STONY PLAIN -- In the Quebec AAA circuit where the Shawinigan Xtreme rule with an iron fist, being called a goon squad is a badge of honour.
Fighting is the lifeblood of their league.
Fans pack the arenas as much to see who wins and loses the fights as who wins and loses the game.
Xtreme tough guy Justin Leinhos has 40 fights this year. Six-foot-four Thierry Douville, in the menacing beard and mohawk, has 354 penalty minutes in 36 games.
The reason it's not higher is because he broke some fingers around Christmas and had to tone it down for a while. The club's website even has a collection of fight clips, their greatest hits, if you will.
PAYS THE BILLS
It's not pretty, but it pays the bills.
"If we don't fight, we don't live," said Xtreme co-owner Claude Vallee. "It's a tough league. There are bench-clearing brawls, there's everything. We have at least four or five fights a night."
But they won't be doing it at the Allan Cup. It doesn't work.
Shawinigan tried it last year and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, picking up five gross misconducts, two game misconducts and a reputation that followed them all the way to Stony Plain for this year's tournament.
"For us, in our league, the fighting and the intimidation did pay off, because we won," said Paul Shantz, one of the Xtreme's enforcers. "But here, we have to adjust because we can't be doing that, it's a different set of rules."
By different, he means ridiculously tight. A standard of enforcement designed to mimic the NHL's has resulted in nothing but penalties. On top of that, referees are watching Shawinigan like hawks.
If they try and goon it up, they'll be punching themselves all the way to another early exit.
"We're not here to fight," said Vallee. "We're here to play hockey."
And that seemed to be the case in their tournament opener against Whitby. Fans anticipating a slugfest saw an intense, fast-paced and entertaining (aside from the endless stream of minors) game instead.
"If there's a lot of intimidation during the games, a lot of trash talk - that's OK," said head coach Bobby Baril, who has a quick and skilled team that can play it any way the opposition wants.
"We played one of the toughest teams in the league and they wanted to play tough with us. We beat them in five games.
"In the final, against a very skilled team, we played hockey and beat them, too."
Shawinigan says they, and their league, are simply misunderstood.
"There's a lot of fighting, but it's part of the show. It keeps the league rolling," said Shantz.
TRIED TO TONE IT DOWN
Though they've tried to tone down the rough stuff this week, at least the fighting, you'd never know it from the stats. They were shorthanded 19 times against Whitby, giving up four power play goals in a 6-5 loss.
Baril wishes teams in the Allan Cup could mix it up a little, but the zero tolerance format - Whitby took 18 minors in the same game - makes it virtually impossible.
"In Quebec they let the teams decide the issue. I like that, and I think the fans want that.
"Fans don't pay to see a referee. They pay to see two teams battle hard for a win."