Fighting for his dream

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Mike Bajurny looks down at his shopworn right hand and reflexively curls it into a fist.

"I beat Georges Laraque up," he said. "Have you ever noticed the scar on his left cheek?"

He looks down again at the meaty right hand. "That's from this guy."

He was just a kid then. Mike Bajurny was a 20-year-old walk-on from Walkerton at the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp who fought his way through the rookies, including Laraque.

Now he's 30, a drifter through 14 teams spread over better than a half-dozen leagues.

He's a good guy. Tough guys usually are. You want duplicitous? Go see a goal scorer. If you're looking for the straight goods, talk to the tough guy.

Bajurny has one goal and one assist and 304 penalty minutes this season with St. Georges-de-Beauce Garaga in the LNAH, the hardrock Quebec Senior League that houses the Philadelphia Flyers' Donald Brashear ("a punk," said Bajurny, "he's only tough with players who are smaller than him"), and legendary tough guy Link Gaetz.

And yes, he would gladly work as a replacement player next September should the NHL and its locked out players find themselves still without a deal.

"I don't know any player who wouldn't be a replacement player," Bajurny said. "When your goal for your whole life is to play in the NHL, are you going to stop because you wouldn't have the blessing of the players who are there already?"

Bajurny always believed that given the right chance, the right team, he could have played in the NHL even if his goal total, five in his best year, doesn't do much for the argument.

"I always believed in myself, but the reality is I didn't have the talent or the luck. I realized a couple of years ago that it wasn't going to happen."

By then, it seemed to make no sense to quit the only line of work he knew.

"Now, it's a job. I'm getting paid to play hockey. I'm not in the American League and I'm not making horrendous money (around $1,000 a week), but I'm playing hockey for a living and there's not a lot of people who can say that."

These are the candidates for the chance to make a fraction of the $1.8-million US NHL average.

They are players like Bajurny who were seduced by the dream, players who stay in hotels with bottle openers nailed to the bathroom counters. They are the regular victims of roster shuffles or someone else's guaranteed contract or no-nothing coaches.

Every night they trade fists and blood with the only players who are every bit as desperate to make a living as they are.

"Absolutely, you get tired of fighting but there are so many factors," Bajurny said. "You do it for your team, or for yourself, your pride. Somebody has got to do it. The bottom line is, it's your job."

Fame, in a roundabout way, has found him after all. Bajurny is one of the principals in The Chiefs, a documentary about five goons on a Laval team that broke new ground for sheer havoc.

Most teams in the league use four or five fighters a side. Some devote nearly half their roster to tough guys. The Chiefs, modelled on the Johnstown Chiefs of Slap Shot fame, got eight goals and 801 penalty minutes from Bajurny over three years. The ratio of 100 PIMs per goal is about right.

Bajurny lived with a half-dozen others in an abandoned hall at the Laval arena. When his brother, David, a film producer, went to see him play, he knew he had the makings of a documentary. The film is available on DVD next week and Bajurny is doing the media thing.

Bajurny is luckier than many. He has his Grade 12 diploma. He doesn't know how long he will play but you know it's as long as someone will have him. He has the rest of his life to be an ex-hockey player.

"It's still hockey," Mike Bajurny said. "It does get crazy, but the bottom line is it's still hockey."


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