David M Singer
Jul 17, 2006
If you've seen a highlight reel containing hockey fights over the past five years, you've seen PJ Stock. He's the smaller guy throwing without fear of being hit, then smiling afterwards, and skating off waving to the crowd as they're all on their feet.
With a career that included stops exclusively in the northeast, PJ became a fan favorite, if not a cult hero, wherever he played. PJ was old time hockey, all heart, willing to do whatever he had to do to help his team win. He's currently bringing that same spirit into broadcasting. I had the opportunity to ask him about his playing career, and what might be next for the popular personality.
Singer: You're from Quebec , but you're a native English speaker, correct?
PJ Stock: Yeah, I am from Montreal , actually. They write down Victoriaville in some places but I am from Dollard, which is a predominantly English-speaking community that's part of the West Island of Montreal. We do take a little French in school, but I never really learned French until I played two years in Victoriaville .
Singer: I am sure it helps you now being back in town.
PJ Stock: Well, they tell me. I wish I was better at it and, again, I wish I could speak English properly.
Singer: After you played a couple of years in Victoriaville you went to school and played for St. Francis?
PJ Stock: At 18 I didn't think I was ready to go to college in the States, maturity wise. So, I went to play three years in Junior with my brother in Victoriaville and then, from Victoriaville , I never thought I would play anywhere. Dan Flynn was a great coach, he got me to come up to St. Francis Xavier where it was a blast. Before I went there, I went to the Ranger's training camp and they offered me a contract which had about 18 leagues in it. Normally they offer you like a 2-way or 3-way. This was like an 8-way, the NHL, AHL, East Coast, somewhere in Tijuana they were going to send me, so I decided to go to school. After one year at St. Francis Xavier, they approached me again and asked me what my thoughts were and I'm told them "Well, I want to stay at school and have it put in my first contract that no matter where I went they paid for my Canadian college after my two years if I wasn't happy playing pro hockey." And here I've been, haven't been back since.
Singer: Did you have a major at St. Francis Xavier?
PJ Stock: Well, I was only there a year. I would liked to have gotten into sports marketing, but I had no idea. Thank the Lord this hockey thing came around and I didn't waste 10 years because I had no idea what I'd be doing. It's too tough, because a lot of my friends chose their degrees at a young age and have had to go back to school every year because they want to do something else. I really had a great experience at St. Francis and, of course, you can't beat hockey for a living
Singer: Do you ever think about going back to school?
PJ Stock: Yeah, I've had a couple of thoughts about that since I've been down with the stick in the eye, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life. I spoke to a couple of people and I wanted to go back to school. I don't think whatever I get my degree in would really help me all that much. I'm more of a people person and I like to be involved with sports. Right now, I'm doing some radio and I enjoy that. I don't think I need a degree in anything for that but I'm taking broadcasting classes this summer. I'll learn as many things as I can right now and I'm only 31. School is an option, but I'm a year out of hockey right now and I'm just enjoying what I have done in the last 10 years.
Singer: Is your eye injury permanent?
PJ Stock: Yes, I got a stick in my eye in an American Hockey League game when the Bruins sent me down, and it gave me double vision. It's primary vision which means, while I'm looking straight ahead I see two of everything on my right hand side. So, I saw a doctor, and they kept saying "We'll fix you later, we'll fix you later" and the end result was they should have fixed it earlier. I ended up having an operation to fix that and they did fix the primary vision which means when I look straight ahead now, I don't have double vision. I'm fine when I look straight ahead. Unfortunately though, I still have double vision in my peripheral vision whenever I look up and also a little bit looking down and on the sides.
But, if I never once lifted my head up while playing the game, why should I start now? I can't pass a physical and if I got into a fight, the way you put your chin into your chest and keep your eyes up, I would see two of everything. Of course, maybe that would be better. I couldn't see the original punches coming. Maybe if I saw two, then, I'd be able to help that… But I couldn't pass a physical, so I decided with my wife that there are more important things to life. There's life after hockey and I'd like to be able to do it with two eyes and a lot of health with it.
