Fighters a dying breed

Ottawa Senators' Grant Potulny (right) gets a fist in on Toronto Maple Leafs' Kris Newbury in...

Ottawa Senators' Grant Potulny (right) gets a fist in on Toronto Maple Leafs' Kris Newbury in preseason action at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006. (Ottawa Sun/Sean Kilpatrick)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Fighting enthusiasts have reason to fear the circus has left town -- for good.

First came a year's lockout, then a re-branding of the NHL into the No-Hitting League and finally, Tuesday's retirement of the most colourful clobbermeister in two decades, Tie Domi.

Peers such as Donald Brashear and Georges Laracque also are finding more idle time with their hands, largely as the result of the instigator rule.

But the lions and tigers that make up the league's law enforcement patrols are still going to be around for awhile.

"The best players on each team will still need to be well-guarded," said Rogers Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos, who was handy with his dukes in a eight-year National Hockey League career. "It's like having car insurance or life insurance ... you'll never know when you'll need it.

FAREWELL

"What you'll see is more players such as Steve Ott (Dallas Stars) and Sean Avery (Los Angeles Kings), guys who can lead the league in penalty minutes, but still skate and play."

Domi ended his farewell presser on Tuesday with advice to two of his biggest antagonists, Chris Neil and Brian McGrattan, to work on their skills as well as the speed bag.

"I hope a guy like Neil gets the opportunity," Domi said.

"He was always telling me 'C'mon Tie, let's fight (to establish his own reputation). Now he's getting the chance. McGrattan's a tough kid. I hope he lasts in this league."

McGrattan, who smoked Domi in a fight last year, told an Ottawa newspaper this week he had been skating hard all summer with the goal of playing six to eight minutes a game with the Senators and earning his coach's trust.

"That's what distinguished Tie from everyone else for so many years," Kypreos said. "He could skate, forecheck, hit and obviously fight. He was small, but he was built like a Coke machine.

"He's the last of the last in terms of the NHL's heavyweight division. You won't see a category like that with Domi, (Bob) Probert and (Ken) Baumgartner."

Kypreos, whose own career came to an abrupt end in 1997 when Ryan VandenBussche left him in a pool of blood at Madison Square Garden, says last year's re-emphasis on offence puts the issue of fighting at a crossroads.

"Now it's up to (commissioner) Gary Bettman," Kypreos said.

"Is he going to make a move to further curtail fighting? Will it get to near-extinction or are we just in a cycle where it could come back?"

There still are well-respected pugilists with the ability to keep pace in today's game.

Matthew Barnaby played 82 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last year at 13:25 of ice time per game; Brashear close to nine minutes in 76 games for the Flyers. Wade Belak can play forward or defence for the Leafs.

But Domi found his role decreasing to the point of being a healthy scratch late last season.

"I've always said you have to be able to skate, but when you're (36) and on the fourth line with a lot of special teams going on and you're a momentum player it's different. When you're 22, you think it's cool," he said.

"It's not an easy role. Every night, everyone in the dressing room is looking at one or two guys to do something (to protect the weak). Knowing you're the guy, it's not easy.

"There were nights when I had injuries in my hands and my shoulders and no one knew about it, not the other team or 18,000 people in the stands."


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