Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Big CHL Announcement, American's "D" Guys, Enforcer Rules

- Lot's of activity on social media and the message boards  last night about a "big" announcement supposedly being made by the CHL today. Most of the speculation has the announcement being about a new franchise coming into the league with Casper, Wyoming the leading candidate. If you recall, 97 year old former state legislator and U.S. Rep. John Wold offered $1 million to help facilitate hockey in the Casper Events Center. Wold’s goal is to do his part in fostering growing interest in professional hockey.
Wold’s donation would cover about half of the estimated $2.2 million needed for a sheet of ice, dasher boards and other equipment. His gift is contingent on four conditions the city must meet by Dec. 31: He wants to approve the franchise and lease agreement with the hockey team, ice floor budget, engineering plans and any additional funding, according to city documents. With several CHL franchises currently having attendance problems with average attendance under 3000 (Denver - 1425, St Charles - 1950, Arizona - 2267, & Brampton - 2486) the league may need several new franchises for next year. It is all speculation at this point so we will see what is announced later today.
UPDATE: Have found out the announcement is there will be two new teams coming into the CHL next year but the specific locations will be announced at a later date.

- Had a reader tell me there is a lack of discussion, stories, information etc. on my blog about the defensemen on the team so I promised to do a better job of acknowledging the contribution of those on the blue line.  Coach Martinson has said many times it is the most experienced defensive group he has ever assembled. It was the part of the team he felt most comfortable about at the beginning of the season. Here are some facts about the group.

- The group of seven defensemen (Berube, Ehrhardt, Hendrikx, Tyler & Trevor Ludwig, Rouleau, & Tetrault) has a combined 44 years of professional hockey experience. Other than rookie Dallas Ehrhardt everyone else has at least five years of pro experience.

- Three of the group were drafted by the NHL (Tetrault, Hendrikx, and Trevor Ludwig).

- Other than the rookie all of the defensemen have played in the AHL.

- Three of the defensemen have been team captains in the CHL (Tetrault in Wichita, Rouleau in Ft. Worth plus Berube this year) and most of the defensive corp have worn an "A" in the past so as a group they provide plenty of leadership on and off the ice.

- The group is the best scoring blue line in the league with four of them in the top 15 in scoring by defensemen:
Tyler Ludwig - 5th (11 points)
Trevor Ludwig - 7th (10 points)
Ross Rouleau - 9th (9 points)
Daniel Tetrault - 15th (8 points)

- The league or team doesn't publish hits but would bet this group leads the league in that department as well. They all finish their checks.

- While the coaches have expressed concern with how the defensive group has played at times early in the season it is not how you start but how you finish and with this group there is confidence they will get better and better as the season progresses.

- For those of you that like to read hockey books I have recommended "Zamboni Rodeo" a couple of times in the past. A story about the Austin Ice Bats where the author, Jason Cohen, followed the team for the entire season (1997-1998). It does an excellent job of capturing what minor league hockey is all about. Daniel Tetrault played for the Ice Bats 2000-2001. I have a copy of this book for anyone that would like to borrow it.

- I came across another hockey book recently which you also might like. It is not a new book and it has already been made into a movie. It talks about the role of the enforcer/fighting in hockey. I remember reading an interview with Kip Brennan from many years ago that gave me a new perspective about being an enforcer and the fact that their are rules enforcers try to live by. If you go to the archives you can find this interview along with some other interesting Americans and CHL fighting data in the blog post, Shocker: CHL Fighting, Fighting Etiquette, & More, date September 13, 2013. The article below is an interview written by Davy Rothbart  in 2012 with Doug Smith and it tells and interesting story but also does a good job of describing the role of the enforcer including the rules they live by.

When he retired after nearly a decade of playing minor league hockey, South Boston native Doug Smith had unique career stats: no goals scored, one total assist, and over 400 penalty minutes. Smith was an enforcer, the kind of swaggering tough guy hockey teams bring on the ice to protect their star players and strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. He chronicled his experiences in his autobiography (co-written with Adam Frattasio), Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. The book has now become a movie starring Seann William Scott (American Pie) plays Doug, and the script was written by Judd Apatow stalwarts Evan Goldberg (Superbad) and Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder).
Smith, 47, now a police officer in Hanson, Massachusetts, recently spoke to Grantland's Davy Rothbart about his unusual career and the unspoken code of hockey enforcers.

