The Rat That Roared, Scored And Prospered

The unsavory nickname is well deserved, but Boston Bruins center Ken Linseman makes points on the ice and as a businessman
November 25, 1985

Ah, what a warm and wonderful scene: a 90-year-old, three-story Victorian house, tastefully appointed with antiques. A fire blazing, chicken roasting in the oven, steam rising from the pot of green beans. What's that? Oh, it's Heidi, the jet-black shepherd, barking as she dashes madly to the front door to greet her master. He's a little late today because his Mercedes is in the shop and he had to catch a ride home to suburban Swampscott.

"Hi, hon," he says. "I'm home."

"Hello, dear, you've got some phone messages."

"Thanks, when's dinner?"

Did someone take down the wrong address? Can this possibly be the home of Boston Bruins center Ken Linseman? The man they call the Rat, that notorious cheap-shot artist and all-around bad guy? When does Robert Young show up and tell us to get the hell off the set? Why, Linseman's been home 10 minutes now, and he hasn't so much as bitten the dog or gone out to high-stick the neighbors.

"Here, let me show you around the house," Linseman says to a visitor as his girlfriend, Pam Bateman, the one who greeted him at the door, prepares dinner. Up on the third floor is a massive pool table crafted in 1912. Here in the living room, a mantelpiece with ornate carving. And now we come to the office with its circular desk and reference books. It's immaculate, it's exquisite, it's House Beautiful, it's...hard to believe a guy like Linseman lives here.

But then, Linseman isn't quite the guy you expect him to be. Sure, he still resorts to dirty deeds now and then and his contemporaries would surely vote him the chippiest player in the NHL—whaddya want, a Lady Bynger? And true, he did take up surfing—the bigger the waves the better—as his latest off-season hobby. Just because he's 27 doesn't mean that Linseman has mellowed enough to back down from any challenge, be it Mother Nature's or a bruising rival's. But there's a lot more to this free spirit.

"Kenny is the best, most astute businessman of any client I've ever had," says Art Kaminsky, his lawyer and agent. "Very often he gives me stock tips, and they're usually very good ones."

Oh, and he can play hockey, too. A consistent point-a-game player in his four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and last season with the Bruins, Linseman this year has five goals and 21 assists in 18 games. He is one good reason the Bruins are 10-5-3 and hoping to stay on top of the Adams Division despite the loss of Linseman's linemate Charlie Simmer, who had scored 14 goals before he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Nov. 10. Simmer will miss six to eight weeks.

With Linseman, the business of hockey comes first, but the business of business in particular is a not-too-distant second. While he isn't quite cut from Brooks Brothers cloth—for his daily office garb, he favors slacks and sweaters—Linseman exhibits a keen sense of how to make a buck as the head of Hazel & Co., Inc., named after his mother, who died of cancer in 1975.

"When I signed my first pro contract [with the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls in 1977], I figured I would play 10 years, and with at least a million dollars in assets, I wouldn't ever have to work for anybody," he says. "I've since found out it takes more money than that, but I think I'm doing well enough that I'll always be my own boss." Linseman's primary involvement is in real estate, but he also has interests in horses, oil, stocks and art.

He's becoming a little leery of the last, even though he has Andrew Wyeth originals. "They're great," he says, "but art is too fickle. They're not appreciating at the rate I'd like. I'm looking to sell." He calls the 16 thoroughbreds he owns in two separate partnerships "my high-risk investment with, of course, the good write-off." This has been The Wall Street Journal Minute....

Linseman was a student for one year at Queens University outside Toronto but admits he only attended because his father promised to help him buy a car. Linseman's business acumen springs not from formal training but from intuition, common sense and a staunch refusal to invest in any scheme he does not fully understand. "It's a matter of working the streets," he says. Typically, on an off day for the Bruins, Linseman will return from practice to his home by 3 p.m. and will make business calls until around 7 p.m.

The day before a Bruins game against the Flyers in the Spectrum this season, Linseman arranged an early flight to Philadelphia so he could meet with some of his business advisers, people the Rat met when he was playing for Philadelphia. Says Kaminsky: "Kenny is a very well-off young man. He has prepared himself well."

