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Fighting for a Living
Austin Murphy
March 16, 1998
St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist, whose pugilistic talents appear to run in the family, doesn't pull any punches on the job
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March 16, 1998

Fighting For A Living

St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist, whose pugilistic talents appear to run in the family, doesn't pull any punches on the job

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"No problem," said McKenzie. "Skate around for a while. I'll find you." He did.

Few are so willing to engage the Twister. When Reid Simpson of the Chicago Blackhawks fought him on March 3—after Twist had been unable to drum up a fight since Dec. 17, he pounced on and routed his overmatched foe—Twist's wife, Jocelyn, expressed, of all things, gratitude that Tony had finally found a place to blow off steam. "More power to Reid," she said. "At least he dropped his gloves."

Why aren't people challenging Twist anymore? It's simple, says Chris Simon, the Washington Capitals' left wing and designated tooth-loosener: "He broke Rob Ray's face—and no one wants to get his face broken." Simon is referring to the November 1995 bout between Twist and Ray, the Buffalo Sabres' enforcer, in which Ray suffered a fractured orbital bone.

Like a lot of other fighters Twist, 29, is a different person off the ice. After cold-cocking tough guy Mike Peluso five years ago—Peluso, then with the New Jersey Devils, was hospitalized with a concussion—Twist went to the hospital to check on his erstwhile sparring partner. (Peluso had already been discharged.) Twist will earn $650,000 this season, roughly $40,000 of which he will donate to sponsor Twister's Iron Horse Tour, a five-day Harley-Davidson ride organized by the Head First Foundation. That's right, the host of an event expected to raise more than $1 million for the prevention of head injuries batters craniums for a living.

A loving father at home with his kids-Brittany, 7, and Christian, 6—Twist is merciless on the job. "I want to hurt them," he says of opponents. "I want to end the fight as soon as possible, and I want the guy to remember it. If he becomes a repeat customer, I want him on his heels before the next fight starts."

Like male pattern baldness, extraordinary punching power apparently skips a generation. Twist's paternal grandfather, Harry Twist, was a welterweight boxer who fought under the name Harry Runcorn (after his home county in England) and held the welterweight title of Western Canada. On the Ides of March in 1923, Harry fought Handsome Howard Weldon in Toronto. Handsome Howard "got his feet mixed up," according to a newspaper account, and Runcorn popped him. Weldon's head hit the mat with a sickening thud. He died shortly thereafter.

"Dad was a very, very powerful puncher," says Stan Twist, Harry's son and Tony's father. "But after the accident, he didn't have the same intensity." Harry retired to Burnaby, B.C., where he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and gained renown as a trainer of young fighters. His wife, Ethel, was a field hockey player of legendary fierceness; she is in the B.C. Lacrosse Hall of Fame and was dubbed "Dirty Andy" by one newspaper.

Stan, who became a Mountie too, was stationed in Kelvington, Saskatchewan, in 1968 when his wife, Carole, gave birth to their only son, whose destiny it also was to take up a career in enforcement. (Kelly, their daughter, was born seven years later.) As a 15-year-old playing midget hockey, Tony seldom fought and logged lots of power-play time. A year later Twist's first coach in junior hockey, Len McNamara of the Prince George Spruce Kings, took a look at the precociously buff adolescent-Twist had been pumping iron since he was 13—and made him a specialist of a different sort. The new Spruce King, it was discovered, had a gift for knocking the sap out of people. It was made clear to Twist in Prince George, and later with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, that he had been given a uniform for one reason: to fight. And fight he did, several times per game and sometimes even during warmups. His pugilism, however, paid off. One summer morning in 1988, Carole poked her head into the bedroom of her still slumbering teenage son and announced, "You got drafted." Replied Tony, "Mom, shut the door. I'm sleeping."

Twist had been selected in the ninth round by the Blues, whose incumbent enforcer, Todd Ewen, he set out to unseat. Their first fight, in the first scrimmage in training camp, ended with both of them sitting in the training room, Twist with a cut on his forehead, Ewen with a bruised hand. When the trainer attempted to stitch up the rookie, Twist said, "Just throw some butterflies on it. Todd and I are fighting again this afternoon." When Ewen refused to fight him the next day, Twist says he skated to center ice and flapped his arms like a chicken.

His attempts to shame Ewen into brawling failed. "I don't blame him," says Twist. "The job was his. Why do anything that would give credibility to some young punk trying to take it?"

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