Apr 1, 2003
Dion Darling is a tough, no-nonsense defenceman with the Sheffield Steelers in the British Ice Hockey Superleauge. Dion was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, but has spent most of his career in the minor leagues in North America. Before coming to Sheffield, Dion had played for the Fredericton Canadiens in the AHL, the Manitoba Moose in the IHL and in Russia with Omsk Avangard. Darling became the Sheffield Steelers’ main enforcer this season, taking on the likes of Dody Wood, Dennis Maxwell and Jason Clarke. When I spoke to Dion, the Steelers had just been beaten 1-0 at home, by fierce rivals the Nottingham Panthers.
Graham: Dion, how and when did the fighting aspect become
such a major part of your game?
Dion: Well with being a big stay at home defenceman; it pretty much comes with the role. I would probably say my first year of pro.
Graham: Did you have any success when you first started
dropping the gloves?
Dion: Well no, I mean, when it’s in Junior and you’re 17 sometimes you’re bigger than everybody, but some guys have maybe boxed when they were younger. I think in my first couple of years pro I wasn’t ready to fight some of the big boys.
Graham: Did you ever take up boxing or martial arts to
Dion: Yeah, after my first year of pro after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens I wasn’t doing too well in my fights, so I took boxing all summer and boxed for about six summers in a row. I think that’s helped quite a bit. I learned from a Canadian kickboxing champion, and a lot of NHL tough guys go to this guy. We all train together, so it’s a good team atmosphere during the summer time.
Graham: What is your strategy when you drop the gloves?
Dion: I usually try throwing punches when I can hit my target and a lot of times I’m not going to waste punches. In my younger years I probably would have hit a guy’s helmet about 800 times, but you know, you get a little smarter and you try to zero in on your target with every punch you throw. I might only throw ten punches in a fight, but a lot of times those ten punches are going to hit the guy.
Graham: Have you ever had to fight any close friends?
Dion: Yeah, it always happens. I’ve fought guys who were pretty close, you know, you skate together all summer then you end up fighting during the season. It’s just one of those things where you look over in the penalty box and you kind of giggle and laugh at each other and say “What was that all about?” It’s part of the game and it happens. Sometimes you just gotta get on with it.
Graham: You were on the ice when Mel Angelstad and Darcy
Hordichuk went at it. What did you think of those fights?
Dion: Yeah those were pretty good fights! The first one was in Orlando and it was a pretty good fight. Mel, you know, all the power to that kid, he’ll stand toe-to-toe with anybody. He’ll go in the ring and stand toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson if he had to. He’s a great guy off the ice too. The fight was really even I thought, but I’ve never seen guys beat the s*** out of each other like that before (laughs). Both fights were pretty close, and back in Manitoba it was close too. Like I said, those were probably two of the better fights I’ve ever seen.
Graham: Did you ever have any memorable rivalries with
guys in the minors?
Dion: It’s just one of those things where [you go with] whatever tough guy is on the other team, and you usually end up fighting them every night. You kinda get to know each other and you respect each other, and when something happens it’s usually us coming out of the scrum and fighting. You get used to it in hockey.
Graham: Who would be the toughest guy that you’ve
Dion: Well, I’d have to say Louie Debrusk is one of the tougher guys I’ve come up against. When I was in Fort-Wayne he kinda blindsided me and gave me a concussion, and then the following year when I was with the Kings we played Phoenix in an exhibition game, and I’d skated with him all summer, but never really said anything to him ‘cuz I held a grudge all summer. He was definitely the guy I was gonna fight, to get back at him and it was pretty good. I ended up knocking him down and it was a pretty good fight. Another guy is Scott Parker from Colorado. We fought that same year, and I don’t really think I’d wanna fight him now. It was a draw, and a good fight in the L.A Forum, but I wouldn’t want to fight him now (laughs) ‘cuz he’s getting pretty big.
Graham: What’s it like seeing guys like that, in
the NHL, guys who you’ve fought and done well against?
