Friday, November 26, 2010

For a hockey 'enforcer,' it pays to be brutal

**** Warning!!  This is a Sports post! ****

George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks is an Ivy League grad whose skills as a young player didn't quite translate to the NHL. Then he discovered he could brawl, and a career was born.

Ducks defenseman George Parros squares off with the Wild's Brad Staubitz during a game earlier this month at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

There might be blood.

At the very least, there will be violence — George Parros can picture it in his mind.

The veteran hockey player goes looking for trouble, chasing down an opponent, then letting his gloves fall to the ice. It is an invitation to fight.

From there, the strategy is simple: Grab hold of the guy's jersey with one hand and throw punches with the other, rapid-fire, aiming for the head.

Parros is the designated "enforcer" for the Anaheim Ducks. Most NHL teams keep one on the roster, a player responsible for intimidating the other side with bare knuckles.

The game's folklore holds a special place for goons — Stu "The Grim Reaper" Grimson, Dave "Tiger" Williams, the Broad Street Bullies — men of brute force if not always a full set of teeth. Parros has joined their ranks with 111 fights in his first six seasons.

This distinct skill set earns him $875,000 a year, not to mention a cult of fans who attend games at the Honda Center eager for a scuffle.

"Georgie's been around," teammate Ryan Getzlaf says. "He can handle the physical stuff."

Parros certainly looks the part — 6-foot-5 and broad-shouldered with a villain's black mustache — but anyone who considers him a mere thug would be mistaken.

With an Ivy League degree in economics, he might otherwise be working on Wall Street. His wife describes him as a homebody, a 30-year-old man who spends free time doing crossword puzzles and watching reality TV shows.

Parros says: "I'm not really that aggressive off the ice."

As his wife, Tiffany, likes to joke: "I knew George when he was a goal scorer."

They met as teenagers, Parros playing alongside her brother.

"He was that kid who always did what he was supposed to do," she recalls. "Always in a good mood."

Parros' outlook on hockey changed after four years at Princeton in the early 2000s. Though he ranked among the team's best offensive players, his skills were not strong enough for the NHL, and any hopes of reaching the big time would require an alternate strategy.

At a pro development camp, he fought with a fellow prospect and held his own.

"It got me thinking," he says. "Maybe I should add this to my tool belt."

YouTube offered plenty of fights to study. He gathered tips from established enforcers, then supplemented his training with work in the boxing ring.

"It helps to get used to having punches come at your head," he says. "It makes you less skittish."

Hostility became a career move.

For all the hockey fights that erupt spontaneously, sparked by passions in a contact sport, there are just as many waged for tactical reasons.

"It's one of those things you have to learn," Parros says. "The ins and outs."

Sometimes, the need for force is obvious — if the other guys rough up one of his team's stars, the goon must exact revenge. Other situations are less clear-cut.

If the enforcer's team is playing sluggishly, he might try to swing momentum by waking up the crowd. Same thing if the opposition pulls too far ahead. A hard check might suffice, or something more might be required.

Consider a game this season when the Ducks fell behind early against the Atlanta Thrashers and Parros began playing rough with one of the opposing stars, Dustin Byfuglien. Though Byfuglien is large, he stepped aside for teammate Chris Thorburn, a fledgling enforcer, to pick up the action. A fight ensued.

Parros and Thorburn grabbed hold of each other, tugging and pushing, throwing a few ineffective punches. They ultimately tumbled to the ice as officials moved in.

"Thorburn had my arms tied up pretty good," Parros says. "I'm not sure how interested he was in fighting."

Critics don't like the idea of players squaring off in hockey. The very service Parros provides would get him ejected or even suspended if he were in the NBA or NFL.

But in the NHL, where grown men race around an enclosed space, constantly smacking into one another, some people consider fighting inevitable. They see enforcers as a deterrent; smaller skill players won't get picked on if opponents know there is a price to pay.

That tussle between Parros and Thorburn was indicative — most fights end with the combatants merely untangling and skating off to serve their five-minute penalties.