Let's start from the beginning. How did you become one of hockey's most notorious goons?
The story of my fighting career — my hockey career, that is — is really the story of a friendship: the one between me and my best friend [and co-author] Adam Frattasio. I've known Adam since I moved to Hannibal [Massachusetts] from Quincy when I was 15.
For whatever oddball reason, Adam had always dreamed [of being] a hockey fighter himself. He played high school and college hockey and he loved fighting on the ice. But he was a little guy — just 5-foot-6 — and he often got pounded. Meanwhile, I never played organized hockey, but I competed all through my teen years as an amateur boxer. Adam was always like, "Doug, if you could just learn how to skate, you could probably make some noise." The idea of actually playing professional hockey was obviously farfetched and ridiculous to even think about, but just for fun I started to skate with Adam and a bunch of our buddies. We'd rent a rink at midnight or go out to the pond in the winter months and play pickup hockey. I'd only played three or four times in my life — I think Adam actually tied my skates for me the first time we went out there. It was a challenge just to stand up on skates. If I had a nickel for every time I bruised my ass, I'd be a millionaire.
Adam was the catalyst. He taught me all the basics — stops and starts, going around in the circles, crossovers, going backwards on skates. I was 20 years old, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, a real tank. I always seemed to be top-heavy. It was tough just to learn how to skate at that age. I actually took these power-skating classes with 7-, 8-, and 9-year-old kids, and they'd burn right by me, they'd skate circles around me. It was hysterical. At that point, playing pro hockey was still a dream — we never, ever thought my career would amount to anything beyond the pond.
What was the first league you played in?
I got onto a summer rec league in 1988 where you just pay a few bucks and sign up. The coach knew that I was a horrible hockey player but that I was trying to have fun and learn how to play. He didn't know I had a bit of a secret agenda: I was not only trying to learn to skate at a higher level but also looking for opportunities to square off with someone. I wanted to learn how to keep my balance in a fight. That was one thing Adam couldn't teach me. We'd spar on skates day after day, but there's nothing like the real thing. In summer hockey, though, it didn't take too long to find opponents willing to brawl.
An actual NHL scout was watching these summer leagues and after our last game, he approached me and said, "Smitty, I've watched you all summer. You're one of the worst skaters I've ever seen but you're a helluva fighter. I might be able to help you out. I know a team that could use you." This gentleman made a phone call to a coach he knew, and before I knew it, I was heading down to North Carolina for a tryout with the Carolina Thunderbirds of the East Coast Hockey League.
How do you find a way to show off your fighting skills at a hockey tryout?
Adam came down there with me. He basically said to me, "You just got to find the biggest guy out there and challenge him outright. You just have to force someone to fight you, even though that's not your style." Which it wasn't. I wasn't an instigator. I wasn't an asshole out on the ice. I just enjoyed fighting. The art of boxing, period. I'd had it in me since I was a kid. So for me to have to bait someone into a fight really wasn't me. As it happened, the Thunderbirds already had an established team, with a handful of new guys like myself trying to make the roster. They didn't have a fighter from the year before, so in scrimmages there was nobody for me to really target.
Still, I managed to provoke a couple of fights, but after three or four days in camp with them, the coach said, "Doug, realistically your skating is not at this level. I appreciate your ability and willingness to fight, but I'm just not going to be able to use you right now." In all honesty, I shook his hand and said, "Thanks — I can't even believe I got here for a tryout. Do you believe I just started skating three or four years ago?" How could I go home sad? Even though I figured that was the end of my hockey career, I was elated to have had the experience.
Well, about two months after I got released, the coach called me back. A couple of guys the team had signed as enforcers hadn't panned out. "Are you willing to do the job?" the coach asked me. I said, "Of course!"
How long did it take to establish yourself as one of the East Coast Hockey League's Premier Fighters?
It happened my first night! We were playing the Knoxville Cherokees, who had two of the league's legitimate heavyweights on their team. The first guy I fought was Greg Batters, a draft pick for the Los Angeles Kings. He was a third- or fourth-year player, just getting some seasoning before he moved up, a strong skater who also knew how to throw a punch. He was my very first fight in pro hockey and I beat him soundly.
My second fight, the next period, was against his partner, a guy named Alex Daviault. Daviault was a Quebec kid. He was known for being an outright goon. He couldn't even play hockey. He was like me. I suppose we were made for each other — two born fighters. Well, I took him down.
My first game, my first two shifts, I had fights against two of the league's top guys, and beat both of them. It was that night I said to myself, "You know what, I can't play the game of hockey to save my life but I can do enough on the ice to survive in this league."
I finished out the year with Carolina. We actually won the East Coast League Championship — I got a beautiful ring and a trophy and the whole nine yards. For my first year of pro hockey, it was pretty spectacular.
Do enforcers have unspoken agreements that govern these kinds of fights? Or is it all spontaneous and unruly?
There's generally two kinds of fights. Sometimes it's an actual, meaningful fight where you're defending a teammate or even yourself. Then sometimes your team just doesn't have a spark and they need a little get-go for the night and you need to step up and be their spark plug. You line up next to the guy who's the other team's heavyweight and you say to him, "Hey listen, I got to get my team going. Want to go tonight?"
We've got a code of conduct, so to speak. That guy might say, "Yeah, no problem. Let's go, Smitty," and we drop our gloves and have a good, fair fight. But he might say to me, "You know what, I can't fight tonight, I got a bad hand." I've had guys say to me, "I can't fight you. My coach said he doesn't want me to fight tonight."
At that point, our code says that you don't jump the guy, you don't sucker-punch him, you don't do anything dirty. You just catch him the next time around. Killers, thieves, "tough guys" — they all have their code; so do goons.
Does it hurt to get hit? How were you able to absorb the punishment?
I learned from boxing how to tune out the pain. I know how take a punch, how to deflect a punch, and how to turn with a punch as it's coming at my face. But you can't duck away from all of them. Growing up inside a boxing ring gave me the ability to go out on the ice without being afraid to get hit. The difference is, you're going from boxing gloves to bare knuckles. In the heat of the battle, though, you tune it all out. You go into a whole other world. During the fight itself, you never really feel too much — you're just so concentrated on the opponent in front of you and trying not to get murdered. You don't feel the pain until 10 or 15 minutes after the fight is over, when you're sitting in the penalty box. It's like, "Wow, my eye is killing me. Pass me the ice bag."
What was your most memorable fight?
I would say my best fight and my worst fight were the exact same fight. It was when I first got called up into the American Hockey League in '95 or '96, my very first game for the Moncton Hawks, against a gentleman they called Frank "The Animal" Bialowas. Frank was the league's heavyweight champion. He'd been sent down that season from the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, so he wasn't a very happy guy in the first place. I got brought in specifically to go against his team because they had two or three tough guys. I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I knew what my job was.
I got my ass beat. Frank caught me with a couple of good shots, no doubt about it. In fact, afterwards, in the locker room, before the trainer stitched me up, he ran to get his Polaroid camera. He said my face was so busted up and looked so great, he wanted to take a photo of it to hang on his wall. In fact, if you ever see the cover of my book, that's the picture he took. The black eye is courtesy of Frank.
Even though I lost the fight, it was still the best fight I ever had, because after years of playing minor league hockey, I'd made it to American League, which is basically just below the NHL. For me it was quite an accomplishment. I was just a regular guy skating on a pond a few years before, and here I am fighting the heavyweight champion of the American League. My worst fight, absolutely, because I got pounded. My best fight because of who I was and how I got there.
Some fans believe that fighting detracts from hockey and that violence has no place in the sport. Why shouldn't it be outlawed altogether?
I understand where these people are coming from. Even as a guy who loves fighting, I remember back in the '70s when you'd watch game after game with endless, bench-clearing brawls. After a while, it's like, "Cut the shit. Let's just play some hockey." I don't mind a one-on-one fight here and there, but these bench-clearing brawls last for 20 minutes, and no one's really fighting, they're just dancing around. Then there's these fights where guys punch each other silly for five minutes. What does that prove? What does that solve? I get that line of thinking.
But hockey is a violent sport. It's always been about intimidation. And hockey has always allowed the players to police themselves. I think there's a place in the game for fighting. For me, it always came down to my role as the protector of my team. Kind of like an insurance policy for my teammates. You'll have a star player who's getting hit, getting whacked, getting knocked on his ass, and in comes Doug to beat all these guys up and give him some room.
Look at Sidney Crosby. He got body-checked and he's out of hockey. Sidney Crosby should not be out of the game because someone took a run at him. If there's a guy on Crosby's team who's there to kick your ass if you take liberties against him, you might have second thoughts before running him into the boards. There's a reason Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov had such long, brilliant careers — because Bob Probert and Joey Kocur had their backs. You take a shot at Yzerman, you're going to get the shit kicked out of you. Might not be the same night, but Probie's going to get you in the next game. You need that guy on the ice.

