The Forgotten Art of 'The Enforcer'

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Intimidating, fear striking, the guardians.

Long gone are the days in which these words summed up one particular player on every team in the National Hockey League.

Once upon a time, hockey was a game of gut wrenching collisions, fierce battles for the puck and a game in which a sense of protection was needed. Enter - The Enforcer.  While some enforcers could play the game of hockey at an expert level, many made NHL rosters to strictly drop the gloves.

Photo courtesy of Causeway Crowd
The role of the enforcer has faded away as NHL hockey has shifted to a fast pace game of finesse, skill and speed.  However, the Boston Bruins have had several key players take unruly hits this season that have jeopardized their health.  In the past these players that have taken cheap shots at Bruins players would have to meet their maker instantly after delivering an injury provoking hit.  Opposing players would seriously have to consider throwing a shot to the head or an elbow to the ribs.

Due to the fact that the Bruins could use a security blanket for their health and safety, it is only appropriate to reflect upon some of the greatest enforcers to ever adorn the black and gold.

The most recent “classic enforcer” to make Boston his home was none other than Shawn Thornton.  This member of the Bruins’ golden gloves club spent a bulk of his career in Boston from 2007-2014.  Thornton was a local hero who could also be found as a patron in many popular South Boston bars after a home game.  A Stanley Cup Champion, Thornton will be remembered as an integral part of the 2011 championship roster.  While Thornton was capable of tallying points from his fourth line role, and being a grinder, he was most well-known for his short temper.  Thornton would take the numbers of opposing players that took aim at his teammates or sometimes just a guy that looked at him the wrong way.

The best quality of Shawn Thornton was his loyalty to his teammates and the city of Boston.  This was apparent on March 18th, 2010, the first time the Bruins would be squaring off against Matt Cooke, a man who contributed in shortening the career of Marc Savard.  Thornton wasted no time in mauling Cooke within the first two minutes of the game.  Lining him up, squaring up and avenging his teammate.  The Garden came to its feet in support of the team’s enforcer.  Surely the current Bruins’ roster could use good old Shawn Thornton for protection and to energize the hometown faithful.

Enforcers in the NHL are typically “gentlemen” that are on the larger size, but once in a while a player comes along that possesses all the qualities of a fighter in a small package.  Enter, PJ Stock, a true hero of Boston sports culture from 2001-2004. Stock stood at a sturdy five feet ten inches and was often fighting men that towered over him.  His size was half the charm of his game, Stock knew how to inspire a crowd.  Stock was a fan of engaging his audience in a dramatic fashion as he would fling his mitts into the air and adjust his helmet before throwing the first punch.  Win, lose or draw, the Boston faithful could guarantee one thing that made PJ Stock famous, “The Wave”.  As Stock left the ice often bloodied from his fisticuffs he would wave to his adorning fans, very similar to the way the Queen would wave to her countrymen.  Stock earned his badge of honor in Boston as one of the smallest enforcers ever to play in the NHL.

You certainly cannot discuss famous enforcers of the Boston Bruins without mentioning one of the original “Big Bad Bruins.”  Terry O’Reilly, the “Tasmanian Devil”, was not only a captain of the team and a player that could create offense, but also one of the meanest players in the NHL from 1971-1985.  Nicknamed ‘Taz’ by teammates due to his reckless speed as he would maul his opponents full speed with fists flying.  O’Reilly played his whole career in the black and gold and would be an ideal fit on the current Bruins’ roster because he was capable of much more than fighting.  A well rounded player who tallied ninety points in the 1977-78 campaign.  O’Reilly, a force to be reckoned with on the score sheet, also knew how to land a punch to the face and support his team.  His most famous “incident” involved jumping over the glass at Madison Square Garden and chasing down a fan that had rubbed O’Reilly the wrong way.  While we cannot condone this behavior, as a fan of the Bruins one cannot watch that highlight and not get shivers about the intensity of Bruins teams of the past.

These players from the past are not going to be walking through the locker room door anytime soon.  But as the season continues, players certainly need to be willing to drop the gloves to stand up for teammates, or simply get the hometown crowd into the game.  The enforcer may be a role of the past, but a good old hockey fight is always appreciated.


Follow me on Twitter - @MRobes12

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Forgotten Art of 'The Enforcer'
The Forgotten Art of 'The Enforcer'
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