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The Fighting Duck
MICHAEL FARBER
February 12, 2007
Stanley Cup favorite Anaheim is by far the NHL's most pugnacious team, led by George Parros, its Princeton-educated goon
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February 12, 2007

The Fighting Duck

Stanley Cup favorite Anaheim is by far the NHL's most pugnacious team, led by George Parros, its Princeton-educated goon

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The most improbable heavyweight in the National Hockey League wears a Boogie Nights mustache, speaks passable Spanish and graduated from Princeton in 2003 with a 3.16 grade point average and a degree in economics. George Parros is not the most famous pugnacious Princetonian--former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrestled there in the early 1950s--but the university is not exactly a haven for the cap-and-goon set. If throwing punches during hockey games seems an odd way for an Ivy Leaguer to make a living, it is no more bizarre than the careers of classmates whom Parros says are now in "I-banking," investment bankers who put in 15-hour days and sleep in their offices. Through Sunday, Parros had played 19 games and averaged 4:41 minutes of ice time this season. If he dresses for 18 of his team's final 30 games and ramps up his ice time to five minutes, he'll play 180 minutes this season. For Parros, earning the NHL minimum of $450,000, that's $150,000 an hour. Take that to the I-bank.

Parros is employed by the Anaheim Ducks, a.k.a. the Fight Club. The Ducks, who led the Pacific Division and were the class of the NHL until injuries struck their three best defensemen and No. 1 goalie in December, do not merely lead the league in fights. They have lapped the field. Anaheim had 51 fighting majors at week's end, 21 more than second-place Nashville and St. Louis. Eleven Ducks have been in scraps this season, including star defenseman Chris Pronger, who fought in his first game back, Jan. 28, after missing nine games with a broken foot. Parros is tied with rookie defenseman Shane O'Brien for the team lead, with 11 fights; fourth-line wing Shawn Thornton has nine.

"We're never going to play without a heavyweight [because] I need to provide a fear-free environment for my skill guys," says Brian Burke, Anaheim's G.M. "But the main reason we have a lot of fighting majors is that we're committed to a style that leads to [fights]. We prize contact. If you forecheck and bang like we do, sometimes [opponents] turn around and you have to answer the bell. I won't apologize for that.... In our bottom six forwards, we look for the requisite level of pugnacity, truculence, belligerence, hostility and testosterone."

The Chuckin' Ducks fight not only during the regular season but also in the playoffs, often a No Fight zone. Anaheim had fighting majors in all three rounds in 2006, including five in a seven-game first-rounder against Calgary. Burke could not have expressed his take on hockey any more eloquently than he did when he acquired Parros on Nov. 13, trading a second-round pick to Colorado and flopped third-rounders to get a right wing who through Sunday had two goals and three assists in 74 career games.

Like the arc of a roundhouse right, NHL brawling might be in its descent--fighting majors fell from 1,561 in 2003--04 to 919 last season and are on pace to hit 973 this year--but it remains entrenched in the culture. A Death of the Goon cover story in The Hockey News in October felt as premature as Time's wondering in 1966 if God was dead. (The goon, by the by, was alive and well and eating a chicken-and-portobello-mushroom sandwich in a pub outside the Anaheim rink last week.) There are, of course, different paradigms for winning; Carolina was 28th in fighting majors en route to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Currently 19 of 30 teams carry a heavyweight, defined here as someone who plays eight minutes or less a game and whose principal role is either as a fighter or as a sort of nuclear deterrent. "Part of me is old-time hockey; I love the fights," says right wing Teemu Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 31 goals. "It feels good to have a tough guy in the lineup. I look at it as insurance."

NHL fights are like the chorus in Greek drama, a pause in the narrative that comments on the spectacle: Did a team need to change the game's momentum? Send a message to a chippy team? Engage the crowd? And like Greek drama, fights are often scripted. No, not the results. (This season at least half a dozen NHL players have been injured in fights, including New Jersey's Cam Janssen, who dislocated his shoulder battling Parros on Nov. 24.) Just the starts. Parros usually asks, "Do you want to give me a fight?"--a delightfully rococo way of expressing the common "Wanna go?"

With 32 NHL fights, Parros, 27, is a relative newcomer. He grew up in comfortable circumstances in New Jersey and never had a fight, on or off the ice, until his first full season in the minors in 2003--04. ( Los Angeles's eighth-round draft choice in 1999, Parros played nine games in the AHL the previous spring, finishing his senior thesis on the economic impact of the '02 West Coast longshoremen's lockout while on a bus ride to a game.) He has been schooled by teammates in the art and protocol of hockey fighting, and last summer he worked with a boxing instructor in L.A. The 6'5", 225-pound Parros tends to be a counterpuncher--last month the one time he was overly aggressive, he was bloodied by a blind swing from Columbus's Jody Shelley--and has a 4-4-3 record in '06--07, at least according to voters on hockeyfights.com, The Ring magazine of hockey's pugilistic subculture. That website, says Parros, "might as well be my home page." He downloads fight clips on a PlayStation Portable and studies opponents, "just like getting ready for a test at school."

Parros hopes to eventually spend more time dissecting goalies than roughnecks. He aspires to be a third-line regular and the guy in front of the net on power plays, a more complete player, like Ottawa's Chris Neil, a tough nut whose hands and smarts allow him to play on any line. For the moment Parros wants to gain the complete trust of coach Randy Carlyle, which means tailoring his play to the situation and handling the rough stuff. "Do we win every fight?" Carlyle said. "No. But we show up for most of them."

In other words, when you play Anaheim, duck.

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