DID YOU KNOW: The NHL record for most penalty minutes in a season is held by Dave Schultz at 472 minutes, a record that may never be broken. It's no secret that offense has diminished during the past couple of decades. But there's also been an under-the-radar drop in penalty minutes, as witnessed by the fact that none of the top 20 single-season totals was amassed since 1997. That makes it more likely that Dave Schultz's 472 PIMs with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974-75 figures to remain the standard for a long time to come.
Schultz, who had already earned the reputation as the leader of the Broad Street Bullies by piling up an NHL-record 348 penalty minutes (but scoring 20 goals) in 1973-74, wore out a path to the penalty box in '74-75. He shattered his own record by piling up 472 minutes in penalties, a total that hasn't been approached in nearly 30 years. He did score nine goals and finish with 26 points and a plus-16 rating -- and the Flyers won their second straight Stanley Cup.



  1. WOW! Didn't know there was a book. Very interesting. Gives me a whole new perspective on the movie & the role of the enforcer on the team. Thanks for posting Barry!

  2. One of my favorites, Dave Shultz! Grew up with Broad Street Bullies, very exciting time in Phila. When we won the Stanley Cup, traffic on every street, small or highway, literally stopped. Folks got out of their cars, high fives all over the place, horns honking, fireworks went off in all directions. Ah, the memories. Thanks for bringing them to light.

  3. Mary, I thought of you when I was writing about the penalty minute record and Dave Schultz. Nancy went to high school with Paul Holmgren but he didn't get to Philly until 1976-1977 and Schultz had already moved on to the LA Kings.