Kings' Hockey Fest: Enforcers take the stage, steal the show
Almost without exception, NHL tough guys are among the most soft spoken and articulate athletes you'll ever meet. Former Kings Brad Norton (pictured at left) and Stu (The Grim Reaper) Grimson brought honor to the tough guys' union Saturday at the Kings' Hockey Fest, where they took on all kinds of issues during the enforcers panel discussion and entertained the fans at the Nokia Theatre with stories from their playing days.
Both condemned Todd Bertuzzi for the ugly, blind-side hit on Steve Moore in February 2004 that left Moore with a broken bone in his neck. They agreed there's a place for two willing and able enforcers to go at each other but no justification for a player to jump an opponent without warning. Bertuzzi was suspended by the NHL for 17 months; Moore never played again in the NHL.
"I would never do that. I don't think there's any place in the game for that," said Norton, who played for the Kings in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. "There's ways to do it. ... Out of respect for the game and what we do, that was totally uncalled for."
Grimson, who played for the Kings in 2000-01 after spending four seasons with the Ducks (1993-94 and 1994-95, as well as 1998-99 and 1999-2000) agreed that Bertuzzi's attack was out of line. Then he lapsed into lawyer-speak -- entirely understandable since he got a law degree after his playing career ended.
"As a player, you recognize when you step into an arena that you're playing a physical sport and there are certain risks you assume," he said. "I don't accept the risk of somebody skating up behind me and blackjacking me on the head and driving me onto the ice."
Both said they'd like to see the instigator penalty abolished though they otherwise approve of the state of the game under the post-lockout rules that have largely eliminated obstruction and have promoted scoring. "I like the changes we've made," Grimson said. "It was harder for pure skill guys when we clutched and grabbed, to demonstrate their abilities. The changes are great but I hope it never comes at the expense of the physical part of the game because that's what makes hockey in North America so great."
Norton, who had 287 penalty minutes in 124 career games, recalled his best fight as a bout against heavyweight Bob Probert in what was Probert's last fight. "I had so much respect for him," Norton said. "I just asked him, 'Please, Mr. Probert, could I do this?''
His toughest was one that never came fully to pass -- against older brother Jeff. They had been teammates with Florida and their parents came to visit to watch them play, but Jeff was traded to Boston, which was scheduled to play Florida the next day. Jeff cross-checked Florida's Pavel Bure, and blood wasn't thicker than water.
"I punched him in the back of the head," Norton said. "He said, 'Do you really want to do this? Mom's going to be really mad.' "
Grimson recalled his first fight, in which he leveled then-Edmonton Oiler Dave Brown, as "my single greatest achievement and greatest mistake." It was a mistake only because Grimson, then with Calgary, had to face Brown two days later and Brown was ready for him.
"He sewed the sleeve of his sweater shut so it was really tight and he sprayed silicone on his left arm so I couldn't grip it," Grimson said. "He hit me so hard that my orbital bone was fractured in three places and I broke my cheekbone."
Both recalled fighting players they'd been friendly with, saying that the animosity never extended beyond the ice. Grimson, then with Detroit, squared off with Jim McKenzie, then with Winnipeg, finding himself nose to nose with his combatant. When he couldn't win the fight with his fists, he went for a verbal winner.
"I told him, 'Jim, your wife must be Italian because I can smell the garlic on your breath,' " said Grimson, who later played with McKenzie for the Ducks.
"It's all business. Whether you get the better of someone or they get the better of you, you're still friends. It's kind of a sick, perverted culture we work in," he added, with a laugh.
More later from the Kings' famed Triple Crown line.
-- Helene ElliottPhoto credit: Dave Sandford / Getty Images