No, a street brawl would be more to his liking. So the Oilers respond by adding "designated hit men" Jeff Brubaker, Marty McSorley and Steve Smith to their roster, which already includes McClelland, Don Jackson and Dave Semenko. All of a sudden the showcase team in the NHL—Great Gretzky & Co.—has its own vigilante squad.
"The Oilers have got the most talented players in the league, and then they've got the tough guys," says David Poile, G.M. of the Washington Capitals. "It's almost like there's no in-between."
Poile has his own problems in the Patrick Division, forget about what's happening out West. The Capitals were the third-best—and least penalized—team in the league last year, but they were 1-5-1 against their divisional archrivals, the Flyers. Why? They had no goon. The Flyers, led by the Sutter twins—Ron and Rich, but called Slash and Spear by some opponents—and abetted by Dave Brown and Rick Tocchet, were running them out of the rink. "So we picked up Dwight Schofield to keep Scott Stevens and Rod Langway, who we need on the ice, from having to fight guys like Brown and Tocchet," says Poile. "The last time we played them we won 5-2, and the game lasted three hours. There were fights after half of the goals."
The final round of that particular bout came with nine seconds remaining. The combatants, surprise, were Brown and Stevens. In addition to a five-minute major for fighting, Brown received a game misconduct—his fourth game misconduct of the season, which carried with it a two-game suspension. Predictably, that suspension sent the Flyer brass into high dudgeon; it was their contention that Stevens, not Brown, had started the fracas. How? By razzing Philly's Peter Zezel. "If you swear at me, who's the instigator of the fight if I hit you?" asks Flyer G.M. Bobby Clarke. That gives you a fair idea of the mentality we're dealing with here.
Brown, the latest in a long line of Broad Street Bullies, is a candid person. The NHL may pretend that fighting is the "spontaneous combat which comes out of the frustrations of the game"—which is how Ziegler has defined hockey's fisticuffs—but Brown makes no such highfalutin claims. "Sometimes when you're losing or your team is fiat, you need to rough it up a bit to give the other team a message," Brown explains. " 'Hey, we're still here. We're coming back at you.' Or sometimes you have to fight to keep your team from going flat. You've got to learn how to read a game. I'd like to think I helped our team win some games because I did rough it up a few times." Count on it, Brownie.
"It's a tough job," the 23-year-old Brown continues. He goes 6'5", 205 pounds and has been in 20 fights this season, or 3.3 for every goal he has scored. On the other hand, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders has scored 40 goals and has no fights; in fact, Bossy has spent only two minutes in the penalty box all season. "Any tough guy in the league can be beaten on any night," Brown says. "But I'm doing what I love to do. You couldn't go out every night and do it if you didn't love it. Nobody thought I'd ever amount to anything as a hockey player. I never skated well. Even in the AHL I couldn't skate. But I started making teams because I could fight. That's how I made it this far."
No one will dispute Brown's self-evaluation. "The players know how they got to the NHL and how they're going to stay," says Clarke.
And how many of those fights are of the spontaneous variety that springs out of the "frustrations" of the game? Let Brown tell it: "I don't know if I ever really get all that mad. You have to have a clear head when you fight. You don't want to be swinging wildly. You try to aim at the nose or the chin, some place where, if you land one, it'll cause damage. Broken nose, broken jaw—that's the quickest way to get the point across. There's no sense getting into a fight if you're not trying to hurt them."
It's a simple enough concept: When you throw a punch at someone, you intend to cause injury. Well, boys will be boys. How many times have you heard the argument that no one has ever been seriously hurt in a hockey fight? Separated shoulders and broken knuckles, noses, teeth and jaws don't count. Otherwise the league would have to enforce its own Rule 44 (a): "A match penalty [ejection from the game without an immediate replacement on the ice] shall be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure an opponent...."
The rule does not specify how one attempts to injure. So why is a guy like Brown allowed to try to flatten a beak with a fist but not, say, with a wrench?