Sunday, December 18, 2005


A closer look at Joey Kocur

'Tis the season to be sharing, so Octopus over at The Face Off Circle forum decided to share this old story about Joey Kocur which is quite interesting. Making a living as the team goon has it's share of costs, just ask Nick Kypreos.

Edumicational fact of the day: Kocur is a Slovak surname which translates as 'Bobcat'. It's really pronounced 'KOHT-sur' and not 'KOH-sir'. Now, read the frickin' article.


The Hockey Stick Is A Pro's Big Weapon Right? Not Always --- For Hitman Joe Kocur, It's His Fist -- and a Scarred And Swollen Mess It Is

By Robert L. Rose. Wall Street Journal. New York, N.Y.: Apr 5, 1988.

If the hand popped onto the screen in a horror movie, the audience would cringe.

The knuckles are red and puffy. A hideous scar extends from one finger to the wrist. There are two open sores: a small one on the pinkie and a large one on the knuckle by the middle finger. The overall appearance is a little like raw meat, yet the hand is leathery to the touch.

The owner of this monstrosity is Joe Kocur, a pro hockey player for the Detroit Red Wings. Mr. Kocur (pronounced KOHsur) is a big bruiser of a man whose main function is unique to the North American version of his sport: not to score goals, steal the puck or make deft passes, but to batter and intimidate the foe. He is what in hockey is known as an "enforcer." His season statistics as the Red Wings enter the National Hockey League playoffs tomorrow: seven goals, 24 fights.

Fighting in pro hockey has long been controversial. To some it is a barbaric sideshow to a game of finesse, but others see it as good, clean fun -- that just happens to fill arenas. The debate, in any case, rarely focuses on the physical results of the slugfests.

But to see Mr. Kocur's right hand up close is enough to make one blanch. Cynthia Lambert, a hockey writer for the Detroit News, calls it "a grotesque sight." The middle knuckle looks as though it had swelled to double or triple normal size, only to have someone slice off the top with a knife. Unfortunately, the sore developed in a more painful way, the bulging skin worn away by repeated blows to opponents' teeth and helmets.

The long scar dates from a particularly violent encounter. A punch to a minor-league opponent's teeth ripped a long gash down the back of Mr. Kocur's hand. (The other guy was knocked out.) Two days later, Mr. Kocur was in surgery as doctors tried to halt an infection spreading into his arm.

Infection is a constant threat, and trainers must clean Mr. Kocur's hand after practices and games. While playing, he wears a special glove, stitched at home by a trainer, that allows extra room for soft bandages. Of course, that's of limited value in a sport where fights begin with the dropping of the gloves.

Mr. Kocur concedes that the mangling will be a worry after he retires -- when, he says softly, "arthritis comes." Traumatic arthritis, this is called. The team doctor, John Finley, says Mr. Kocur risks permanent damage, and perhaps sooner rather than later. "I'm not saying he has arthritis now," Dr. Finley says, "but it's certainly possible he could develop this from the repeated trauma."

Off the ice, Mr. Kocur often tries to hide the hand. The problem is, it's too sore to put in a tight pocket. Teammate Harold Snepsts, who fought Mr. Kocur twice while playing for another team, describes the feeling: "When your knuckles are dented in, you might just scrape a sweater and it will hurt."

The Red Wings are considering paying for plastic surgery on Mr. Kocur's hand after the season. "Whatever is needed, we're going to take care of him," says Coach Jacques Demers. Mr. Kocur is reluctant. NHL careers are tenuous, and he fears that surgery could disrupt his, despite a three-year contract. Besides, why repair what next season will only tear up again?

This doesn't mean he doesn't do what he can to protect his right hand. For instance, he is working on improving his left. Before the season began, the team sent Mr. Kocur and fellow hitman Bob Probert to a boxing trainer, Emanuel Steward, who helped them with their left hooks.

Though damage to his fist could end Mr. Kocur's career early, not using it would finish him even quicker. Mr. Kocur doesn't hide his "policeman" role. Asked why he was penalized for roughing an opponent in a recent game, he replies, "I was punching him in the head. I knew I'd take a penalty, but he hit Stefan {Greg Stefan, a goalie}. Nobody hits the goalie."

The team says this kind of action protects its valuable players from abuse. "Joey knows his role," says Coach Demers. He cites the time a St. Louis player swung his stick at a Red Wing not known for his fighting skills. "I told Joey to go out there and tell him not to do it again," says the coach. The message got through, if not necessarily in words.

Mr. Kocur's function in the NHL was clear from the start. In his first full season, his 377 penalty minutes led the league and shattered the team record. He had 42 in a single outing, spending two-thirds of the game in the penalty box. "If the fighting is there, he's going to have to answer the bell," said Brad Park, his coach at the time.

That he does. A 195-pound former Saskatchewan farm boy, he has powerful arms, the right one two inches thicker than the left. Scar tissue has made his right hand brick-hard. And when he winds up, says assistant coach Colin Campbell, "Joey throws his punch from Virginia." Mr. Campbell makes the statement in Maryland.

Smart opponents try to do one of two things about this weapon: grab the hand to deflect it, and tuck their heads so that if the blow does land, it hits their helmets. A helmet is not kind to a bare fist.

Neither ploy worked for a Quebec player in a recent game, and the man left with a broken nose. In another fight, Mr. Kocur cut a Boston opponent. Though rivals have hitmen too, the team of Kocur and Probert may be hockey's most devastating. They fight half their matches at home in Detroit, in the appropriately named Joe Louis Arena.

Fans love them, especially young women. A best seller among team memorabilia is a $12 T-shirt labeled "Bruise Brothers."

Yet it could be argued that Mr. Kocur is a hazard to his own team. Statistically, when Mr. Kocur (who plays right wing) is on the ice, the Red Wings are less likely to score and opponents more so. Coach Demers says Mr. Kocur's playing skills are improving, but hockey is a sport where hitmen come and go.

So Mr. Kocur is philosophical about his fist. "You do what it takes to stay in the game," he says. "I can't get away from doing what I do best."

Asked where he would be if there were no fighting in pro hockey, he replies, "Home watching it on TV."

A great story on Kocur.He was arguably one of the best fighters ever.He was one of the few that could actually skate also.Gotta say I never seen him do any cheap stuff out there on the ice either.
Bobcat, eh? Seems appropriate.
I am surprised you didnt meantion Dalgarno. Joey basically ended his career when he re-arranged Brad's face.
And lets not forget that great piece of video of his fight with Jim Kyte where Kyte fell back down like 3 times on the way off the ice. Incidentally...look at Kocur's stats on a hockey website he wasn't a goal scorer (it wasn't his job) but he always put up a couple of goals and assists in the post-season. He was one of my favorite players when he played for my hometown Rangers.
Kocur is certainly one of the sickest fighters in NHL history.
Donald Brashear actually revealed in an interview that Kocur cracked his helmet with a punch and he couldn't eat for a day because the impact made his teeth and gums hurt.
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