Monday, October 13, 2014

Brent Severyn Autograph Card

I wrote about enforcer Trevor Gillies last night in my post about William Carrier, and went so far as to call him a ''goon''; with what he's done in the past apart from fighting - the dirty hits that resulted in suspensions - I still think he deserves it.

And I still feel ''staged fights'' don't belong in hockey, nor players who are just there to do just that. I have nothing against tempers flaring up and two superstars and captains like Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier going at it, but the days of having designated fighters take up a roster spot should be done.

And it's not just the damage done, and the brain disease from concussions, and the suicides of Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, and the drug addictions that took the lives of Derek Boogard, Bob Probert and John Kordic; it's also about the increasing frequency of tell-all autobiographies like that of Dave Morrisette a few years back, or in this case, this Sports Illustrated article about and interview with Brent Severyn.

It contains too many gems of truth, including these:
It was my dream to be playing in the NHL and I was willing to do anything to stay there. Being an enforcer was the toughest job I had to do. Protecting your teammates by fighting is a physical and mental battle waged daily with opponents and within your own head. The actual fight on the ice is not the worst part. It's thinking about the fight. A mental vise grips you at training camp and doesn't let go until the end of the season. Fighting permeates every aspect of your thoughts. A slow boil of fear is always under the surface of your life.
Fighting was not enjoyable, but it had always earned me respect and room on the ice.(...)

(During training camp), I had to fight a couple of times and I sensed players on other teams would use me to make an impression on their coaches. I felt their eyes burning the back of my head during the warm-up skate before games.(...)
An enforcer must also have a feel for how a game is unfolding and continually take stock of his team's emotional state. Are the guys skating well? Do they seem up? If they need a wake-up call, you fight. If the other team has the emotional edge, you fight. The score also determines when you apply your trade. The minute the other team gets a two-goal lead, it's time to dust off your knuckles as your coach may put you in to stop your opponents' surge. Up three or more goals, you get more ice time as you have to be out there to keep the peace.
Being an enforcer was exhausting emotionally. I was always mentally taking note of my upcoming dance card - the guy I had to fight next. I lay awake at night and tried to remember what he did in our last fight, his strengths and weaknesses, and how to protect myself.(...)
A typical road trip scenario from my years as a fighter: I'm on a plane to Toronto. Their enforcer is Tie Domi. He throws both hands and loves to chirp. Man, he's so strong. If I release my grip too early, I'm done. I've got to throw for his chin as he has a very hard head. After Toronto, we play Ottawa and Dennis Vial: unpredictable, a big-time gamer. Then it's two games from hell. In St. Louis, Kelly Chase challenges anyone and will not tolerate anything out there. Tony Twist is big and strong with devastating punches that can cave your face in a second. After that, Detroit: Bob Probert (legendary tough guy with stamina, strength and power) and his sidekick Joey Kocur, whose right hand is the size of an anvil. Didn't he break some guy's helmet in two?
Sitting on the bench during those games, a sick feeling washed over me. My stomach churned with fear, anxiety and anticipation. I felt my teammates' expectations as they looked at me. They knew I was going to stand up for them, and I had a sense of pride in my role and responsibility.
Once the gloves are off, the pressure, tension and mental energy explode in a huge release of violence. Your instincts and strategy take over. I fought so often that I could feel my adversary's movement and tell you what hand he was throwing, I didn't have to look. When your punch connects, you feel it in your hands and through your body. I also knew if I was throwing wildly. (...) Sometimes when I really got tagged I would see a bright starburst in my head, almost like lightning. I thought I was soft and it was a sign of weakness until I interviewed Ultimate Fighting champion Matt Hughes years later and he said he felt the same thing when he was hit hard.
If I lost a fight, I felt terrible that I let the team down. Embarrassed and pissed off, I'd stew in the penalty box. I'd hear it from friends at home. My mom would call to make sure I was all right. But coaches, the other players, and management aren't concerned that you just got your ass handed to you. It doesn't matter that you have a broken nose and lacerations on you cheek. You're expected to smile and like it. Your job is to keep everyone else up and it makes no difference if your hands are busted up so bad that you can't hold a soda can.
If I really beat up a guy, I was happy I got away unscathed, but I felt bad. I knew he'd have to handle the same embarrassment and dirty looks from his coaches and teammates, and hear from fans about how he'd had his clock cleaned. I felt oddly emotional if my opponent had to be carted off because he was injured. We fight as part of our living, but we do not want to interrupt or ruin anyone's career. It's a crazy fraternity.
In 1998, I was with Anaheim when we played Dallas and tensions were rising to a boiling point. Defenseman Craig Ludwig took out his frustration by running our star, Teemu Selanne, in a 5-1 game the Stars were leading that was essentially over. I heard our coach call my line and took the ice with our other ruffians. We lined up for the face-off in Dallas's end of the ice. I looked at who Dallas had sent out and tried to get their coach's attention - I knew he did not recognize what was about to happen and had the wrong lineup on the ice.
The puck dropped and we launched our attack. I got paired with Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor, but that didn't matter to him. He was a warrior in his own right. I threw him to the ice and tried to find their enforcer. Darryl got up and jumped on my back. I got him off and fired one of the hardest lefts I have ever thrown and it hit the side of Darryl's head. The fight was over. Darryl was helped off the ice and the game came to a merciful end with only two players left on the benches. To this day, people in Dallas approach me and want to discuss that fight.
I sat on the bus after the game and thought about what I had done. I'd lost it and hurt someone. I was literally sick to my stomach. I can still see and feel that punch connect. I did not sleep well for several nights. Still, I could not let anyone know how I felt. I followed up to make sure that no permanent damage had been done to Darryl and prepared for my next bout.
As fate would have it, I played for Dallas the next season (1998-99) and my seatmate on our plane was Darryl. In your first introduction after something like that, you smile, make light of it, say you're sorry, but it hurts you. The memory of our fight made me feel even worse when I got to know what a great guy he is. The person you try to beat on one occasion becomes your teammate and friend the next. It's a crazy job!
 I was a bit of an enforcer myself, in Juniors, as the third-string goalie on a team of ruffians. I only got thrown in to start fights before a face-off, which is probably why I can't find myself on HockeyDB or Hockey-Reference: technically, I may have had over 150 penalty minutes, but I played in zero regulation minutes - I don't exist in time. Yet the coach never once asked if I was up for it, or even how I was doing that day. You get the tap, you go and ''protect your teammate'' or ''exact revenge on the guy who hurt your teammate''.