Linseman has always looked for an edge: in hockey, as a smallish player who needed to gain respect by resorting to the occasional unsavory tactic, and in business, by finding the holes the system allows the clever businessman to exploit.

"It's the intensity that makes Kenny unique," says Behn Wilson, a Chicago Black Hawks defenseman who played against Linseman in junior hockey and with him in Philadelphia. "It's that intensity that makes him a great hockey player, it's that intensity that makes him a great businessman, and it's that intensity that makes him an interesting person."

Linseman was gnawing at the fabric of organized hockey long before former Flyers teammate and current Philly G.M. Bob Clarke thought to call him the Rat. In his final year with the Kingston Canadians of the Ontario Hockey Association, Linseman and Jeff Geiger of the Ottawa 67's had been going at each other, physically and verbally, for much of a game. Finally, Geiger charged after Linseman, and a melee broke out. According to Linseman, he was cracked over the back of the neck by a stick, went a little bonkers and kicked Geiger in the head. "Blood everywhere," recalls Tim Higgins, who played for Ottawa and is now with the New Jersey Devils. "It was one of the most frightening things I ever saw." Pictures of the brawl, which showed Geiger with a gruesome crimson mask, belied the fact that the cut required only four stitches to close. Nonetheless, 17 months later, an Ottawa court found Linseman guilty of assault. "It was blown out of proportion, a political thing," he says. "It was during that whole 'violence-in-hockey' uproar."

Another uproar he created at about the same time would have more far-reaching implications. Nineteen years old and tired of junior hockey, Linseman refused to wait until the NHL and WHA minimum draft age of 20. He and Kaminsky got in touch with John Bassett Jr., then the maverick owner of the WHA's brawling Birmingham Bulls. Bassett agreed to sign Linseman and challenge the age rule. In October 1977, a federal district court in Hartford, Conn. granted a temporary injunction permitting Linseman to play on the basis that the age limit was in violation of antitrust laws. The door to the 18-year-old draft had been opened.

"I was aware of the ramifications of what we were doing," Linseman says. "For me, it made sense. On the other hand, so many of these kids come in so young, and they're not ready to handle professional hockey."

Linseman was ready for the WHA, though, quickly establishing himself as a swift skater and deft playmaker with 38 goals and 38 assists for Birmingham. But it was his talent for provocation that earned him an indelible reputation. With tough-guy teammates like Dave (Killer) Hanson, Gilles (Bad News) Bilodeau and Steve Durbano around to clean up his messes, Linseman tormented and taunted the opposition with a barrage of cheap shots and brash talk. "For me, it was a way of surviving. I had to play that way," says Linseman. "I was only 155 to 160 pounds back then [he is now listed at 175]. Those were the Flyers' Broad Street Bully days, and everybody was looking for the big, tough players. I thought I had to play that way to be at least noticed."

The Flyers did notice, and were so impressed that they drafted him and paid $500,000 to the Bulls for his rights. In 1979-80 he was a key figure in the team's NHL-record 35-game unbeaten streak, and he established himself as a money performer in the playoffs with 22 points in 17 games. "Guys on other teams used to ask me, 'What's it like playing with that little jerk Linseman?' " says Paul Holmgren, who was right wing on Linseman's line and now is a Flyers assistant coach. "I said, 'Great. He got me 30 goals.' When you play with him, you love him."

But as Linseman's penalty minutes piled up—he had 275 in 1981-82—the Flyers brass tired of his chippy excesses. In the summer of 1982 Linseman was part of a three-team deal that sent him to Edmonton and brought much-needed defenseman Mark Howe from Hartford to the Flyers.

At the time, Linseman was 24, well-off and ready for anything. There were mistakes: a number of speeding tickets, some arguments with fans and reporters, and the time he posed with a rat for a magazine—or worse, his having a rat tattooed on his right calf even though he dislikes the nickname. "I'm trying, and I think I'm getting better all the time," Linseman says now, referring to his office difficulties. "But I'm still probably worse than 95 percent of the population."

