For George Parros & other tough guys, fighting was a business decision

Ken Campbell
George Parros (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: With George Parros announcing his retirement today, we thought it apropos to run this feature by Ken Campbell that originally appeared in our Dec. 8 Fighting Issue.)

Earlier this season, a week before his 33rd birthday, Bobby Robins played his first, and possibly only, three NHL games. He wore a Boston Bruins sweater and played for a total of 22 minutes and 45 seconds, took kneeing and charging penalties and got into two fights. That’s a grand total of three games, 22 minutes and 45 seconds, two minors and two fighting majors more than the vast number of players who chase the dream of playing in the NHL.

It was a dream that was a long time coming, one that came into focus on a summer afternoon in 2010 as Robins looked out over Lake Michigan from a rooftop patio in the tiny town of Algoma, Wis. He had just been given a new lease on life, but his hockey career was teetering on the brink of death. It was then, on that patio, after making list after list of his options, that Robins decided he was going to fight his way to the NHL.

The decision to try to make a living as an enforcer is often pragmatic and deliberate, as it was with Robins. Sometimes it’s a business decision, the way it was for former NHL enforcer George Parros. Other times, it’s made, or made for you, in a split second, the way it was with Marc Laforge. Some, like Tie Domi and Tiger Williams, are players with decent skills who actually enjoy fighting, but they’re a rare breed. Most fighters, suddenly or over the course of time, come to realize their fists are going to be the only things that make their marks on the game.

Take Robins, for example, and let’s go back to that rooftop patio in Wisconsin. It was a summer of indecision and insecurity for him. The previous season, he had signed with a team in Denmark, then found himself in Austria after the team went bankrupt. But it was off the ice where Robins faced his most daunting challenge. For the previous 11 years, he had been addicted to chewing tobacco, not thinking much about the ramifications of sticking the stuff in the gullies of his mouth until he was brushing his teeth one morning and noticed a white spot at the back of his mouth. He waited a week to find out it was a benign growth that was the result of an undetected wisdom tooth.

“All I could think of was, ‘I could lose my face, I could die,’ ” Robins said. “Fighting is scary, but not as scary as that.”

It was then that Robins, at 28, decided to evaluate his life and his goals. One day when his wife was away at work as an x-ray technologist, he made a list of all his options, one of which was to play in the NHL. Under that option, he listed the things he would have to do to achieve it. To play the fearless and reckless style he felt would make him an effective player, he knew he’d have to start fighting and prepare to answer for his big hits.

“It was a very conscious decision,” Robins said. “You experience fight or flight, and the first four years of my career I chose that flight option. When I came back to North America, I decided I was going to make a run for the NHL, and I knew that for me to do that, I was going to have to choose the fight option. I knew I was going to have to go into the belly of the beast and see what happened.”

And he did it with gusto. Since that time, Robins has been in more than 100 fights, working his way up from the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL to the American League and finally, this season, earning a three-game audition with the Bruins. He was on the roster for a fourth game, but didn’t dress. He fought Luke Schenn of the Philadelphia Flyers and Michael Latta of the Washington Capitals and was declared the victor in each one. The way Robins saw it, the only way to get better as a fighter was to do it without picking his spots and measure his progress with each fight. If it all sounds very rational, it’s because that’s exactly what it was. Robins, like many other fighters, epitomizes the dichotomy between on-ice behavior and off-ice sensibilities. Enforcers are often the gentlest souls off the ice, and many of them got their jobs because they were intelligent enough to realize their limitations as players.

Robins has an English degree from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell where he said he “balanced Poetry 101 with smashing opponents through the glass.” Robins does a lot of creative writing on his own blog (bobbyrobins.com). In an almost 10,000-word dispatch titled “Metamorphosis,” Robins recounted his early days of withdrawal when he decided to quit chewing tobacco cold turkey that summer: “I can only describe the feeling as this: I felt like I was going to explode and all my insides would splatter all over the room, but the explosion would not be a violent or sudden one, but a slow motion explosion, a bulging release of ripping sadness in a high-pitched hiss, like some coiled snake lurking behind the drywall, with a deep scarlet venom sack tucked away in the back of his mouth, back behind his razor fang, and it’s filled with the most potent nicotine extract the world has ever known, cooked in antiquity by some satanic alchemist in a time forgotten, melted down from an ancient monolith that once mapped the stars and solstices.”


