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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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Twist spent large chunks of the next three seasons playing for the Peoria River-men of the International Hockey League, living in a basement apartment with Jocelyn, whom he had married in '90. Even when she was alone in that apartment, Jocelyn recalls, she never wanted for company, thanks to the mice living in the walls.

The Twists were happy when Tony was traded to the Nordiques in '90. There, as a reward for making the ice safe for players like LaFleur and young star Joe Sakic, coach Dave Chambers occasionally put Twist on the ice with those two snipers, who, if the lead was secure, would try to get him a goal. "Jeez, Twister," Sakic would say after his muscle-bound friend failed—as he unfailingly did—to cash in a goalmouth feed, "what do you want me to do?" In 373 NHL games through Sunday Twist had scored seven goals.

One night in Vancouver during his first season with Quebec, Twist squared off with his Canucks counterpart, Gino Odjick. From the stands, someone shouted, "Twist, you goon, get off the ice!" Abruptly, the heckling ceased. It was the heckler's misfortune to be seated directly in front of Carole, who along with Stan had made the three-hour drive from their home in Kamloops, B.C. "She cracked him one right across the back of the head," says Jocelyn, who was also at the game. Twists were landing blows all over the arena. "I told him if he ever repeated those words, he would have to deal with me," says Carole. "In the second and third periods he and his friend were cheering for Tony."

Nevertheless, whether she is at the game or watching on TV, Carole scolds her boy when he drops his gloves. "Tony don't do this," she will fret. "You're going to hurt someone."

Had Twist listened to his mother, it is unlikely he would have become a favorite of Mike Keenan. Twist was traded back to the Blues in '94, and it was with Keenan's encouragement that he reached his full potential as the Guy Whose Gloves You Least Want to See Hitting the Ice at Your Feet. Keenan is gone, but Twist's popularity in St. Louis is at an alltime high. On any given night at the Kiel Center, one sees an equal number of TWIST and HULL jerseys in the stands. The Tony Twist Show runs weekly during the season on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis. If it's been a good week and the Twister has drawn blood, the bout is analyzed and dissected. No fight, no problem: The show isn't so much hockey-driven as it is Twist-driven. A recent show was taped at a biker bar named Cadillac Jack's, not a place you want to take your date after the prom. Hours before taping, the joint was packed with, as producer Mitch Fager says, "a lot of Tony's hard-core fans."

He has earned their affection the hard way. He has a tough job, and the NHL, mildly embarrassed by the existence of a creature such as Twist, is making it tougher. As of last season, those judged to have instigated fights face stiffer penalties, which have so far resulted in two ejections for Twist. New this season is a graduating scale of suspensions for players who pile up three or more game misconducts.

What, Twist worry? "As long as there's hockey," he says, "there'll be a need for what I do."

Right now, nobody does it better. Thirteen years have passed since Jocelyn has seen her husband definitively lose a fight-while with Saskatoon, Twist was bloodied by Link Gaetz, whom he paid back with interest later that season—but there is another, more telling testament to his skill. "Touch wood," says Stan, "Tony's still got all his teeth."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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