The latest installment of Grantland’s “Director’s Cut” series gives Johnette Howard’s first story for The National: “The Making of a Goon,” about hockey enforcer, Joe Kocur:
“See, hockey fighting is different than boxing,” says Kocur, who once visited the training camp of Detroit’s Thomas Hearns — courtesy of Red Wings owner Mike Illitch — to pick up a few tips. “In hockey, fighting is pulling and punching. If you just stand there and hold a guy out and hit him, you won’t faze him. But if you can pull him into you and punch at the same time, that’s when you start hurting people.”
How to hit hard is just one of the lessons an enforcer must learn. There’s also an unwritten and often unspoken code of honor that governs who hits whom, and under what circumstances. Kocur also likes to do research of his own; knowing other fighters’ tendencies helps him avoid surprises. But nothing, Kocur says, supersedes the most basic fighter’s rule: Never, ever lose.
“You’ve got to understand some things about the fighter’s job,” says Demers. “Tough guys in this league are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Unfortunately, many of them are untalented except for fighting, and they’ve gotten here the hard way. And once you’re recognized as a tough guy in this league, you go from having targets to becoming one.
“As long as you’re beating up somebody, the fans are cheering and shouting our name. But the first time you lose one, everyone gets down on you. You have to be fearless. I’ve seen guys lose just once, and pretty soon they just sort of fade away.”
Though coaches and other players all say that Kocur has good all-around hockey talent and that Demers encourages him to use it, Kocur considers himself a fighter first. He believes that preserving his aura of invincibility is essential because “it pays off down the line. Maybe I’ll be going into the corner to get the puck and the guy going with me will think, ‘Uh-oh, it’s Joe Kocur. This guy’s crazy. I won’t give him the elbow in the face. I’ll give him that extra step and poke at the puck instead of trying to take the body.’ And then maybe I can make a play, make a good pass. And maybe we’ll put the puck in the net.”
[Photo Credit: Stefan Alforn]