Dion: It’s kinda hard to swallow sometimes, but all the more power to ‘em. They got a chance and they took it. Playing through the minors for seven years you fight a lot of the guys who are in the NHL right now. It’s the type of thing where anybody could beat anybody on a given night, whatever way a guy turns or drops his head.
Graham: What did you know about hockey in the UK before
you made the trip over?
Dion: Not much, I mean I’d seen rosters before in the summer and stuff like that, and I’d heard that a lot of ex-tough guys came over here. I really wasn’t too worried about the fighting aspect of the game; I’ve done quite a bit of it in the past. The tough part of it is that here I end up doing a lot of the fighting and I go off the ice for five minutes when I should be playing. With a short bench it’s almost not even worth fighting anymore.
Graham: Did you realize before you came here that you’d
be doing most of the fighting for the Steelers?
Dion: Not really, just with my reputation, I didn’t think too many guys were gonna try fighting me, but it seems everybody wants to take their chance at you and try to beat you. It happens, but no, I didn’t think I’d end up fighting as much as I have
Graham: What about your teammate Scott Levins, why hasn’t
he been dropping the gloves this season?
Dion: It’s kind of the same type of thing. He’s scoring goals, and do you want a goal scorer in the penalty box for five minutes, exchanging him for someone who doesn’t really score goals? That’s the problem with this league, you play with short benches and you have to ask yourself before a fight is it worth it.
Graham: When did you find out about the Sheffield and Nottingham rivalry?
Dion: I didn’t really know about it until I got here and they were introducing us to the fans. Everybody was asking me if I knew who Barry (Nieckar) was. I’ve played against him before and I know what he’s like, I know his game. I know what he’s all about, it doesn’t really bother me ‘cuz I knew what’d he’d do and what he wouldn’t do. Then when we played over in Nottingham, I’d had enough of the bulls*** so I had to attend to it.
Graham: Do the players feel the rivalry as much as the
fans, who clearly get heated during those games?
Dion: Yeah (laughs) it’s good, it gets the guys going. Rivalries are good in any city, but I think the fans feel it a lot more because they live here, but the players are in and out so they’re kinda thrown into the mix of the rivalry. It’s good for hockey; it’s what keeps hockey alive.
Graham: Do you have any favourite fights from this season?
Any that you’ve enjoyed?
Dion: Favourite fights? I think I did pretty good against the Nottingham boys, those were pretty good fights. I mean, I’m not going to be a show-boat after a fight like some idiots in this league who wave to the crowd and kiss to the crowd. I don’t think that’s fighting. You fight, you go off, whatever happens.
Graham: Who is the toughest guy in this league, in your
Dion: I’d probably have to say Paul Kruse. He’s a pretty tough guy. I fought him when I was in Winnipeg and he was in Chicago, and it wasn’t a bad fight, but he throws pretty hard punches. He’s one of the guys that I respect out there.
Graham: When I put this next question to Dennis Maxwell,
your name came up, so bearing that in mind…is there any one guy that you’d
like to fight?
Dion: I dunno if I’ve got any one guy that I’d like to fight…
Graham: Is there anyone you don’t respect, in this league?
Dion: There’s a lot of guys I don’t really care for, but it’s part of the game. Nobody really scares me or puts something in the back of my mind. I know I can do well against all these guys. That’s why I work out, and that’s what I train for. I categorize myself as a pretty smart fighter. A lot of times guys will be lucky if they get a punch on me, so I don’t really look at one person that I hate. Fights happen, it’s the cheap s*** that isn’t good for hockey, guys jumping each other and s*** like that. If a guy’s gonna be a pretender and he’s standing there like Maxwell did here, either drop your gloves or get the f*** outta there, don’t just stand there like a knob. I mean that was the reason why…you know if you’re standing there, if you wanna fight I’m gonna punch you right in the face. I’m not gonna stand here and look like an idiot.
Thanks to the Sheffield Steelers, and their coach Mike Blaisdell for being so co-operative with interviewing Dion. Thanks also to Darling himself, who is an intense, but pleasant guy to talk to off the ice.
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