But look at those paragraphs again: the fear taking over the fighter's life, the sleepless nights, the anguish, the deception and humiliation of defeat, yet the churn of stomach and depression of victory. There's a lot more in the SI article, including the recollection of a game against Georges Laraque and the Edmonton Oilers - look it up.

Some of these guys go overboard, but most of them are just trying to cling to their dream of playing in the NHL. They are physically and mentally broken by the end of their playing careers, and play in just half the games their more talented counterparts do, and yet many of them don't regret a thing and would do it all over again. Because The Dream.

Severyn got out at the right time for him, his body was too worn down for his head to have enough time to turn to mush, so his brain seems to work properly. He now owns and operates Severyn Sports, a Dallas-based company that provides training to amateurs and professionals who want to get into sports of all kinds: hockey and MMA of course, but also figure skating.

As a Québec Nordiques (and later Colorado Avalanche) fan, I had been under the impression that he'd played more than 35 games in Québec, because of his 3 years with their AHL farm club Halifax Citadelles. He played for 6 NHL teams and belonged to 8 in all, and he won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99, though he did not suit up in the playoffs.

All told, he played in 328 NHL games and scored 10 goals, with 30 assists and 40 points, and a whopping 825 penalty minutes, plus 8 playoff games (and 12 PIMs). His AHL stats are even more incredible: 297 games, 46 goals, 112 assists (158 points not bad) and 899 penalty minutes. He accrued no penalties in 3 IHL games, and he seemed less aggressive in his two years in Germany, with 8 goals and 26 points in in 74 games as a stay-at-home defenseman... with 155 penalty minutes, which amounts to barely a minor penalty per game.

And so In The Game featured him in their 2013-14 Enforcers II set (card #A-BS of the Autograph sub-set), showing him with the Nordiques' classic blue (away) uniform:
I wish I had more cards of his.

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