SUN Hockey Pool

Knockout artists

CHRIS KITCHING, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

John Hewitt made a career out of using his hands.

Not to put paint on a canvas or cook a gourmet meal, but to pummel his opponents in front of thousands of spectators in hockey rinks around North America.

In a role some may find offensive or unacceptable, Hewitt thinks there is a place in the sport for the enforcer who concentrates more on dropping the gloves than putting the puck in the net.

"His job is to go out there and protect his team. How do you protect your teammates from stick-swinging and other liberties guys take if you can't punch a guy in the face?" said Hewitt, a Portage la Prairie native who spent seven seasons in the semi-pro ranks.

600 FIGHTS

His career took him to Quebec's notorious North American Hockey League, known for its scraps more than anything else, and the inaugural Hockey Enforcers event in B.C.

He figures he's been in about 600 hockey fights.

"There is an art to fighting and there is a place for it," said Hewitt, now a car salesman with Kelleher Ford in Brandon. "Fighting just for the sake of fighting, no, I don't agree with that."

Questions were raised this week when NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell said it's time to examine the issue, his reaction to a string of incidents where players suffered serious injuries -- concussions, broken bones and cuts, among them.

Bev Ridd, a member of Winnipeg's Violence is not Child's Play, hopes the NHL looks into it because she is worried kids are being influenced by the antics they see during games.

"Research shows that children learn what they play," Ridd said. "What they are being taught, they will do, and it doesn't necessarily stay with them just in the game. It may carry on into their lifestyle."

Fights occur at the minor hockey level, although not often, said Doug Lischka, president of Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, which has a zero-tolerance approach to fighting.

"I'm hoping the kids see it (on TV) as entertainment and don't bring it back to the game," Lischka said.

Former Winnipeg Jets forward Jimmy Mann, who had his share of tilts at Winnipeg Arena, doesn't think the state of NHL fisticuffs will change.

"A month ago they were concerned about hits to the head. All of a sudden two heavyweights get in a fight, one gets knocked out and they're jumping on that wagon," said Mann, who was in town this week for the Oldtimers' Hockey Challenge.

"In our days we knocked out guys. I knocked a few guys out, and there was never much of a concern," he said. "People, as much as you hate to say it, do like to see a good fight once in awhile in a hockey game."

Mann might be best known for coming off the bench in 1982 to sucker punch Pittsburgh's Paul Gardner in retaliation for Gardner's cross-check to Doug Smail's face.

Mann was suspended 10 games and convicted of assault, for which he was given a suspended sentence. Gardner's jaw was broken in two places.

Campbell's comments, meanwhile, seem to have trickled down to amateur leagues. Manitoba Junior Hockey League commissioner Kim Davis said team officials will discuss the issue and enforcement at their annual meeting in June.

"We're going to take a poll and get the feedback of the member teams to see what their thoughts are on it, and if they feel there is an issue with respect to a change or reconfirmation," Davis said. "We review our league rules annually."


Photos