But Linseman expresses no remorse over such incidents as the October 1984 "Rat Bites Man" episode with former Oiler teammate Lee Fogolin. During a game in Edmonton, Linseman was drilled in the crease in front of Oilers goalie Andy Moog. A fight broke out and Linseman bit Fogolin so severely on the cheek that the Edmonton player required a tetanus shot. "If the league is going to let us fight, I don't see where there are any rules about how we should fight," Linseman says. In 1982, Linseman was suspended for four games for gouging former Toronto Maple Leaf center Russ Adam. "If you look at the truly great players in this game—Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Bob Clarke, they all had a mean streak in them," says Holmgren. That doesn't mean Linseman has been scratched from any hit lists, though.

Linseman's playing style has evolved as NHL hockey has evolved—into the type of freewheeling skating game practiced by the Oilers. In 1982-83 he scored a career-high 33 goals and helped line-mates Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier to 100-point-plus seasons. The following season he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Oilers, and his penalty minutes have been dropping—to 119 and 126 the last two seasons. "Kenny really benefited from his time in Edmonton," says Boston defenseman Mike O'Connell. "Playing with that caliber of talent, I think he proved to himself just how good he is."

Yet, the summer after he had sealed the Oilers' first Cup win, Linseman was dealt to the Bruins for forward Mike Krushelnyski. There were good reasons for the deal. One, Linseman was in the last year of his contract, and the Oilers figured he would pressure them for a raise—as usual, payable in American dollars, then worth almost one-third more than Canadian dollars. Two, Messier had been moved to center, leaving Linseman as a third- or fourth-line center. Three, the Bruins badly needed a speedy game-breaker to center a second line and take some of the scoring pressure off Barry Pederson and Rick Middleton.

When you think about it, is there a more appropriate place for the Rat than Boston, where the fans truly appreciate blue-collar hockey? "I'm very comfortable here," he says.

"Kenny's his own man," says Wilson. "If you try and tie him down, you take away what makes him special." He is moving, always moving. Traffic in Boston's Sumner Tunnel makes his palms sweat, neckties are too constricting ("I think I was hung in a previous life," Linseman says). While Bruins teammates listen to Prince blasting over the stereo, Linseman prefers the mellower sounds of the Spencer Davis Group live at a Cambridge nightspot. In a sport of superstitions, Linseman wears No. 13; in an age of curved sticks, Linseman's are nearly straight, the better to practice the lost art of the backhand. On the ice Linseman is recklessly distinctive—forever crouched low over his stick, tugging at his gloves, pawing at his shin guards. Says Holmgren, "This is Kenny: Tell him he needs a haircut and even if he's planning to get one, he won't because someone told him to."

He has been a rebel with, or without, a cause since he was a kid in Kingston. His father, Ken, an engineer with the city, played junior hockey in Toronto with NHL stars-to-be Frank Mahovlich and Dick Duff. Linseman is the oldest of six kids; he has four brothers and a sister. "I think I was born to ask 'Why?' I won't do anything unless I understand the logic behind it," he says. "My mom and I were very much alike. We would have these incredible fights that would go on and on and on, and nobody would win. But we were made to believe that it was best to show how you felt, get things out in the open."

Linseman wasn't keeping anything hidden the day his former teammate, Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, was declared brain dead as the result of injuries suffered in a car crash. All day long Linseman shook his head and muttered, lost in a shroud of whys and what ifs. "How can you ask a stupid question like that?" he snapped at a reporter who posed a "drugs-and-alcohol-in-sports" question prompted by blood test results indicating that Lindbergh had been legally drunk at the time of the accident. With Lindbergh's death, Simmer's knee injury and a chill wind blowing freezing rain, it had been a bleak and brutal day.

Later, Linseman eyed the same reporter and apologized for overreacting. Rats don't behave that way.

PHOTOPAUL BERESWILLLinseman's stated desire for a nest egg of at least $1 million to smooth his retirement has whetted his appetite for fiscal intelligence. TWO PHOTOSPAUL BERESWILLLinseman has cut his penalty minutes by more than half from his career high of 275 in 1981-82, but rivals are still likely to find his stick showing up in strange places. PHOTOCARL SKALAKNot even his bitterest rival would call Linseman's well-appointed home a rodent's nest. PHOTOPAUL KENNEDYBobby Clarke gave Linseman his nickname during the Broad Street Bully era in Philadelphia. PHOTOBOB MUMMERYLinseman scored the game-winning goal when the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup. PHOTOCARL SKALAKLinseman's friend Pam Bateman shares his love of the rugged New England shoreline.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)