A Season on the Rink

A tumultuous year inside the crucible that is the National Hockey League

Near the end of the game, DeBrusk got tangled near center ice with opposing enforcer Dody Wood, also a journeyman player in his mid-20s. DeBrusk and Wood dropped their gloves, then grabbed and pummeled each other for what seemed to be minutes.

The pair obeyed the unwritten rules of hockey fighting--no hair-pulling, kneeing or eye-gouging. DeBrusk grabbed the "V" in front of Wood's sweater with his left hand, and punched with his right, landing several blows as he ate a few shots himself.

The refs never did stop the fight. Instead, the pair dropped their hands in exhaustion, shoved each other away, and skated off to opposite ends of the ice.

A woman yelled down at Wood, "Hey, you're so tired you couldn't even finish the fight!" Not missing a beat, Wood replied that he wasn't too tired to do something lewd to her. With that, he won over the enemy crowd.

After a spirited practice on Easter Sunday morning, DeBrusk spoke of his career, season and dreams:

"I've been fortunate in my career as far as the up-and-down stuff, especially in my role as the enforcer, tough guy, whatever you want to call it. This team was doing so well at the beginning of the year, it just was a tough lineup to crack. Now, they've given me a chance to play a few games, and I'll take any chance I can get.

"I love it. Schony is giving me an opportunity to play here--I've got to work harder, bang and crash, maybe create an offensive opportunity. I'm not an offensively blessed guy, though if I get a shot in front of the net, I can bury it. I love scoring goals--who doesn't? But I'm a banger.

"You don't necessarily finish body checks to try to hurt somebody. The reason you hit people is because guys don't like getting hit, especially finesse guys. It makes him get rid of the puck a tenth of a second quicker than he ordinarily would. Instead of making a good pass, he might give us a chance to score. Those are the little victories.

"When I got sent down this year, I said to myself, 'Go down there and bust your ass, be physical, get in your fights, and hopefully, if they need that aspect of the game, maybe you'll get the call.' The worst thing you can do is get sent down and sulk and say, 'I can't believe I'm not in the NHL.'

"It's kind of like the movie [The Edge], where they're in a plane crash and are stuck out in boonieville. They start to panic a little bit, and the Anthony Hopkins character says, 'You know why people die out in the wilderness? They die of shame because they sit there and start to pity themselves. They don't keep themselves active and use their head and body to get back out.' That's kind of an analogy I like to use."

Louie DeBrusk grew up in a town of 6,000 near Lake Huron in Ontario, and can't remember when he wasn't a hockey player.

"When I was younger, I was always one of the top two or three guys, and I played with older kids. I started to grow when I was a teenager, and I started to fight. I think it was just my way to get acceptance. I think I do have a temper, but I'm a pretty easygoing guy--I'm not a barroom brawler by any means these days.

"I remember the first hockey fight I got into, in a summer league. I had fought some guy who was three years older than me--about 20--and we were driving home in the van after the game, and I was still pumped with the adrenaline rush. I was, like, 'Wow, I feel so, wow!' From that day on, I was looking for it.

"All of your teammates have an immediate added respect for you. I could fit in really easily on a team, go out there and get a few hits, throttle some guy, and everybody loved me.

"It's funny, but many of the NHL fourth-line physical guys are the nicest guys on the team. We don't take anything for granted. We understand that we're plumbers to a certain degree, and we're happy to be here.

"Some people look at hockey as a barbaric sport. From the outsider's point of view, I can understand how they get that perception. They see two guys drop their gloves, go toe to toe, and they see blood on the ice, or a guy loses some teeth. That's part of the game, but it doesn't happen every night. We're more controlled than people think. I guess I'm just used to it.

"I'm just like a little kid again playing with this team. You appreciate it a lot more when you've been through what I have. I've been sittin' around the dressing room before games, telling myself, 'You know what, Louie? You're going to play in the National Hockey League tonight, in front of 16,000 people. That's a great thing.'"

Opening Night
Ottawa Senators
at Coyotes
October 11, 1998

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