Oct 24, 2000
Ahh, the European hockey players. Who can overlook them? If it's not their goal scoring finesse, it's the carelessness they show with their sticks and elbows. And what's worse, some of the bigger, stronger, "born-for-hockey" North American players are starting to take part in this. Everyone has heard the arguments. Why is fighting decreasing when viciously dangerous acts such as blatant high-sticks, two-handers and checking from behind are on the rise? I find it refreshing when I see a team fielding a scrapper or two at the sacrifice of 3rd or 4th round European draft pick. It keeps the roots of hockey embedded in the ice.
One team that is doing this is Buffalo. Everyone knows Rob Ray, no need to elaborate too much on him. One of the NHL's best since he broke into the league, even getting a rule set into place based upon his tactics during a fight. Then there's the newcomer that no one knows about just yet. Eric Boulton has been a highly touted prospect in the Sabres farm system since his initial signing in 1999. Touted as the American Hockey League's best fighter in the 1999-2000 season, 'Bolts' made himself known in the NHL by taking on Bob Probert in the preseason. Standing at 6'1 and 219lbs., Boulton isn't the typical one-dimensional goon that skates up and down the ice providing no benefit to his hockey club whatsoever. Instead, he shows decent hockey skills and displays steady skating and body checking. So far this season he has played fourth line left wing with Ray on the right side, and either Stu Barnes or Eric Rasmussen at center.
The overall question that must be asked regarding this newfound toughness is how will it help the team win games? The answer is simple. Realize some of the smaller players the Sabres have on their team. Maxim Afinogenov, Miroslav Satan, Jean-Pierre Dumont, Curtis Brown, Alexei Zhitnik and Jason Woolley. Sure, one or two of them maybe 6'2 or what not, but when it comes down to defending themselves if they get mugged, they're sitting ducks. Last year, Rob Ray was the only player who could do the on-ice police work for the Sabres. Considering the amount of smaller players the Sabres have, plus the players who can't afford to spend five minutes in the box, one man simply cannot protect the whole team, let alone set an example of someone who gets a little too comfortable throwing his weight around. However, with the addition of Boulton, a whole new line is created, which head coach Lindy Ruff calls the "energy line". Not only are they exciting to watch, but only once has a player stepped out of line when they were on the ice. Ryan Vandenbussche ran Rhett Warrener from behind into the glass, and consequently was pummeled by both Ray and Boulton. Intimidating indeed.
After five games, the Sabres are 2-3. Considering the start they had last season, their record shouldn't be cast away as all that bad. In the games in which toughness was a key factor, the contests were well fought and entertaining, winning two out of three. I, for one, believe that this new "energy line" will significantly benefit the Buffalo organization. However, only time will tell.
Your own opinions can be expressed in the message forums.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.