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The Straight Edge: Enforcers are alive and well

Dan Carcillo and Rick Rypien square off in a battle of fisticuffs. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dan Carcillo and Rick Rypien square off in a battle of fisticuffs. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

James DeLory knows what has got him this far in his hockey career.

At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the recently graduated Oshawa Generals defenseman was known as one of the toughest customers in the Ontario League, dropping the gloves and physically intimidating the other team whenever necessary.

“I do end up attracting attention,” DeLory said understatedly.

According to hockeyfights.com, DeLory peaked with 14 major bouts in 2006-07. But you have to wonder if the reason he only fought 10 times last year is because no one wanted to take him on.

Far from retreating from the game, the enforcer – and his little brother, the scrappy agitator – is still a part of hockey and is in no way leaving any time soon.

The Oshawa bruiser’s junior career is finished, but his life as a hired gun has just begun. While DeLory was drafted by San Jose, the Sharks couldn’t find a place for him in the organization, so he signed with Florida this summer. Rochester, the Panthers’ American League affiliate, was in need of an enforcer and DeLory hopes to fit the bill.

“I’ve talked to a lot of the top fighters in the OHL,” DeLory noted. “And we know we’re going to have to play with that edge in order to be successful at the next level.”

Along with DeLory, recent draftees such as first-rounders Kyle Beach and Colten Teubert have been known to throw down when called upon and the later rounds of the 2008 NHL draft were spattered with members of the 200-plus PIM club.

Daniel Carcillo, Jared Boll and Zach Stortini are just a few tough guys who made names for themselves in the NHL last season and the war machine ain’t stopping anytime soon.

And do you know why?

Because the NHL endorses fighting.

Yup, you heard me, folks. And I have no problem with that. How does the league endorse fighting? It’s simple: The NHL tacitly approves of fisticuffs because players are not suspended or fined for them. Sure, you can get suspended or fined for fighting in the last five minutes of a game if you’ve been red-flagged as a “goon,” but that’s a pretty simple rule to get around: Send your message at the six-minute mark. It’s not rocket science.

While fans of other sports can only hope something bad happens to hate-him-unless-he-plays-for-you guys like Terrell Owens or Alex Rodriguez, hockey has made it known since its inception that if you’re a jerk, you’re going to get rocked in the mouth sooner or later. Your pretty little teeth are going to bounce off the ice and you’ll think twice about spearing or butt-ending one of our boys again.

Repulsive? Venomous? I don’t know. It’s certainly cathartic every once in a while and there’s a big difference between law and justice.

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When Dale Hunter ran Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs, the long suspension would have felt a little hollow had Steve Thomas and Benoit Hogue not jumped the Washington Capitals scoundrel in retaliation. Is a scenario where Hunter crumples Turgeon into the boards from behind then skates away smugly really more palatable than the reality, when a linesman had to tear him from a frothing mob of Islanders?

Not that you can expect to see boxers on ice getting a lot of skating time these days. Philadelphia’s Riley Cote played 70 games last year, but averaged just 4:16 of ice time. Similarly, Anaheim enforcer George Parros’ shifts worked out to 5:56 of ice time a game. Even Boll, who is more of an agitator, played just 8:00 a game.

Which is why the smart youngsters are serious about being more complete hockey players.

“I look at Chris Pronger and the way he moves for a big man,” DeLory said. “He plays with an edge and is not necessarily dropping the gloves all the time. I’m working on getting quicker and more agile. With the clutching and grabbing gone, you need to be able to catch up to those forwards when they get the puck.”

Having said that, DeLory doesn’t want to forsake the fists that have opened doors for him. With his size, he probably still would have ended up in the OHL, but the mettle he displayed with the York Simcoe Express made him Oshawa’s first round pick in 2004.

“I did have a couple fights in my draft year, trying to get noticed,” he said. “It’s gotten me where I am today. It worked for me.”

And fighting will continue to help kids land contracts, because it has been ingrained in hockey and teams often covet the skill. Even though the NHL doesn’t promote this part of the game, the league knows it wouldn’t be able to banish it without a backlash.

Repulsive? Venomous? Reality.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every second Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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