It may seem unfathomable from outside the cloistered world of pro hockey, but here’s the reality: NHL players may be upset and scared by what has befallen Montreal Canadiens winger George Parros, but fundamentally, they’re okay with it.
Not the concussion he suffered, of course, but the circumstances leading up to it and the context surrounding it.
The role Parros plays – tough guy, enforcer, call it what you will – is mostly viewed with reverence by professional hockey players, who understand exactly the physical and emotional toll it takes on the men who embrace it.
“That’s a hard job. The guys who do it, and do it with pride, I have a lot of respect for that,” said Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges.
Added the Leafs’ Nazem Kadri: “They’re huge. Those are some of the guys that are most well respected in the dressing room, leaders for the team. Obviously you hate to see a guy go down like that. Again, I just wish him the best. I felt bad for him and hopefully he gets back at it real soon.
“You need those enforcers to kind of patrol the ice and keep everything in order,” Kadri continued.
At the risk of generalizing, this captures something very close to a prevailing consensus among NHL players.
There are many peculiarities in the way hockey players view each other and the game they play; in referring to Parros’ fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr, Montreal’s Travis Moen, himself no stranger to fisticuffs on the ice, referred to the latter as “Orrsy”.
Toronto defenceman Mark Fraser, who fought Moen in the game, talked apologetically – and warmly – about Parros, saying “I know George a little bit… he’s a fantastic guy.
“Not only do you not like to see it, but he’s a really good guy on top of that. He’s a hard working guy and very strong character and a very intelligent man as well,” Fraser said of the Princeton University grad (yes, sometimes tough guys have Ivy League diplomas). “Just hope for the best in that situation because it’s an unfortunate thing, and you wish that you had more protection in situations like that. But unfortunately that does happen. Hopefully he’ll come out of it fine.”
After the game, Montreal coach Michel Therrien similarly shrugged the affair off as “bad luck” and seemed eager to talk about anything but the fight.
Asked if Parros’ injury absence may require a rethink in his team’s style, he scoffed, saying “George will be back, it’s the first game of the season, let’s not panic.”
In the Montreal dressing room, there seemed to be tacit acknowledgment of the seriousness of Parros’ injury, in referring to him several teammates slipped into the past tense – it’s like that with concussions, which sometimes mean extended absences or foreshortened careers (Orr missed 11 months with a concussion he sustained in a fight with Parros in 2011).
That said, players get that fans and pundits might question the place of fighting in the game
“It’s human nature to talk about it. Something big happens, it’s a big moment and people are going to talk about it . . . it should be up for discussion,” said Gorges.
But at the same time, his opinion is clear.
“I think for a lot of people outside hockey, they’re going to start questioning that, and have some comments about fighting in hockey, but as a guy who’s played the game for a long time – and I’m sure if you went and asked George tomorrow, he’d be the first to say that just because this happened you don’t take fighting out of hockey,” Gorges said. “We all know the risks of getting into a fight, hockey’s a physical game, it’s an intense game, and players are going to get hurt, but players are going to get hurt taking a hit, taking shots, they’re going to get hurt battling in corners, it’s the nature of the business.”
Never mind that Parros and Orr locked up in a situation that was devoid of the usual constituent parts of an NHL fight: another scrap had just taken place (towering Montreal defenceman Jarred Tinordi laid a vicious beating on Toronto’s Carter Ashton), the tough guys had already tangled once, there was no foul deed to be avenged, no momentum to be reversed after a goal.
So there will be a hue and cry over the incident, and a lengthy public dissection of What It All Means.
It’s just a fact that little of it will involve the people who have the most at stake.