There are times in life that you question your decisions. I’d imagine that every punch that lands in the maw of a designated enforcer in hockey – players who excel at defending their team’s star players by fighting those of the same ilk as them – triggers that moment. It’s only natural; a fight or flight mechanic that is ingrained into all of us that makes us question the situation we are in. Perhaps hockey enforcers have trained themselves to ignore these primal urges, like a goalie conditioning himself not to flinch when a six-ounce solid block of rubber is rocketed in their direction at speeds that are illegal on the highway.
George Parros was one of these enforcers, someone who took up arms for his teammates no matter which city he landed in. His contributions to the team don’t extend past those duties, his PIM (penalties in minutes) greatly exceed any other contributions he has given them on the ice. Unfortunately for Parros, he paid the price far too many enforces have over the years and left the ice on a stretcher during the season opener for Montreal last night.
The entire sequence was not a fault of Orr, nor was the injury. During their second fight of the game, Parros was pulled down onto the ice and landed face first when it looked like Orr had slipped. It was a once in a lifetime type of accident and Orr seemed visibly concerned for his dueling partner as soon as he landed on the ice, knowing full well of the ramifications of serious injury.
At the risk of sounding like an NFL article, concussions have become the primary concerns for role players like Parros. Colton Orr, the player that Parros was coincidentally fighting at the time of his injury, received a concussion in a fight with Parros during the 2010-2011 season. Orr spent a lot of time in the minors fighting to regain his spot as a niche player in the NHL.
While careers have been cut short, lives have also been cut short as well. Notable enforcers such as Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak were all found to suffer from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), leading to things such as addiction and depression. CTE is caused by blunt trauma to the head, something that scrappers are acutely familiar with. Due to the nature of hockey and their roles on the ice, I’m sure there are countless records of enforcers getting seriously injured and returning to the ice in fear for their jobs. This fear leads to the aforementioned addiction and depression as enforcers cement their place in the lineup by taking on any comers. Pain is inevitable in these bouts; painkillers are a fairly cheap and easy liberation from that pain.
Unfortunately this is the nature of the hockey. It is a rough, fast and physical sport. People often talk about the impact that football players endure throughout the course of a game, an impact that hockey players give and take on a far more regular basis for a much longer season. Enforcers have been a part of the game for a long time and are as established as hitting. In the coming day I’m sure you’ll see plenty of articles calling for the abolishment of enforcement in hockey or the stricter enforcement of hitting, a step that has already been taken. Similar to government, there are two sides to this argument: those who think that rule clamping would ruin the game and those who think the game should be cleaned up and fighting removed.
It’s a fight that will probably never be solved amicably, an issue that will persevere until the sport ceases to exist. The real tragedy in this is that should Parros recover from whatever undisclosed injuries he incurs because of this (and hopefully he does), if he decides to return to hockey he will feel urged to take on his physical role again. He’ll go back to taking and giving punches to the head to remain valuable to his team, causing further damage that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.
And like a mustachioed gladiator of Roman times, I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.