Not every decision to become an enforcer is quite that dramatic. When Marc Laforge left his home in Sudbury, Ont., to play for the Kingston Canadians at the age of 16, he was coming off a midget season in which he had just 42 penalty minutes. His father hated fighting and made his feelings on the subject known to anyone who asked. His bantam coach recounted how Laforge’s Sudbury team was playing the Toronto Young Nats in the Ontario championship, and the Young Nats were running roughshod over the Sudbury team. The coach had to convince Laforge to go out and run a couple of opponents.

By the time he retired 17 years later, Laforge was seven minutes short of 4,000 penalty minutes on 17 teams in six leagues, including 14 NHL games during which he fought four times and accumulated 64 PIM. In 1987, he went from fight to fight in a bench-clearing brawl while playing for the Sudbury Wolves, punching opponents from behind. It earned him a lifetime suspension from the Ontario League and cemented his reputation as one of the game’s biggest goons.

It all started in Kingston, under Canadians coach Rick Cornacchia. Laforge had his first fight against Barry Burkholder and discovered the rush of adrenaline that accompanies a cheering crowd after a fight. That moment, along with strong messaging about his role, set the player on a path from which he could not deviate. Laforge is now a 46-year-old fireman in Sudbury. He still devotes his life to fighting, but there is a higher sense of purpose to his confrontations now.

“If I had known how things were going to turn out, I would have joined the fire department when I was 25,” Laforge said. “Being a fire fighter is much more fun, much more fun. You think fighting is fun for two or three years, then you don’t think it’s much fun anymore.”

Once he fought that first time in Kingston, Laforge said he was pigeonholed as an enforcer. He was 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and, wanting to secure his place on the team, was more than willing to do what it took to play regularly. Laforge figured he would establish himself as a fighter to earn his spot in the lineup, then use that opportunity to prove that he could be more than that. But it didn’t work out that way. He kept fighting, continued to get suspended, and before he knew it he was a second-round pick of the Hartford Whalers for one reason and one reason only. Of his four NHL fights, one was against Marty McSorley. But it was another fight, one that was decidedly in favor of Darin Kimble, where Laforge’s mindset changed.

“It was then that I realized, ‘I’m not the toughest guy in the world,’ ” Laforge said. “And after that I played scared. I still had to fight, but I was nervous every single time. I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep for almost 20 years.”


George Parros was also pigeonholed as an enforcer early in his career, something that didn’t bother him because that was how he’d mapped out his career after being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1999. That’s the same season he started at Princeton, an Ivy League school that also produced Kevin Westgarth. The summer after he was drafted, Parros went to a Kings development camp, and it was there he decided, like Robins, he was going to have to fight to play his style.

Parros, who studied economics, simply made a business decision.

“I don’t know if it was as cut-and-dry for other guys, but for me it was a very deliberate decision,” Parros said. “I was big and tall and I liked to play physical, and the college game was pretty well suited for me because I could run around like a cannonball. At the Kings camps, I realized that if I was going to play that way, people were going to take offense to it, and I didn’t want to have to back down.”

It turned out to be an educated decision. Parros fought his way to a seven-year NHL career in which he made $5.6 million, became the first Princeton University alum to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup and earned cult status with his willingness to fight and his trademark mustache. Parros tried to learn on the fly, with his first-ever fight coming in a development camp against an Anaheim Ducks prospect named George Davis. That fight was followed with 218 fights as a pro (169 in the NHL and another 49 in the minors).

It wasn’t the career path Parros envisioned. Fighting wasn’t a means to an end as much as it was another skill Parros felt he needed to develop to play in the NHL. But it wasn’t long before Parros was labelled an enforcer and the cycle began. It paid him a lot of money, gave him a lot of fame and, unlike a lot of other enforcers who are tormented by what they have to do to play in the NHL, it never seemed to bother him.

“I have no regrets,” Parros said. “I’m happy with my career and what I accomplished. People expect certain things and you kind of just become that player. If I had gotten my brains knocked in early it might have been different. It was easy for me to do it. It was always more of a business-type decision for me.”


Boby Fugere works by day as a garage door installer for Mauricie Trans-Portes in Shawinigan, Que., and by night as a frequent fighter for le Blizzard Cloutier Nord-Sud in the North American League in Quebec. He’s 24, stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 290 pounds, though he used to be 330. That was a couple years ago when he realized he wanted to get back into a serious level of hockey after playing Jr. A in Quebec and a couple stints in the Quebec League.

