Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak, too, were each well liked and respected. They will be unfairly lumped together because of their deaths rather than their lives — they were different players in different circumstances — but the common theme after their departures was how much each of them was loved.
…There, the three lost fighters can be more truly linked. They shared the same geography. Boogaard and Belak were from Saskatoon, with its wide streets and bronze statue of Gordie Howe, his elbows up. Rypien was born and died in tiny Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. (Grimson is from British Columbia, played his junior hockey in Regina, and began his education at the University of Manitoba.) They were all Big Sky kids.
As sentimental as it might sound, Westerners really are shaped by their landscape. The expanses of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta, giving way first to folds, then hills, then mountains …
“Living there makes you humble,” Grimson says. “You spend every day of your life humbled by nature.”
That’s why Western Canada is an enforcer factory, why it continues to produce these men so well versed in the lost farm-boy arts. Being a hockey fighter requires bravery and balance and fast hands and a strong chin. But perhaps more than anything else, it requires humility. It requires reconciliation, an understanding of the limits placed on every one of us.
Percentage of Canadian NHL players born in Ontario in 2010-11: 40%
Percentage born in Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba: 33%
Origins of the 38 NHL players with 10 or more fighting majors in 2010-11: Ontario 21, USA 7, Prairie Provinces 7, B.C., Newfoundland, and P.E.I. 1 apiece
Busiest fighter in the NHL in 2010-11: George Parros
Parros’s hometown: Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania
Parros’ major at Princeton University, where he played NCAA hockey for four years: farm-boy arts (just kidding: it was economics)
Of 530 total fights by NHL players with 10 or more fighting majors in 2010-11, number conducted by Ontarians: 291 (58%)
Number conducted by Americans: 115 (23%)
Number conducted by Prairie boys: 87 (17%)
Number conducted by Alberta-born players: 0 (0%)