PITTSBURGH -- The heavyweight champion of the NHL made his way through the media-crowded Penguins dressing room yesterday, intent on accepting the dare.
Big Georges Laraque was still in his skates and hockey gear, minus the shoulder pads and helmet, which meant he was carrying oh, only about 250 lbs. on his 6-foot-3 "freakishly strong" frame.
From across the room he finally found the object of his scorn.
"You wanted me to call you stupid to your face?," Laraque said to me. "You're stupid."
The Penguins enforcer was responding to yesterday's Cheapseats, where I expressed disappointment that he had decided to do a character assessment of me through the Pittsburgh papers. He didn't like that I had written the Senators should test Sidney Crosby's previously injured ankle with a two-hander. He said I was stupid. He meant the idea was stupid, but he said I was.
Big Georges has absolutely no idea how psycho crazy I get when somebody says I'm stupid. Hundreds have paid an ugly price. Call me anything but.
"I thought you wanted to fight me," he said, referring to the insistence in the column that he throw down the insult in my presence, rather than in the papers.
Somehow, I managed to keep my cool -- and these weapons called fists checked.
"I'm a lefty," said Georges. "I'll fight you with my left hand tied behind my back."
Me: "Tie your right hand behind your back, too."
Somebody else: "He can still headbutt you."
Him: "I can headbutt."
Me: "I'm not going to fight you with your hands tied behind your back because I still wouldn't be able to reach your face."
Him: "I'll get down on my knees."
Me: "You'll fight me on your knees with your hands tied behind your back?"
Him: "Yes. We'll have a cage match. It'll be a great event."
Me: "I just don't know. I really don't want to get in trouble. I don't want to lose my job. I don't want to hurt you."
Him: "I'll sign a waiver."
Suddenly, I was out of excuses. Big Georges stared at me, waiting for an answer to the offer. I wasn't sure which way to go. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see the TV, radio and newspaper reporters, the cameramen and photographers. They had formed a circle around us and they were all waiting, too.
I tried to buy some time. I explained to Big Georges that I actually like Crosby, that I didn't really wanted to see him get hurt, but also that if I played for the Senators, I would do anything it took to win this series. In or outside the rules. Anything.
He explained to me that they can't go after The Kid's ankle, because if they did somebody on the Penguins might find it necessary to respond on Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.
He correctly stated the Senators can't afford to lose one or both of those guys, too.
He also said that if somebody chopped Crosby after what I wrote, the league would crack down on that player big time.
"Do you think the movie Slapshot is real?" asked Big Georges.
Me: "Yeah. I think that's the way they roll in the East Coast League, anyway."
Him: "There's a big difference between the East Coast League and the NHL."
We spoke and laughed for a few more minutes, Big Georges and I. He apologized for calling me stupid, that he meant what I wrote was stupid, and that in writing it I effectively sent waves of reporters to him seeking a response for three consecutive days. I apologized for that. He then made his way back through the crowded room to his stall, where he was quickly engulfed by a large media scrum.
"What did he have to say?" I asked a cohort.
"He said he challenged you to a cage match, that he'd have his hands tied behind his back and fight you on his knees, and that you turned him down," said buddy.
What? I never turned you down, Big Georges. I never gave you a definitive answer at all. I simply Jordan Staal-ed until you got tired of waiting for a yes or no.
It was suggested to me later that I should have played your bluff, that I show up this morning with a waiver for you to sign and tell you 'it's on'. But I'm not 100% sure you were bluffing, and I'm still not sure I want to find out.
I'd look pretty stupid walking around with your headbutt print on my face.
Marty Lapointe said he decided to have a few words with Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period of Game 1 when the goalie hit him in the gonad area with his stick. Lapointe admitted that he was probably playing too close for Fleury's comfort. "That's not the first time I've been hit there," said Lapointe, who remembers Eddie Belfour nailing him a few times between the legs when he was crowding the crease. "I didn't like that and I let (Fleury) know it. But I'll be there (tonight) too." ... Lapointe says he knows one NHLer who does not wear a cup. He would not divulge the misguided fellow's name ... Lapointe should expect C Maxime Talbot to rush to Fleury's defence again if another confrontation arises. "If somebody touches my goalie I'm going to go hard on him," said Talbot, who did exactly that when he wrestled Lapointe to the ice Wednesday. "It's all about protecting each other. We have the chemistry where we know if something happens we'll stand up for each other. Players on every championship team have that confidence in the guy next to them, that somebody will be there for them when the time comes." And what would you do if Mark Bell would have bounced Crosby's head off the ice with a check in the second last game of the season? "I'm definitely going to go to him and rip his cage off," said Talbot. "I'm definitely going to hurt him." ... Gary Roberts, who was given yesterday off, on the late game scrum that led to him taking 16 minutes in penalties: "I didn't know who was punching me, but I knew that I took quite a few in the back of the head. I was trying to get an arm free but it didn't happen." Told he was surrounded by four Senators, Roberts said: "That's okay. That's good, as long as Georges is out there with me." ... Roberts offered an excuse for Heatley andSpezza, when asked about their failures around the Pittsburgh net. "I didn't think the ice was very good (Wednesday). The puck never stopped bouncing on them, and it worked in our favour."
TALE OF THE TAPE
- HEIGHT: 6-foot-3
- WEIGHT: 250 lbs. (in hockey gear)
- AGE: 31
- BORN: Montreal
- DRAFTED: Second round, 1995
- SALARY: $1.3 million
- INTANGIBLE: 1,037 career penalty minutes in NHL's regular season
- HEIGHT: 5-foot-11 (at least that's what he claims)
- WEIGHT: 200 lbs. (at least that's what he claims)
- AGE: 47
- BORN: North Bay
- DRAFTED: First round, 1988, from the Toronto Sun
- SALARY: Way less than Georges Laraque
- INTANGIBLE: Probably would have fought Alexei Yashin, Joe Corvo or Dominik Hasek
Oddsmakers have set the early line at Laraque 1-20. We've gotta take Laraque, especially in a cage match. Brennan claims to have concussed after taking a punch to the noggin in a Syracuse hotel room a few years back. We say Laraque head-butts our guy into a senseless submission.