But there is always the chance that someone will land a knockout blow, causing serious injury.

"I probably went into every fight I had scared to death," says Grimson, who retired in 2002 after more than 200 brawls.

"The other part is humiliation," he says. "When you do something in front of 20,000 screaming fans, that last thing you want is to get your tail kicked, according to

As Parros learned boxing moves and tactics, he also dealt with the emotional aspect of his job. Imagine arriving at work each day, knowing there is a 50-50 chance you will be trading punches.

During his early years in the pros, fighting proved easier if an opponent checked him hard or delivered a cheap shot. It was more difficult to manufacture anger when strategy dictated a confrontation.

"If there's a time in the game where a fight is coming up and you have to think about it, obviously a lot of thoughts go through your mind," he says. "That's always tough."

There was at least one way to ease the tension.

"I liked to get the fight out of the way early in the game," he says. "So I didn't have to think about it."

With each 82-game season, the right winger grew more comfortable in his role, getting six or seven minutes on the ice a night. He enjoyed the roar of the crowd and his teammates on the bench banging their sticks in approval after each scrap.

"Sometimes it can be cathartic," he says. "It's certainly thrilling if you have a good fight and the fans appreciate it."

The Ducks were playing at Philadelphia in the winter of 2008 when Parros squared off against the Flyers' enforcer, Riley Cote, unleashing an uppercut that put Cote flat on his back.

The knockout became an Internet favorite and boosted Parros' reputation. Still, he would rather not talk about it.

"You have respect for the other guy," he says.

This respect translates into an unwritten code of behavior.

Before the gloves drop, a subtle communication takes place — a tap on the shoulder, a few words — the instigator asking for a fight. The other player is free to decline. Most enforcers hate to say "no" but must consider the circumstances. Parros recalls a night in Detroit when he accepted an invitation and did not fare so well.

"That got their team going," he says. "We ended up losing the game."

Once a tussle starts, etiquette frowns upon hitting a man who is down. Gloating after a victory is similarly discouraged. Such decorum helps nurture an unexpected camaraderie among enforcers.

Two months ago, Parros and Kevin Westgarth of the Kings fought during a preseason game at Staples Center. The Princeton grads — Westgarth came along after Parros graduated — met for dinner with friends the next evening.

You see yourself in the other guy," he says. "You're in the same boat."

Sometimes Parros thinks about his college classmates and imagines a different sort of life. Working behind a desk. Crunching numbers. Getting his hockey fix at the local rink on Sunday afternoons.

"If I were playing in a men's league," he muses, "I wouldn't be fighting."

After so many confrontations, so many clenched fists, he has learned the nuances of this odd livelihood. Aggression comes more naturally.

"What kind of fighter am I?" he asks. "Willing. Eager."

The kind who no longer feels so anxious before games. The kind who knows there will be grabbing and scuffling and punches.

Maybe even blood.

Last night there was a brawl at the Anaheim Pond, and then a hockey game broke out....

As a side note, George Parros also writes children's books during his off time and also cuts his long hair every year and donates it to cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy. I met him once and he is surprisingly soft-spoken.  

Some of the information for this post came courtesy of and David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times.


Dana said...

How funny you put up a warning for your sports post! hahahaha
I'm still waiting for neighbor photos.. and of course your pups, I loved the Becky photos and always the food photos and I think I would like to see what normal weather looks like this time of year! I'm going to be color deprived for at least 5 mths. Ugh. And even though it was a sports post it was interesting. Funny how the guy can be a savage on ice but an old Mr Cleaver at home. haha

Beth said...

Thanks for the warning. I really appreciated it. LOL
I hope you are recuperating nicely after overeating yesterday. I am still feeling the effects of that.

Ramblingon said...

Lordy. Thanks for the warning Bob! ;-)

R U Serious?? said...

No warning will be forthcoming next time!! HAHAHA!!!

Giggling Ninja said...

pssst...Bob...(it's me, aka Magnificent Raven).
Are you surviving the California cold we're having?
I'm trying to ease back into blogging, come visit if you feel like it

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