The mostimprobable heavyweight in the National Hockey League wears a Boogie Nightsmustache, speaks passable Spanish and graduated from Princeton in 2003 with a3.16 grade point average and a degree in economics. George Parros is not themost famous pugnacious Princetonian--former Secretary of Defense DonaldRumsfeld wrestled there in the early 1950s--but the university is not exactly ahaven for the cap-and-goon set. If throwing punches during hockey games seemsan odd way for an Ivy Leaguer to make a living, it is no more bizarre than thecareers of classmates whom Parros says are now in "I-banking,"investment bankers who put in 15-hour days and sleep in their offices. ThroughSunday, Parros had played 19 games and averaged 4:41 minutes of ice time thisseason. If he dresses for 18 of his team's final 30 games and ramps up his icetime to five minutes, he'll play 180 minutes this season. For Parros, earningthe NHL minimum of $450,000, that's $150,000 an hour. Take that to theI-bank.
Parros isemployed by the Anaheim Ducks, a.k.a. the Fight Club. The Ducks, who led thePacific Division and were the class of the NHL until injuries struck theirthree best defensemen and No. 1 goalie in December, do not merely lead theleague in fights. They have lapped the field. Anaheim had 51 fighting majors atweek's end, 21 more than second-place Nashville and St. Louis. Eleven Duckshave been in scraps this season, including star defenseman Chris Pronger, whofought in his first game back, Jan. 28, after missing nine games with a brokenfoot. Parros is tied with rookie defenseman Shane O'Brien for the team lead,with 11 fights; fourth-line wing Shawn Thornton has nine.
"We're nevergoing to play without a heavyweight [because] I need to provide a fear-freeenvironment for my skill guys," says Brian Burke, Anaheim's G.M. "Butthe main reason we have a lot of fighting majors is that we're committed to astyle that leads to [fights]. We prize contact. If you forecheck and bang likewe do, sometimes [opponents] turn around and you have to answer the bell. Iwon't apologize for that.... In our bottom six forwards, we look for therequisite level of pugnacity, truculence, belligerence, hostility andtestosterone."
The Chuckin'Ducks fight not only during the regular season but also in the playoffs, oftena No Fight zone. Anaheim had fighting majors in all three rounds in 2006,including five in a seven-game first-rounder against Calgary. Burke could nothave expressed his take on hockey any more eloquently than he did when heacquired Parros on Nov. 13, trading a second-round pick to Colorado and floppedthird-rounders to get a right wing who through Sunday had two goals and threeassists in 74 career games.
Like the arc of aroundhouse right, NHL brawling might be in its descent--fighting majors fellfrom 1,561 in 2003--04 to 919 last season and are on pace to hit 973 thisyear--but it remains entrenched in the culture. A Death of the Goon cover storyin The Hockey News in October felt as premature as Time's wondering in 1966 ifGod was dead. (The goon, by the by, was alive and well and eating achicken-and-portobello-mushroom sandwich in a pub outside the Anaheim rink lastweek.) There are, of course, different paradigms for winning; Carolina was 28thin fighting majors en route to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Currently 19 of 30 teamscarry a heavyweight, defined here as someone who plays eight minutes or less agame and whose principal role is either as a fighter or as a sort of nucleardeterrent. "Part of me is old-time hockey; I love the fights," saysright wing Teemu Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 31 goals. "It feels goodto have a tough guy in the lineup. I look at it as insurance."
NHL fights arelike the chorus in Greek drama, a pause in the narrative that comments on thespectacle: Did a team need to change the game's momentum? Send a message to achippy team? Engage the crowd? And like Greek drama, fights are often scripted.No, not the results. (This season at least half a dozen NHL players have beeninjured in fights, including New Jersey's Cam Janssen, who dislocated hisshoulder battling Parros on Nov. 24.) Just the starts. Parros usually asks,"Do you want to give me a fight?"--a delightfully rococo way ofexpressing the common "Wanna go?"
With 32 NHLfights, Parros, 27, is a relative newcomer. He grew up in comfortablecircumstances in New Jersey and never had a fight, on or off the ice, until hisfirst full season in the minors in 2003--04. (Los Angeles's eighth-round draftchoice in 1999, Parros played nine games in the AHL the previous spring,finishing his senior thesis on the economic impact of the '02 West Coastlongshoremen's lockout while on a bus ride to a game.) He has been schooled byteammates in the art and protocol of hockey fighting, and last summer he workedwith a boxing instructor in L.A. The 6'5", 225-pound Parros tends to be acounterpuncher--last month the one time he was overly aggressive, he wasbloodied by a blind swing from Columbus's Jody Shelley--and has a 4-4-3 recordin '06--07, at least according to voters on hockeyfights.com, The Ring magazineof hockey's pugilistic subculture. That website, says Parros, "might aswell be my home page." He downloads fight clips on a PlayStation Portableand studies opponents, "just like getting ready for a test atschool."
Parros hopes toeventually spend more time dissecting goalies than roughnecks. He aspires to bea third-line regular and the guy in front of the net on power plays, a morecomplete player, like Ottawa's Chris Neil, a tough nut whose hands and smartsallow him to play on any line. For the moment Parros wants to gain the completetrust of coach Randy Carlyle, which means tailoring his play to the situationand handling the rough stuff. "Do we win every fight?" Carlyle said."No. But we show up for most of them."
In other words,when you play Anaheim, duck.
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Photograph by Robert Beck
Parros engages combatants like the Capitals' Donald Brashear by asking, "Doyou want to give me a fight?"
[See Caption Above.]