Tyson Nash dot com


Blues Enforcer by Committee Puts Best Fists Forward


Dave Luecking
© St. Louis Post-Dispatch
October 22, 2000


Just when you think the pacifists are right, that there's little or no need for the traditional enforcer in the NHL, something happens on the ice to remind you that the need still exists.


Whether it's Los Angeles' Kelly Buchberger breaking Pavol Demitra's nose with a hard check in the neutral zone, or the Kings ganging up on Blues disturber Tyson Nash, it's nice to have a tough guy on hand to curb the hostilities in the long run by escalating them in the short term.


In the first case, it was captain Chris Pronger, jumping over the boards to give Buchberger a licking. That Pronger received a one-game suspension for defending his teammate only lends more credence to the argument that such cleanup work should be handled by an enforcer, whose hockey skills are less essential to the team's success.


On Thursday, rookie defenseman Bryce Salvador adopted the role, cleaning up on Buchberger in a retribution fight.


Although Salvador plays on the Blues' No. 2 defensive pairing with Al MacInnis, his minutes usually rank sixth among the Blues' six defensemen, meaning that the Blues could spare him for the five-minute penalty that goes with a fighting major.


And then it was rookie enforcer Reed Low stepping in to quiet the Kings' Ian Laperriere, an ex-Blue who was an agitator long before Nash broke into the league. The Kings weren't quite so rambunctious after Salvador and Low got their message across.


In either case, having a dedicated enforcer such as Low or veteran Reid Simpson, a young gamer like Salvador or a willing veteran like the currently injured Marc Bergevin, serves notice that the Blues refuse to be pushed around.


"Our guys have fought right away, too," veteran Craig Conroy said. "They didn't sit back. They let it be known that they're not here just to be on the ice. They're going to fight. You need a presence just to keep everything under control.


"That's where Kelly Chase came in last year. If someone hit one of our top players, Kelly said, 'Hey, you touch them again, you're in trouble.' Now, these guys do the same thing. It makes (the opposition) leery of hitting our top guys, and if they do, we'll hit one of their top guys. Those little things make a difference."


For the tough guy, those little things are big. It's what they get paid for and take pride in.


"I can't handle watching guys take liberties on our players," Low said last week. "It just aggravates me. I'm glad I'm getting an opportunity to get in there. The biggest thing is for our guys to know that they can feel comfortable out there. When there's not a (tough) guy out there, the presence isn't there. When there is, they can feel a lot better knowing that if something happens, I will be there to clean up the mess.


"That's something I want everybody in the league to know. That if you mess with these boys, you're going to be in trouble. It doesn't matter if it's in our barn or your barn. If you're going to run around, you're going to pay the price. I don't care who you are, where you've been or what you've done. I want to get that reputation."


The modern tough guy, though, has to be able to play the game with some proficiency. Gone are the days of the one-dimensional heavyweight. The Y2K enforcer can't be a liability on defense, particularly with many teams rolling four lines.


Going into Saturday's game against Chicago, Simpson and Low had handled the role perfectly for the Blues, who coincidentally were undefeated when one of them played -- 2-0 with Low in the lineup and 1-0-1 with Simpson. They were 1-2 without a designated tough guy.


"Every time I get an opportunity to be in the lineup, I want to prove myself so they feel comfortable putting me in every night," Low said. "That's my goal."


Same with Simpson.


"The game has changed a lot in the last few years," Simpson said. "The days where the coaches sent the fourth lines out against each other and say, 'Go at it,' just doesn't happen anymore. You have to be able to play against any line. The coach can't be afraid to put you out there and worry that you won't be able to handle it if they put out their top line.


"I feel confident in my ability to do it. I've worked very hard on my skills and defense, all the little things."


Low has followed Simpson's lead. He works on his skating after practice -- his stride, his stops, starts and turns. He also spent time at a recent practice deflecting point shots.


"That's got to be part of my game in front of the net -- get my steak (rump) in front of that goalie's face," Low said, noting that there will always be a place for players of his ilk on an NHL roster. "I don't believe at all that the role is diminishing. People keep saying that, but it's part of the game and has been for 80 years. It isn't going anywhere."


ON THE MARC: After missing five weeks with a broken right thumb, Marc Bergevin might need some time to get his legs into game shape. But his wit was as sharp as ever upon his return to practice last week.


Two days after having the pin removed from his surgically repaired right thumb, Bergevin jokingly implored trainer Ray Barile to "put the pin back in" after a grueling skate in his first full practice with the team.


"My legs are going to take some time getting back," Bergevin said, adding that, "it feels like I have the pin in my legs right now. I feel like I was skating with the cast on my feet. Five weeks off took a toll on my legs."


That might not be good for a 35-year-old, but as Bergevin was quick to point out, "I'm 35, but that's 26 Canadian with the exchange rate."