Singer: So let's say, they came to you tomorrow and said "Hey, we think we could fix that eye," you're happy with what you are doing now?
PJ Stock: I went to the best of the best. Dr. Natalie Azar in Boston , it doesn't get any better than that. She did everything she could, but if she tries to touch it again or the doctors ever touch it again, they're going to ruin my primary vision. I'm not worried about the outside stuff, but more or less worried when you're driving a car and looking straight ahead. So, you don't want to try and damage it any more than it is.
Singer: So how did the Rangers wind up signing you? Did you remain in contact with them after you declined the first offer that they made?
PJ Stock: Yeah, the first year I went to camp and Colin Campbell was the NHL coach, I went to Binghamton of the AHL in their last year there. The following year my agents were talking to Campbell and they were asking GM Don Maloney, "what's going on with PJ?" and Maloney said, "Oh, we'd love to have him back" so they talked to me and I said I'd go back if I could get schooling in my contract. I always thought I would play two years, maybe in the East Coast [ECHL], I'd live off the signing bonus and they would pay for four years of Canadian college for me. Which was great! So, I figured I'd come back after missing a couple of years of school, I would have $75,000 in the bank and four years of education is going to be paid for. That's who I thought I'd be at that time.
Singer: It turned out pretty well for you then, I would say.
PJ Stock: Yeah…things turned out alright. You know, 17 games up into the American Hockey League season I was called up to New York . So, the rest is history. It was awesome, it was unbelievable.
Singer: After New York , you then signed as a free agent with Montreal . Being your home town, what did that mean to you?
PJ Stock: Well I understood I started late at age 22 and the rules at that time were, if you didn't play 80 games by the age of 25, you became an unrestricted free agent. Well I did become unrestricted and, after winning the Calder Cup they wanted to sign me for another year. You know, I had great experience…I had a taste of playing the NHL and I wanted to get back to it and I thought I could. There were a couple of teams that we were speaking to and I thought I was at the ripe old age of 25. So I tried playing in Montreal . They offered me a contract and I was all excited about signing and playing until I actually played a game here. I was really nervous. It was tough looking up in the stands and seeing everyone I knew. You know, Montreal is a small city; you know a lot of people, you have a lot of friends there. I wasn't playing the best hockey I thought I could have and I just wasn't happy.
Singer: Was it a little too much pressure?
PJ Stock: I don't know…the team wasn't going well. It just wasn't the best situation for me. Also, it wasn't my style of hockey. I loved the city, I loved the town, I loved the people, but it's funny how things work. I had never been traded in my career. I was traded once and I think it was the best thing that had happened to me. It was out of Montreal .
Singer: So, you look back at being traded away from your hometown as a positive thing?
PJ Stock: I really do. You know, because I ended up going to Philadelphia and Philadelphia is, I think, where I was finally put in a world that I understood and I had great guys to play under. It was a very veteran team and, actually, I learned how to do my role there. Of course, my contract from the year before was with Montreal . Montreal wanted me to lower my salary so I ended up signing again with New York then everything just took off.
Singer: You signed with New York again and then Boston picked you up. You became a cult hero there. What was that recognition like: when people started going to games to see PJ Stock?
PJ Stock: It was something, looking up at the stands, seeing people wearing your jersey, and then going out to bars and going out to restaurants and being recognized on a team that had so many great other superstars. I was on the fourth line and our top three lines were great…I thought that was the best team. I thought we were going to win the Stanley Cup that year and we finished first in our conference. Billy Guerin, Joe Thornton, Samsonov, Stumpel, Murray, Rolston, Axelsson, Byron Dafoe was our goalie, our team was loaded, and to get noticed on a team with that many superstars was an honor for me and I'd never been in that situation. It pushes you a little bit more. I really enjoyed it. I really loved it and I worked harder. It was awesome. It was a great experience. It was the best time of my life.
