Tough guys duke it out
Nilan, Laraque divided on fighting
BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency
|Georges Laraque (top) admits that the life of a hockey enforcer is "the most demanding ... in all of sports." (QMI Agency files)
MONTREAL -- The suicide of former brawler Wade Belak has former enforcers talking, and tussling, over the pros and cons of fighting in the National Hockey League.
Chris Nilan, one of the league's top enforcers a generation ago for the Montreal Canadiens, says it's time for commissioner Gary Bettman to snuff out fighting for good.
"The NHL should ban fighting because it's no longer a factor in the games," Nilan told QMI Agency.
The Boston native, who amassed more than 3,000 career penalty minutes, said today's tough guys are only hired to fight whereas enforcers in his era could also play the game. The 53-year-old recorded 110 goals and 115 assists in his 13 seasons.
"Fighters these days can even be called up before the games," he said. "Come on, it makes no sense."
But Georges Laraque, another ex-Canadiens heavyweight, says fighting is the only way for less talented players to get a job in the world's top hockey league.
He vehemently disagreed with Nilan, telling an Edmonton radio station this week that cheap shots are a bigger problem in hockey than fighting.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Montrealer also had harsh words for retired scrappers who are now calling for a fighting ban.
"All the former guys I used to fight, and who think they (NHL) should phase that out, they make me want to puke," Laraque told 880 AM. "That's selfish, because there's another guy like me who won't be talented enough (skill-wise) to make it to the NHL."
But Laraque, who fought Belak several times, admits that the life of a hockey enforcer is "the most demanding, the hardest, the most stressful in all of sports."
"When you drop the gloves ... you know what you have to do, it's your job," says Laraque, who's a hockey commentator for QMI's French sports channel. "If you don't (fight), you disappear."
Dave Morissette says he was willing to play the role of a tough guy to make the NHL, though his career lasted only briefly. Now he's having second thoughts about his choice.
"I would not let my son do what I did," he says. "I don't want him to live through what I lived."
For his part, fellow ex-enforcer Enrico Ciccone accuses the NHL of failing to protect stars like Sidney Crosby, which he says forces teams to defend their own players.
"If the NHL won't apply the rules, players will be forced to carry out justice themselves," he said.