As a player who has bounced around in his NHL career, playing on third and fourth lines with five different teams the past six seasons, Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mike Zigomanis has come to know plenty of enforcers well.
And he doesn't envy their role.
"I think it's the toughest job on the team," Zigomanis said. "I really do. I roomed with [Eric]Godard in Pittsburgh and you can kind of see what it's like, living with the guy. You see what they go through night in and night out and it's tough. Really tough. Tougher than anybody can imagine."
That tough side may well be on display in Thursday's game in Toronto, when the Leafs and their designated puncher, Colton Orr, face the New York Rangers in the second of three meetings between the teams in a 16-day span.
Expected in the lineup for New York is Derek Boogaard, a behemoth nicknamed The Boogeyman who has gained a fearsome reputation for both his size (6 foot 7 and 265 pounds) and ability to inflict damage with his fists.
After one 2006 fight with Boogaard, Anaheim Ducks tough guy Todd Fedoruk needed five titanium plates inserted into his face to rebuild his orbit and cheekbones, injuries that eventually led to his retirement.
"He's obviously a really tough customer," Leafs winger Mike Brown said. "I'd never like to fight a guy that's six-eight and 260, 270, whatever he is. I give a guy like Colton a lot of credit. He's not too big, and he's usually fighting guys a couple of inches taller than him, just like in my shoes. I know how it feels."
Normally the strong, silent type, Orr declined at Wednesday's practice to talk about what role he will have in the game, but games like these are the reason Leafs GM Brian Burke signed him to a $1-million (all currency U.S.) a season contract in the summer of 2009.
One problem, however, may be the fact Orr suffered what appeared to be a slight concussion in a fight in Pittsburgh last week. Orr returned two nights later to play against the Rangers in a 4-3 overtime win, but has yet to drop the gloves since being knocked down by Penguins defenceman Deryk Engelland.
Meanwhile, there's pressure on Boogaard to have his first fight as a Ranger after he signed a highly criticized four-year, $6.5-million deal in the summer. There could be fireworks in Thursday's game after Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik was injured on a hit by Colby Armstrong, and pest Sean Avery delivered two ugly slashes to the back of Mike Komisarek's legs.
Two of the league's top heavyweights and former rivals in the Western Hockey League, Orr and Boogaard have never fought each other in the NHL.
Orr's linemates acknowledged it will fall to him to tangle with The Boogeyman if the game gets out of hand.
"Colton can hold his own," Brown said. "I know he was willing to go with Boogaard [last week]"
Boogaard isn't the only physical presence the Leafs have to worry about. New York's fourth line is the biggest unit in the league, averaging 6 foot 5 and 235 pounds, and could be a factor in a heated game.
Brian Boyle, the line's 6-foot-7 centre, had two goals against Toronto last week, while Brown fought winger Brandon Prust in a bout that earned the Leafs winger praise from Don Cherry on the weekend.
Despite playing with two bruisers on a fourth line that has been effective in limited playing time, Zigomanis said he didn't expect his first NHL fight was in the works.
"Nobody's going to fight me with Colton or Brownie on the ice," he said.
Zigomanis added he has a lot of respect for what enforcers bring to their teams.
"I mean, you're fighting for your life every game," he said. "You go and fight those guys [like Boogaard]and it's a battle. They don't get a lot of minutes and then they have to go out for that one shift to try and fight somebody and change the flow of the game. It's really tough."Report Typo/Error