I spent a decent chunk of my evening reading post after post on various hockey blogs and sites about the passing this summer of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. While the circumstances surrounding their deaths of these 3 current and former NHL players were different in certain ways, they all had two very important things in common -- they made their mark in the NHL through fighting and they all died far too soon.
As I was reading, I couldn't help but think about two of my favorite Kings and what their futures could hold if they're not careful. And I started to cry thinking about it.
My mind went back to Tip-A-King last season.
Kevin Westgarth had one of the "special event" booths, and he spent the day not only signing autographs and taking photos, but participating in fun "sparring" sessions with fans. These little boxing matches were captured on video and translated frame-by-frame into old-fashioned mini flip books you could take home. I was a little apprehensive about the sparring business but Westy talked me into it and it was fun.
Then when he was signing my jersey, I saw the horrible, jagged scars across the knuckles of his hands. One hand was especially bad, a reminder of his last full season with the Monarchs when he opened up cuts so heavy they trouble healing and had to be restitched several times. As I cringed looking at his hand, I looked up and asked how much it hurt. He looked down at me and smiled, then responded that while it hurt at the time, it just goes with the territory.
Then there's Kyle Clifford.
On the ice, he's known for a thousand yard stare that intimidates opponents with it's icy intensity. When he drops the gloves, he fights like a man possessed. Up close and personal however, those blue eyes are warm and mischievous just like the grin he gets posing with fans. He's just a sweet and friendly kid working his tail off to live his dream.
I am a fan of both Kevin Westgarth and Kyle Clifford because of what they do on the ice -- which includes demonstrating their toughness when it's required. I even have videos of some notable Westgarth fights, including one where you can hear me screaming in the background, "RIP HIS HEAD OFF, KEVIN!"
But the more I see bad things happening to the NHL's beloved tough guys, the less I want to see either one of these two players keep dropping the gloves. Because they both are more than fighters, more than hockey players for that matter. They are tremendous people that will still have so much to contribute to the world long after their hockey careers are over. I want to see them stay around for that. So this season, I'm going to be rooting for fewer fights and more of everything else these two contribute to the team I love. I hope you'll join me.
GO KINGS GO!