Singer: So, out of all those NHL cities, you probably consider Boston your home?
PJ Stock: Yeah, oh just the people. I think just the people. I think the people were great. I played in a lot of blue collars towns. Philly was great. I really enjoyed Philadelphia and Hartford and all those cities, but Boston was one place where I really got recognized and…as much as you fall in love with playing, you fall in love with the city and the situation and that's what happened in Boston . I'm outside of the game right now and thinking of getting back into it. I'd love to get back into the organization and get involved with the city somehow because the people are great. Everyone is great from the people who are standing in the first row to the people who are standing in the last row. It's great to be playing for them.
Singer: Now, you say you'd like to get involved again. I read in the Boston Globe you said that you might be interested in getting involved in coaching. You're doing broadcasting now. You obviously were thinking about coaching at one point. Are you still considering that or trying to get into that?
PJ Stock: Very much so. But I'm 30 and it's a real weird age to get involved with coaching. You know, especially, at 31. Sorry…31… it's a weird age to get involved with coaching. Pro-wise, guys are older than you and junior-wise, I'm not ready to go live in little towns in Quebec and do all that just yet. Plus, I just had a new born…
PJ Stock: Yeah, so, it's very hectic right now. I don't know what position I'm in, but the broadcasting thing just fell on my lap. I'm learning that every day. So if I get good at it, maybe in time this will be a new future for me, but I'm still learning all the ropes and I get a little tv, which I struggle at, and a little radio, which I struggle at. The fun thing is that it's there and I'm learning everyday. So, it's like hockey, starting at a young age, and you try to do things and you see someone else do it and you want to be just as good as that person or better.
Singer: On your show right now, do you focus on hockey or is it sports or is it just general?
PJ Stock: Well, it's supposed to be sports, but I'm not going to lie to you. I don't know all that much about baseball and I'm in Montreal and we get the CFL, not the NFL and I've been following NFL for quite some time. But in Montreal , always, they live and die with their Montreal Canadiens. It's the only pro sport here and then, we have other sports, but they're just secondary major sports, like with soccer we have the Montreal Impact and we have the Alouettes, which is the CFL. So, it's kind of, Montreal Canadiens all the time. Even in the summer I can spend two hours on a Canadiens topic with no problems. I try to dabble on other things just to grab as many other people listening as possible. I touch on hockey as much as I can.
Singer: Do you have a lot of hockey guests on? What's been the most interesting thing you think you've done so far on your radio show?
PJ Stock: Well, it's kind of fun. I'm in a fun situation where I think that I'm still good friends with a lot of guys. The biggest issue in Montreal is captain Saku Koivu and the fact that he's European and not a francophone captain and that just drives some people nuts. It's just fun to get people involved and that's the one issue that I could talk about everyday for a month. People will call everyday for a month because everyone has an opinion. I can get on the radio everyday and tell everyone how nice it is and talk about how good the scores are in a game, but if you want people to get interactive, you have to get people involved. You have to throw things out at them to get them thinking to themselves, "maybe I disagree with him" and they call in. I get a lot of people riled up and it's great. Montreal is a great city for that.
Singer: Why do you think Montreal is still like that as a city, that they're still demanding a Francophone captain?
PJ Stock: I don't know…that's the one knock against Montreal . I had Saku Koivu on my show the other day and it's a big issue and I really don't know why it's a big issue, but unfortunately it is and that's the situation that we're in here. The people in Quebec are very proud. They're proud of our culture and the language and they think that the Montreal Canadiens is a reflection of that. I, personally, do and I don't. So, I'm stuck in the middle, but I'd say I think the owner of the Montreal Canadiens and his decision is to put the best product on the ice and if the best product on the ice and the best leader for his team is European, then, so be it. But that's what gets people all riled up and, of course, it gets exciting. It's great fun, but it gets beaten up, though. It's like flogging a dead horse so, people keep calling.
