Down at the Roxy nightclub in Orlando, most everyone knows him as Jason Anderson.
"Yes, there's a hockey player named Jason who has fought here," a helpful waitress explains over the telephone. "I only work days, but I've heard of him."
Anyone who's watched the Roxy's Monday Night at the Fights knows of Jason Anderson, how he rules the ring with a combination of height (6 foot 5), weight (230 pounds) and malevolence that has proved awfully tough to beat. What the good folks at the Roxy don't know is that Anderson is trying out for the Calgary Flames.
They also don't know that Anderson is not Anderson. His real name is Mike Sgroi. He used Jason as his nom de scrap only because it matched the one on the fake identification he needed to slip into the ring as an 18-year-old. After a year's worth of knockouts, Sgroi decided to stick with the Jason label and the tough-guy competitions while trying to establish his professional hockey career.
Tomorrow, he will take his act onto the ice with the Flames, which raises the question: can a man with an 88-1 ring record find happiness as a National Hockey League forward? Sgroi believes so, although he admits his Orlando Thunderdome battles (two men enter, one man leaves) won't carry much clout with a veteran enforcer such as Calgary's Craig Berube.
"All that stuff I've done, all it says is, 'I'm willing,' " Sgroi said "It gives me heart to take and give punches. It shows people I won't quit. I'll do whatever it takes to make this team."
Sgroi, 24, was true to his word when it came to submitting a videotape to Flames general manager Craig Button. On the tape were the usual hockey bits -- Sgroi playing in the American Hockey League and with the Detroit Red Wings in exhibition games -- along with a few highlights from his hard knocks at the Rox. Button liked Sgroi's competitiveness and offered him a tryout.
"One of the biggest things we saw was he could skate," Button said. "When you can skate and hit people and separate them from the puck, those are important things, and that's why we're prepared to take a chance on him."
"I sent a tape to a couple of teams and Calgary was the first to get back to me," Toronto-born, Calgary-raised Sgroi said. "This place is in my heart. I was 4 when I moved here, and I played for the [midget Triple-A]Buffaloes. My dad used to be the general manager of the Calgary Sun."
With the Buffaloes, Sgroi and teammate Josh Holden (now a Toronto Maple Leaf) were the offensive linchpins. Sgroi, who later moved to the United States with his family and played junior on a number of teams, also had big scoring numbers (42 goals, 32 assists) when he played for Tecumseh of the Ontario Hockey Association. That earned Sgroi a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. He loathed the college game and lasted only a semester before joining the East Coast League.
Later, preparing for the weekly tough-man bouts became part of his hockey training. For the past four years, Sgroi has studied Brazilian jiu jitsu (yes, there is such a thing) and dabbled in kickboxing. Had he not been invited to the Red Wings' training camp two years ago, he would have taken part in an Ultimate Fighting Competition, likely as his alter ego, Jason Anderson.
"When I was 18, I needed a fake ID to get in and I figured I'd run into a lot of bad men, and I did. One was 6 foot 8, 355 pounds and he was all muscle. He was a lineman for a semi-pro football team. The fight lasted 45 seconds. I knocked him out."
With the Flames, Sgroi will have to be utterly flawless to earn even a minor-league spot. The word is his positional play and defensive game could stand improvement, and he knows it. The other thing that needs work is his beard. In the AHL, Sgroi accentuated his intimidator's role by wearing a chin-only spiked growth. Later, he dyed it black, added braids and a blond stripe. "It was really ugly," he said, which is probably why the Flames have already told him to ditch it before the team photograph is taken.
If that means he's made a team somewhere in the organization, Sgroi will happily shave. He might even call his friends in Orlando so they can raise a glass to their favourite hockey tough guy.
Down at the Roxy, they're still wondering what happened to Jason Anderson. firstname.lastname@example.org