To be in the NHL is a dream for many young hockey players growing up. Some people have the skill--the 100 m.p.h. slap shot, the ability to beat goalies top corner with their wrist shot or the body that is like a brick wall.
Others have to fight their way into the NHL. But noone really knows the life of a fourth line fighter.
You play seven shifts a night, a total of three minutes and you're asked to do one thing and one thing only. Fire up your team and the home crowd and get in a fight. Stick up for teammates and get your head knocked around a few times as you try to do the same to your opponent.
Noone is saying its a glorious job or lifestyle. Many have tried to make it as a fighter in the NHL and many have failed.
But what people dont understand is the toll this position takes oneself. Imagine you are asked to suit up, and play your heart out for all six or seven of your shifts. And any one of those shifts you may be asked to stick up for a teammate and get in a fight with a guy just as big and tough as you are.
That was just game one.
Now think of doing this game in and game out, with the possible chance you will be a healthy scratch for a week straight because the coach is trying to go a differnt route and has called up the young right wing from the minors and wants to give him a shot on the fourth line.
There is no doubt this life plays with your head. It messes with your confidence, makes you question why you really are doing what you are doing.
I started to think about this alot after the death of Derek Boogard, the 6'7" beast who died in May after mixing both alchohol and oxycodone.
We all know what its like to have a drink or two during hard times and you mix that with the lifestyle of a fighter and one who is battling depression, its a scary combination. Take into play the fact that Boogard and many other fighters take strong pain relievers to help offset the pain of the fight from the night before.
The list goes on off tough guys who the hockey world has lost in the past few years, as well as those tough guys who have lost it on the ice.
In July of 2010, the hockey world lost legend Bob Probert. Probert dropped dead while vacationing with his family after complaining of severe chest pains. It was later revealed that he died of chronic tramautic encephalopathy to his brain. Put the pieces to the puzzle together and you realize that constant pounding to the brain game after game can take its toll on you.
The recent death of former Vancouver Canuck and Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien is still under investigation, but suicide was announced at the time of his death. Rypien battled depression throughout his playing career and missed a substantial amount of time in 2010 to try and get some help for the deadly disease.
If you dig further into the life of a fighter, you see substance abuse is a big part of it. Remember Chris Simon and his antics on the ice. Noone will forget his baseball swing he pulled on Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers. Simon was suspended the remainder of the season and said he had some off ice issues he had to take care of, mainly alchohol issues he had been battling.
Its no secret the life of a fighter is tough. I dont think anyone would trade positions with these guys and have to look Zdeno Chara in the eyes and try and duck one of his punches.
For some, its a matter of life and death.