Singer: Sure. As a native English speaker from Montreal do you think you've had some connection in that regard to Saku Koivu? How you're both in this French city and perhaps you feel like outsiders at times?
PJ Stock: Ah…no. I mean, I love the people here. I just think Saku's in a tough situation. He has to be so diplomatic every time he speaks. Myself on the other hand, I don't. So, I get to speak my mind a little bit more.
Singer: Now, to turn back your career a little bit. Go back to your playing days, do you have a handful of players that you would consider rivals? Just on the ice, if not off of it. For instance, when I was looking at your playing career, it seemed like you kept meeting up with Wade Belak, no matter what team or league either of you were in, you always seemed to find each other.
PJ Stock: Well it had to do with what guys that you respected. Eric Boulton was another guy who I fought a ton of times, but everything was circumstantial and timing. I'd try and get guys on the other teams all riled up and then they'd send their guy out or vice versa. It's a tough job to do and as long as we still respect each other at the end, you know, there's no point getting back at each other because we knew it'd be fair and it'd be great. I think Stephen Peat and I bumped into each other a few times as well…
Singer: Sure, you made highlight reels every time you did.
PJ Stock: Yeah…yeah…he did. He changed me like a lot of these guys. If you look at it a different way, everyone replaced my ears, my nose, my forehead. They fixed my head up for me.
Singer: When you have any exchange like that, let's say, like the ones you had with Stephen Peat, is anything actually going through your mind at the time or is it all just instinctual?
PJ Stock: Just don't go down that's all. Too many fans think whoever falls loses the fight. So, as long as you keep throwing, you don't go down. That's all it was: keep throwing, keep your head up, keep your chin in and don't go down. That was my job and what I had to do to get the guys motivated or get the team going and I just tried and do it to the best capability that I can.
Singer: Now, after every fight, everybody started getting used to seeing the PJ Stock wave to the crowd, sending them into a frenzy. Did you have any times where you said, "Maybe I shouldn't do that", or was it just something you did at home games?
PJ Stock: You know what, I didn't do it on the road. I did it, maybe, once or twice on the road. I didn't want to do it. Unfortunately, I did it once and the guys kinda chuckled and the people in Boston just, you know, they blew it up. They really did…so, I almost had to stick with it.
Singer: It was a reluctant trademark you're saying?
PJ Stock: Right, even times when I got beat up I had to put my arm up….
Singer: Do you think any opponents found that disrespectful in any way?
PJ Stock: It wasn't disrespectful because I never made a mockery of the situation. It was just kinda my hand up and waving at the crowd and it wasn't thumbs up, thumbs down, or whatever. It was more or less just appreciation of the crowd in my way and I knew that they made noise and it was my way to get them to make more noise.
Singer: During the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past season, Edmonton-Anaheim, game 3, Laraque and Fedoruk fought a couple of times and, Laraque had his arms in the air afterward. He was really raising the roof a little bit more than you waving to the crowd. Is that along the same lines as long as you're just addressing the crowd?
PJ Stock: He was just in a fist fight for his life and he's really excited. You know, when guys score a goal they fist-pump and you know there's no problem with that.. No one says anything about that…you get excited. You have 20,000 fans cheering for just one individual and you get excited. Sometimes, it takes over. You're not thinking about anything besides being so excited, your adrenaline is running, and that's all, it took over for a second. If he would have thought it over, maybe he would have done something a little different, but you have to understand, everyone's been in that situation and you have to let it go. I don't think he was making a mockery of Todd Fedoruk, who is a great guy. I just think that Georges was getting the crowd going, raising the roof and kinda feeling the energy.
Singer: Todd Fedoruk seems to be the kind of tough guy that the NHL is leaning towards now. It seems that his skating is improving every year and he is putting points on the board, but at the same time fighting is going down and down and there seem to be less tough guys in the league. Do you think that's good for the NHL? Are they going to lose something from having this missing from the game or is it a good evolution as long as it's still there?
