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NHL "Enforcers" - Bodyguards Allowing Superstars To Freely Play Their Games

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*Dave Semenko was also around to beat the daylights out of anyone on the other team who sneezed in Gretzky's direction. Once Gretzky went to St. Louis it was downhill from there. Disclaimer: I'm pro-enforcer.


Grew up a sports fan, playing several and following a few. Hockey wasn't as big in our house as baseball, football and basketball but we'd watch the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals most years, Olympic hockey always, and I grew up at least superficially aware of the NHL stars. I learned to skate as a kid and even played a little organized hockey much later in school. All that just for context.

Your mention of hockey's role of "enforcer" caught my eye. No doubt even casual fans know the tragic story of Derek Boogaard. I don't think hockey any more dangerous than football and every pro sport, without exception, has had corruption and plenty of instances of profits before player safety. I don't personally have a well-informed view on enforcers. But did find the Boogaard story eye opening on a number of levels. I remember watching him play a few times; of course without a clue as to what was really going on with him physiologically, which I guess is central to the point much debated now.

"Derek Boorgaard - A Boy Learns To Brawl" by John Branch on nytimes.com

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One of the most fascinating things about the World Juniors this past time around was that Max Domi, son of Tie Domi (a famous NHL enforcer) was one of Team Canada's finesse players.  The son of the tough guy was the star his father would have protected.  This tournament starts the day after Christmas.

BTW, I think that one of the reasons the enforcer role has now primarily moved to part-time is because of the research into sports-related brain injuries.  I'm all for making sure athletes do not suffer like that, and I think that it's much harder for someone to make it into the NHL as a primarily tough guy.  But I also think it's important that a star player has the protection he needs, because otherwise he's going to get harassed or even injured.

It's not an easy issue.

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