He was playing garage league hockey and installing garage doors, and he wanted something more. The prospect of making an extra $10,000 a year to play hockey helped, too.
A guy that big is not going to have the kind of foot speed to play at any decent level of pro hockey, but he could play in the NAHL, which is known as the closest thing to Slap Shot since the Johnstown Chiefs. So he hit the gym and began training with a mixed martial arts instructor and still takes boxing lessons twice a week. And he’s put them to good use. In his first seven games this season, Fugere racked up nine fighting majors and failed to register a fight in only one game. He would have more fights, but he was suspended two games. Clearly, Fugere didn’t get the memo that fighting is on the decline.

“In this league, we need fights,” Fugere said, whose statistic line in the NAHL reads 39 games, 0-0-0 and 216 PIM. “A lot of fights and brawls. We need fights because if we don’t people will leave the arena and will never come back.”


Four fighters, four distinct approaches to their craft. Unlike Robins, Laforge now looks back on his career and doesn’t believe it was worth the mayhem. Robins has not a single regret about the way he made it to the NHL. For him, becoming an enforcer was as much a life decision as a hockey one. Goalies and fighters often mature later than other players, and Robins never forgot that. One of his coaches in the minors was Steve Martinson, a tough guy who made his NHL debut at the age of 30. With his successful attempt to quit chewing tobacco serving as the catalyst, Robins then faced his fears by confronting them head-on. And as he fought more, it got easier every time.

Prior to last season, he signed a two-way deal with the Bruins that pays him $100,000 in the minors and $600,000 in the NHL. He spent seven wonderful days in the show, during which time he made more than $22,000. That might be the extent of his career earnings in the NHL, but it’s always been about more than the money.

“I just kept getting closer and closer to my goal,” Robins said. “All of a sudden, I had an AHL deal, then I signed an NHL deal and it just kept building. To see it all come together was one of the most profound things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve proven it to myself, and I hope to play many more (NHL) games. But whatever happens, I’ve proven to myself that I can accomplish that.”

Young Jean Beliveau was just as hyped as Sidney Crosby

Jason Kay
Jean with boy

Jean Beliveau was a household hockey name before he ever reached the NHL, much like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros have been more recently.

That fame multiplied when he finally broke into the league full-time with the Montreal Canadiens in 1953-54 and subsequently lived up to expectations. And then some.

The following is a portrait of the young NHLer, as published by The Hockey News in our Feb. 5, 1955 edition.

WILL THIS GREAT AMATEUR BE A GREAT PRO?

By Vince Lunny

Montreal, Que. – The road to hockey’s graveyard, otherwise known as the bushes, is paved with the bones of maverick recruits who came into the National Hockey League as sure-fire prospects and wore out their welcomes almost before they soiled their uniforms.

In the light of this great truth, Jean Beliveau of the Canadiens is unique. Now in his second season, Beliveau has more than justified the unprecedented ballyhoo that heralded his debut as a full-fledged professional.

Read more

What happened to the days of the dominant NHL goalie?

Dominik Hasek had several of the greatest seasons ever by a goaltender. (Getty Images)

If you need evidence to illustrate the vagaries of NHL goaltending, look no further than Roberto Luongo, the guest editor of the Oct. 20 edition of The Hockey News. One minute you’re on top of the world, winning Olympic gold medals and being talked about as a Vezina Trophy candidate. Not long after, you’re fishing pucks out of the back of the net and making self-deprecating jokes on Twitter.

Let’s start with the following premise: There is no position wracked with more instability and less sustained excellence than that of goaltender. In terms of consistent performance these days, there’s Henrik Lundqvist and then everybody else. It seems that from one season to the next, teams have no idea what kind of goaltending they’re going to get. Where have you gone, six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek? A goaltending fraternity turns its lonely eyes to you. Read more

Jamie ‘Noodles’ McLennan still has the best seat

Jamie McLennan featured

As a player always slotted as backup goalie, Jamie McLennan used to enter each season wondering how much work he’d get. During his NHL career that began in 1993 and ended in 2008, his games played in a season ranged from nine in 2006-07 with Calgary to 38 in 2000-01 with Minnesota. All told, McLennan appeared in 254 games (80-109-36 record and 13 shutouts).