PJ Stock: The direction in the NHL is going? Yes and no. With the game calling so many power plays and penalties, there are more penalty killers on that fourth line and that is eliminating the tough guy role. So, every team is looking for one specific tough player that can do the role and play, that's why so many guys have found themselves out of the league. Because of so fewer tough players, I think it's taking a lot of the respect factor out of the game. You don't have to work. You put your stick in one hand and you've got one-handed hooking calls that are deciding games and you know, they're taking a lot of the battles out of the game. It is coming full circle and the players understand it.
Overall I think the game is going in the right direction, but I don't think there was anything wrong with it 20 years ago or 40 or 50 years ago when hockey just became what it is today. The last couple of years, we've played the trap, but if you're watching Edmonton in the playoffs, they're playing the trap just as well and they're in the Stanley Cup Finals. They're playing a one-four trap and they're in the Finals, so, it's a matter of time before other teams catch on.
Singer: Do you think next year, we'll see a decrease in the number of penalties called? Did the players need a full year to adjust to the new rule implementations?
PJ Stock: Yes. Chris Chelios is a perfect example. He's in his 40s. He has been playing the same game for 35 years and then, a couple of weeks before the season, they decide to change it all up and he's can't use his stick and he can't hook, and he can't clear the front of the net by crosschecking. It's almost turned into basketball a little bit in front of the net because everything's body positioning and it's great, but guys can take quite some time to learn this. The refs also have to give a little more leeway which I think they did towards the end of the year. So I don't know if it's going in the right direction or the wrong direction but if you're a fan of power plays and penalty killing, it's entertaining. I don't want to see a Stanley Cup game decided on a one-handed hooking call.
Singer: How many injuries did you have over the years because of fighting and how many do you think were because of your style of fighting: the fact that you just stand back and throw?
PJ Stock: Well, I wasn't strong enough to hold off too many guys. So, it was kinda, you know, huck and chuck. You just stand in there and just don't go down. I tried to change up, just trying to be quicker, not necessarily trying to hurt the guy, but trying to keep him off-balance as much as I can by throwing a rabbit punch or something to the left. It was just to keep the guy off and not down so he couldn't load one up and take my teeth out. As far as injuries, Rob Ray was nice enough to break my face bone for me, my orbital bone and that's more or less it. I'm pretty fortunate, you know, some stitches here, some bumps and bruises came with territory. But it was good you know, a black eye is something that is popular in the bar!
Singer: If an up-and-coming tough guy is going to talk to you and ask you for advice, what would you say to him?
PJ Stock: It's all about confidence. Just relax. You know you're going to get hit so just make sure you don't freak out. Don't spazz out. Just relax and breathe properly and take your time and hope you don't get knocked out.
Singer: Besides doing you've written for some websites, including this one and bostonbruins.com. Besides being on the radio, is writing something else that you're interested in doing? Are you just trying to touch every part of hockey journalism for a bit to see where you land?
PJ Stock: Well, I'm no English major by any means. I wrote some journals when I was in Boston and they thought I would talk about hockey and it's one of the last things that I really wanted to talk about. I would like to talk about other things like movies and fooling around, and that's what I did and the journals kinda took off.
Singer: Do you regularly check out a lot of different websites?
PJ Stock: Well, I do for my show. I go in during the morning and then check through a bunch of sites if something happened. You know, if a big fight happened in a hockey game, then yours is definitely one of the sites that I go check out... Of course, I also go to the obvious ones, the TSNs and ESPNs, but that's general knowledge. Then I try and check out a couple other things as well and, you know, it's a great thing. You did some great things.
Singer: Cool, thanks a lot. I appreciate that.
Tons of thanks to PJ for taking the time out of his schedule for the interview. You can currently hear PJ on The Stock Exchange, weekdays from 10am-12pm et on The Team 990.
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