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(Jeff Gross/2009 Getty Images)
(Jeff Gross/2009 Getty Images)

NHL Weekend

Coyotes' tough guy a Twitter star Add to ...

Consider this for an NHL player's stat line.

Sixty-one career games played. Three goals. An average of five minutes ice time a game, much of it spent on the fourth line. And an incredible 18,000 Twitter followers who have helped him start an online charity dedicated to helping the homeless.

That's Phoenix Coyotes tough guy Paul Bissonnette in a nutshell, and it explains, in part, why he was the centre of attention this week when the league's 30 general managers convened for a meeting in Toronto.

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In one of the unlikely rises to fame made possible by the Internet, Bissonnette has gone from an almost complete unknown less than a year ago to a true online celebrity. Along the way, he's received everything from marriage proposals from strangers to kudos from Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

It's all thanks to his tweets, most of which are honest, humorous, crude and all things in between.

"It's pretty funny," Bissonnette said, chuckling as he pondered the idea of the NHL's big thinkers reading his off-colour tweets and discussing the need for a social media policy.

"I'm just a regular guy who got lucky to make it [to the NHL]and I kind of want to be myself and it's a cool tool to use," he said. "I never thought it was going to end up like this. It's kind of awesome."

Twitter became one of the NHL's key talking points this week when Coyotes GM Don Maloney raised concerns over Bissonnette's sometimes controversial tweets. Maloney said after the meeting that, while he can appreciate the benefits of Bissonnette's account, he believes the NHL should keep a closer eye on the 50 or so players broadcasting their unfiltered thoughts several times a day.

"The point of talking about it, for all us 50-somethings, this whole Twitter-Facebook, is we don't understand it," Maloney said. "This was a discussion on how do we get ahead of it."

For Bissonnette - nicknamed Biz Nasty by his peers - the fruits of his tweets are pretty much everywhere. He said he sees people holding signs directed at him in almost every arena the Coyotes play in, even though most fans don't recognize him in person.

For a player who has been a regular healthy scratch this season, he's also getting a considerable number of media requests - especially whenever Twitter becomes a topic around the league - and has helped other players, like Toronto Maple Leafs winger Luca Caputi, build their own followings.

Bissonnette has begun to use his notoriety to raise money for the homeless, who have been the subject of several of his tweets. He is donating the proceeds of T-shirts sold from saucehockey.com to the cause, raising more than $1,000 to date by promoting the site with his tweets.

His Twitter forays haven't been without controversy. When the NHL rejected the initial contract of New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk last summer, Bissonnette ended up in hot water after launching into one of his politically incorrect 140-character rants.

"kovalchuk's gana have to give lap dances for 20 years instead of getting them now that he got rejected," he tweeted. "sory communist. back to the soviet."

The subject matter made his agent nervous, so much so that he advised Bissonnette to shut the account down. Believing the Coyotes had pulled the plug, outraged fans quickly began to petition the team to "Free Biz Nasty."

"There was an uproar," Bissonnette said. "People were emailing the team all the time."

A few weeks later, Biz Nasty was back with a new account, a little wiser as to what he could and couldn't say for public consumption.

"Mostly the rule is, if I wouldn't say it to a reporter, then don't say it on Twitter," Bissonnette said, reciting a line given to him by the team's PR staff. "But then again, I say a lot of things I can't say on Twitter to reporters."

"Paul is an interesting character," Maloney said. "And every once in a while you just have to say, 'no, no, no, no, stay on the good side of the ledger.'

"There's certain lines that you can't cross."

Bissonnette said he plans to abide by whatever policy the league institutes, but his philosophy on the medium suggests a filter won't hold him back entirely.

"I'd rather speak how I feel and then deal with the consequences after, than not say it and be boring," he said.

These days, the latest chatter online is that there will be a considerable push from Bissonnette's fan base to vote him in as one of 12 starters for the NHL's all-star game this January.

A similar movement a few years ago put Vancouver Canucks defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick briefly into the limelight before the league intervened and threw out many of the "Vote for Rory" ballots.

Bissonnette said he's under no illusion that he will get to play in the game, but he has started to embrace the absurdity of it all, tweeting about the dream team of quirky NHL personalities he would assemble if asked to pick his own all-star team.

"It's hysterical," he said. "It would never happen in a zillion years, even if I did get the most votes, they would never send me to the all-star game. But I'll keep joking around about it.

"I hope it does happen. Vote for Biz Nasty."

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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