“I’m very proud of it,” McLennan said. “I had some success and pitfalls. I am well aware it wasn’t Hall of Fame worthy, but I was a backup goalie who hung around for a long time.”

Today, as a hockey analyst with TSN and the NHL Network, McLennan is still viewed as a backup by some. With Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger the go-to guys at TSN, McLennan gets duty on That’s Hockey and That’s Hockey 2Nite on TV and co-hosts Leafs Lunch for two hours a day on TSN Radio. That’s on top of providing color commentary for 36 regionally broadcast games for the Ottawa Senators. Read more

Inspirational Mike Nichols still working towards getting back on the ice

The Hockey News
Nichols_644x428

By Chris Kazarian

At the end of June, 17-year-old Mike Nichols was drafted by the FHL’s Danbury Whalers. He regularly texts Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk and talks often with former New York Rangers star Adam Graves. And he was a featured guest on WFAN’s Boomer & Carton Show in November before heading to Madison Square Garden later that evening, celebrating his favorite team’s 5-0 blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins inside the Rangers’ dressing room.

These days Nichols is living every teenager’s dream. Only it took a nightmare for him to get there. Read more

For powerful QMJHL squad, it’s simply rebuild, reload and repeat

Ryan Kennedy
Val D'Or Featured

The Val-d’Or Foreurs had only been in the Quebec League two years when a young goaltender named Roberto Luongo moved up from Montreal for the 1995-96 season. By his third year in the small mining town, Luongo hoisted a championship trophy.

“We won in four straight against Rimouski, and the fourth game was at home,” Luongo said. “It was just craziness. It was unreal. The city was going nuts. You can’t top that as the best moment there.” Read more

Who is the NHL’s best fighting team? We rank them 1 to 30

Matt Larkin
Fight

One thing everyone can 
agree about in the fighting debate: fisticuffs aren’t gone yet. Hockey is certainly trending that way, but fights still happen for now. So when they do, which team is most heavily armed to win a battle royale on a nightly basis? We set out to crown the best overall tough-guy team in the NHL.

Our data source was hockeyfights.com, which has documented decades of information. Players earn wins, losses and draws based on fan votes. With the help of our dedicated interns, Craig Hagerman and Namish Modi, we compiled the career record of every player who’s played a game this season, through the second week of November. Fights that didn’t have any votes were deemed no contest, as the sample size was large enough for us to throw them out. We included regular season scraps but also pre-season and post-season ones, because fights are fights, no matter when they happen. Even if you’re a star player shaking off summer rust, you don’t ease up in the pre-season when you’re protecting your own face.

We then summed the total records of the players on each active NHL roster to produce an aggregate record, which was converted to a points percentage. We awarded two points for a win and one point for a draw. At this stage in the calculations, we realized our overall team rankings skewed too heavily toward winning fights and not enough toward experience. Which enforcer would you fear more: a guy with two fights and two wins or a guy with 100 wins and 60 losses? So we multiplied our team points percentages by their players’ total number of fights to create a final score that combined fight proficiency with fight frequency.

We believe the rankings on the pages to follow accurately reflect the NHL’s glove-dropping hierarchy. The likes of San Jose and Boston are loaded with pugilists and finished high, whereas last-place Detroit throws punches as often as Gandhi did.

Read more

Be A Better Hockey Fan 101: Hands off the glass – and quit it with The Wave

Adam Proteau
An Anaheim Ducks fan pounds on the glass at Honda Center. (John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

By the simple act of reading this column, you’ve confirmed yourself to be a hockey fan. And you probably want to be the best hockey fan you can be, right? Of course you do. This is why you’re going want to heed the advice on being a better hockey fan I’m about to lay out for you in the words that follow these ones.

Right off the hop, I want to speak directly to each and every one of you fans who is compelled to pound on the glass at ice level whenever the play or a camera is in your vicinity. And here’s what I want to say: Stop doing that. There’s no need for it. You’re not affecting the play or the players, other than to make them embarrassed for you. When I watch you banging your fists and palms, it makes me think only one of two things could be going on: some voice inside your head has convinced you that you’re trapped behind the glass and you’re desperately attempting to “escape”; or you’re proudly demonstrating to the world your brain still has the ability to control your arm movements. Either way, this doesn’t reflect well on you or fans in general.

It also doesn’t reflect well on you or any fan if you’ve stooped to doing The Wave. Read more