out and score a goal. I don't need someone tapping me on a shoulder, winding me up like a robot."

"One time it happened to me," says Ewen. "Our coach yelled at one of their players, and the player skated by the bench and shouted an obscenity at our coach. He tapped me and said, 'Go get him.' I thought, You go get him. The coach tapped me three times, and I didn't go. We yelled and screamed about it later. I wound up on the bench for a week and a half."

"One coach ordered me out with 20 seconds left, we're losing by three goals, they've got their three toughest guys out there, and I haven't played a shift all night," Chase says. "I didn't think he was sending me out there to tie the game. I mean, don't embarrass mc. I went straight to the locker room and got undressed, and when he came in, we had a big shouting match. We settled it all the next day—out of court."

Ultimately, Paul Mulvey did too.

On a Friday night last month, at the Reston Ice Forum in northern Virginia, scores of young hockey players were on the two rinks, a mob of hockey moms were in the lobby, and the noise from a kids' birthday party blared incessantly from the second floor. The tootling of the party horns filtered through the closed office door of Mulvey, who is part owner of the facility. The office is tiny, but it seems even smaller when the 6'4" Mulvey rises from his chair. There are mementos of his pro career—a Goal magazine cover and a grip-and-grin photo of Paul with his father, John, and his brother Grant, who played 10 NHL seasons—but the most prominently displayed souvenir is from Mulvey's posthockey days. Behind his desk is a framed copy of a May 9, 1982, Parade magazine story that lauded his courage for having taken a stand. Mulvey was, as the headline Says, THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT FIGHT.

Mulvey was one of those quirky characters of the 1980s who, like Joe Piscopo, came and went. He represented a cause; he was the poster boy against hockey violence. Mulvey had been a heavyweight with the Washington Capitals, the Penguins and the Kings, snacking on Tagamet and Tums to calm his nerves before doing his duty on the ice: squaring off with the Flyers' Behn Wilson and Paul Holmgren and the other toughs of his generation. In 1980-81 Mulvey jumped into the penalty box and swung his stick at the Quebec Nordiques' Kim Clackson in retaliation for Clackson's having crushed Mulvey's vertebra when they were juniors six years earlier. "If a guy like Holmgren needed to be settled down—no problem," Mulvey says.

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