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Rougeau nephew bangs heads in NHL

Part-time WWF blocking dummy gig paid dividends for Gauthier


OFF THOSE ROPES ... The Mountie, left, tangles with the Big Bossman during the peak of The Mountie's career. Flames defenceman Denis Gauthier is the nephew of The Mountie, aka Jacques Rougeau. -- Sun File Photo
By MARK MILLER -- Calgary Sun

 Eric Lindros: a wimp.

Krzysztof Oliwa: a midget.

When you're Denis Gauthier and you grew up as a blocking dummy for your uncles in the World Wrestling Federation, well, it lends a whole new perspective to the feared hitmen of the NHL.

It's not that Lindros and Oliwa don't strike fear into opponents, it's just that they can't compare to the physical horrors experienced by Gauthier in the wrestling ring.

When the Flames rookie was 17, his uncle Ray Rougeau of the famous Quebec wrestling family, was making a comeback to rejoin the WWF where his brother and former tag-team partner Jacques was starring as The Mountie.

That summer, Ray needed a blocking dummy, someone to practice his holds and moves on.

Enter young nephew Denis, a Quebec junior hockey player who was already fashioning his own reputation as a feared opponent on the ice.

"My uncle was making a comeback with Carl Ouellet as 'The Quebecers' and he needed a dummy for his wrestling ring in his backyard," laughs Gauthier, 22. "That was me.

"I didn't know what to expect. But he used to throw me off the top rope, jump on me ... I don't know how many bumps and bruises I got. He'd give me chokes, slams, body slams, kicks, it was a great experience. But I don't think I'd do it again.

"There was one time where he was standing in the corner and another guy is on the third rope and he weighs about 330 pounds. Well he'd throw that guy off the rope onto me!

"I'd look up and see this huge guy fall from about 12 feet over my head and then bam!, onto me.

"They're pros and they know how to fall so they don't hurt you too much. But I had never did it before."

Flames defenceman Denis Gauthier


If Denis learned one thing from the Rougeaus, it was simply, when it comes to hitting, it is better to give than to receive.

He's adopted that motto on the ice where his crushing physical play made him the Flames' first-round draft pick in 1995.

But he's had to adopt his maxim to the NHL, where he's learned it's not how often you hit, but when, that makes you an effective player.

"The reason I got sent down last year was that I wasn't concentrating enough on defence," says Gauthier, who is fitting into the team well since his recall from the minors eight games ago. "Now I'm looking to defence first and the physical side will take care of itself.

"All I need is a little time to get my confidence at this level.

"The first couple games I was a little nervous, but in the last two or three games I've had some good hits so this is the time to step up my physical game. I really want to stay and that's what I have to do to stay here."

While the Rougeaus were good guys in the WWF, Gauthier fancies himself a bit of a bad boy, a Stone Cold Steve Austin on blades.

"(Darius) Kasparaitis and (Bryan) Marchment play the type of game I want to play and can play," he says. "But, on the other side some of those guys are a bit dangerous. It's good to hurt people and punish them but not to the point where you put them out for six months. That's not the reputation I want.

"I want to be the guy who knows if he goes against me, I'll be coming and he's going to get hit. They have to be aware when I'm on the ice. I want to get under people's skin."

In his first two years, Gauthier had no problems getting under people's skin, but his concentration on hitting guys left him a defensive liability.

He knows that now.

"I remember in Toronto last year when I hit Sergei Berezin cutting across the blueline and I just hammered him, he lost his helmet and everything," he said.

"But then I looked back and Mats Sundin was going in on a breakaway. Thank God (Rick) Tabaracci stopped him. The next game I was sent down. For me, that was the turning point to realize I have to start playing because this hitting isn't going to work at this level."

As his confidence improves, Gauthier expects to work in more of his hitting game into his on-ice repertoire.

But will he ever follow the footsteps of his famous family into the wrestling ring?

"Are you kidding? Off the ice I don't have an ounce of mean in me," he laughs.

"For me, it's on the ice where my emotion takes over and I carry a lot of meanness -- I know I get carried away sometimes. But I'm no bad guy off the ice.

"Those guys in the wrestling ring, when you see what they do up close, when you take their hits and get the wind knocked out of you, you realize ... THOSE guys are tough."

Yes, Denis Gauthier is a dummy no longer.

CALGARY FLAMES

More on the Rougeaus




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