It was in an exhibition game a year ago that Pete Stemkowski, then a robust young center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, got into a fight with one New York Ranger and suddenly had a few more swinging at him. Under such circumstances a player counts on some assistance from his teammates; the code of the game demands it. Stemkowski, however, received no help. While the Leafs watched he was roughed up by four Rangers, one of whom accidentally stepped on Stemkowski's thumb with his skate, nearly separating it from his hand. Pete Stemkowski never fought for the Maple Leafs after that.
Jim Dorey, then a 20-year-old ticketed for Tulsa and a year of seasoning, recalls watching the mismatch from the press box. "It wasn't right," he says. "Somebody should have gone out there and helped him."
And that is the reason Dorey is playing for Toronto in 1968. Ever since Bobby Baun—now with Detroit, but for years the unofficial heavy for the Leafs—stopped tossing his weight around, Toronto had been conspicuous for its timidity. The Leafs had some of the biggest, brawniest players in the NHL, but it seemed they would skate clear to Mammattawa to avoid a fight. Their record reflected this nonviolent spirit, and last year they missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons. "We stopped winning when we stopped hitting," said General Manager and Coach George (Punch) Imlach. "It's as simple as that."
Now Jim Dorey is hitting and the Leafs are in the fight. It may be as simple as that. A 6'1", 192-pounder with a caveman physique, a cherubic face and a shock of brown hair that gives him a misleading look of innocence, Dorey is the new bad man of the NHL. Early in the season though it is, he has been involved in two bench-clearing brawls, several smaller fights and some heavy shoving—and the Leafs, brasher and braver than they have been in years, seem to be responding. "In one month Dorey has already solved a few problems around here," says Imlach, "and before he's through he's going to solve a few more."
Most rookies come to the NHL with a touch of awe and respect, but not Dorey. His most notable bout took place in what was only his second big-league game. Pittsburgh's Ken Schinkel was speeding past Dorey along the boards when he happened to catch a stick on his shoulder pad. Schinkel skated another 15 feet before sprawling to the ice. Given two minutes for high-sticking by Referee Art Skov, Dorey was skating to the penalty box when he noticed that Schinkel was smiling. "That was when I realized he'd taken a dive," Dorey recalls. "I went over and said, 'You took a dive, didn't you?' He said, 'Sure, what are you gonna do about it?' That was when I hit him in the mouth."
Before he was through, Dorey had decked Schinkel and left Penguin Defenseman John Arbour draped helplessly in the arms of two Pittsburgh teammates. Jim rounded out the night with four minor penalties, two major, two misconducts and a game misconduct—a total of 48 minutes and nine penalties. The NHL fined him $175, and Skov warned, "I've got your number, Dorey." Jim's response was a flip crack about Skov not knowing his address.
Dorey is not particularly disturbed by his image, but he wants no one to misunderstand it. "I would hate to get the reputation of being a hatchet man," he says. "I've played against hatchet men and I detest them. They use their sticks as weapons, and they don't give a damn that they could end a guy's career with one swing. When you fight like men—sticks down, gloves off—about all that can get hurt is your pride. Oh, you might get conked on the nose or take a crack on the chin, but that's nothing to what you can do with a stick."
"He's an alley fighter, and they're usually the best kind," says Minnesota General Manager Wren Blair, who signed Dorey to his first amateur agreement at age 14. "But he's also a helluva defenseman. When I first saw Dorey I thought he could be in the same league as Bobby Orr, and you can't get any higher."
"Dorey can do a lot more things than fight," says Imlach. "Right now he's a little hotheaded and exuberant. He's trying to make a name for himself, which is fine. But he can become one of the big stars in this league. He can skate and he can shoot pretty well, too. I'll tell you this: if anybody's going to lead us back where we were, this kid will."
Dorey came out of a tough neighborhood in Kingston, a manufacturing town on Lake Ontario, as an alley fighter, all right, but one with some class. He hits, but he plays chess, too. "I've had enough education," he says, "to know that I could go back for a degree any time I wanted to."
Three of the six Toronto defensemen this year are young and error-prone, but Imlach is prepared to live with their mistakes, primarily because of the spirit Dorey and the other newcomers have brought with them. In a recent game with Boston the Leafs were leading by a goal in the third period when Eddie Shack, the Bruins' reckless forward, began cruising around the ice, leaving smaller Leafs scattered in his wake. Imlach, who happened to be standing behind Dorey on the bench, was livid. "How long is he going to get away with stuff like that?" Punch shouted. Within seconds Dorey was on the ice, and suddenly both he and Shack were serving penalties for fighting. But Dorey needs no such invitation to battle. During a memorable exhibition game he came stickless off the bench into a melee to toss a couple of right-hand punches at Detroit's Frank Mahovlich. He skated back to the bench unmarked and unpenalized, but not unappreciated.
"He's back, grinning like hell," said Imlach, "and I go down and tell him he can get in a helluva lot of trouble leaving the bench like that."
"Yeah, Punch," Dorey said, "I know it. But it was worth it."
Imlach had found his cop.