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Pro Hockey

Sawyer Ready at Drop of a Glove

Ducks: Enforcer expects to be active in tonight's rematch of fight-filled Dec. 8 game against the Flames.

January 19, 2002|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CALGARY, Canada — Kevin Sawyer is a hockey lover, not a fighter, at heart.

That he fills the enforcer role for the Mighty Ducks was his destiny. That he most likely will fan the Flames tonight against Calgary, a rematch of a fight-marred Dec. 8 game that resulted in fines, suspensions and a 4-0 Duck victory, has been preordained.

He didn't go looking for that kind of trouble. It just found him.

"When I was 18, I tried out for the Spokane Chiefs," Sawyer said. "I wasn't planning on doing this role, because I didn't even know how to do it. The first day during a scrimmage, I bumped Valeri Bure. He shoved me. I shoved him back. All the boys came flying at me. That was like pushing Paul Kariya on that team. I got my nose in there and the coaches liked that."

The last meeting between the Ducks and Flames played like a parody of 1970s hockey.

There were 309 penalty minutes, 291 in the third period. There were 18 fighting majors in the game's final 1 minute 25 seconds. During one faceoff late in the game, the Flames on the ice dropped their gloves as soon as the referee dropped the puck.

Calgary's Craig Berube, Steve Nichol and Coach Greg Gilbert received suspensions.

Sawyer was suspended for five games after he ran Flame goalie Mike Vernon after Calgary's Bob Boughner refused to fight.

The Ducks' Ruslan Salei and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere were fined and Coach Bryan Murray received a conditional fine that comes due if the Ducks are involved in any more questionable brawls ... like tonight?

"It's going to be interesting," said Giguere, who received a game misconduct penalty last time. "There should be some scores to settle over there. But I think we have to go there and focus on the game. We can't just focus on the sideshow. But if they want to be stupid, I know we can answer back."

In other words: Let's Get Ready to Rumble.

Certainly there has been prebout hype that would make Don King proud. Murray called Gilbert a "jerk" and Nichol a "pipsqueak" in the days afterward. The Ducks' Jeff Friesen said the Flames' Dave Lowry was "gutless."

Flame General Manager Craig Button singled out Denny Lambert, saying, "next time he'll get his head beat in."

While both teams insist that the focus will be on winning the game, there seems to be other agendas.

"Talk about a coward, [Friesen] doesn't even go in the corners," Berube said. "Who is he kidding? We just laugh at comments like that basically."

Said Friesen: "You got to be ready for anything. You got to make sure your stick is with you at all times. But you go out there and still have to play the game. I'm sure there are a few things that are still yet to be decided."

Sawyer had played in only 22 NHL games before this season. He entered training camp a longshot to make the team. The Ducks, after all, had two other enforcers, Lambert and Jim Cummins, who had lengthy rap sheets in the NHL.

But he quickly took things into his own hands. In a scrimmage, Sawyer went after Cummins and took on Lambert a few minutes later.

"My first thought was, 'What's this maniac doing here?'" Lambert said. "It was great."

Sawyer spent the summer in his native Christina Lake, a small British Columbia town which doesn't even have its own ice rink. He trained with Atlanta's Ray Ferraro, who has a cabin in the area. Ferraro, who has been known as the "Little Ball of Hate," was good for Sawyer's psyche.

"You train with Ray, it's intense," Sawyer said. "If he doesn't get the prescribed reps, out goes the 20-pound barbell through the door.... It was like that Rocky movie, I was going up into the mountains to train."

Sawyer came out swinging. He played so well that the team sent Cummins to the minors, then traded him to the New York Islanders last week. Sawyer was leading the NHL in penalty minutes when he was suspended and is still second with 154, behind Florida's Peter Worrell, who has 169.

"If there are fisticuffs, someone has to be accountable for what happens," Sawyer said. "I got no problems standing up."

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