Joey Kocur can't remember how many times he has uttered those
words. The phrase is the melancholy mantra of every wing on every
fourth line in the NHL, but it is especially poignant for Kocur and
his linemate, Greg Gilbert, playing amid the glitter of Madison
Square Garden, where they are little more than wings in the wings.
The hard truth is that Kocur's raison d'etre in the NHL is
intimidation. Early in his career, with the Detroit Red Wings, Kocur
prepared for his role by working out at the famed Kronk Gym. To his
credit Kocur, 29, does not celebrate his inglorious purpose, and he
winces when asked to review the blotter. There was, for instance, the
night in 1989 when he clubbed Brad Dalgarno of the New York
Islanders. The blow fractured the 22-year-old Dalgarno's left eye
orbit and his cheekbone. Four years earlier there had been a
confrontation with Jim Playfair, a hulking Nova Scotia defenseman who
was feared dead after Kocur dropped him with a right in a minor
league contest. Naturally, the episode earned Kocur his shot in the
NHL, in spite of his limited skating and stickhandling skills.
Ranger general manager Neil Smith, who was a Detroit scout in
1983, drafted Kocur not only for his fists but also for his wrists,
which can snap a wicked shot. Kocur followed Smith to New York in a
'91 trade. Smith recalls, ''Joey took some bad penalties, got
suspended, and the fans screamed, 'Why did we get this goon?' Of
course here we are three years later, and they're all chanting,
'Joey! Joey! Joey!' ''
That does not leave many Garden cheers to spare for the
32-year-old Gilbert, who long ago became accustomed to anonymity,
having at one time been known as ''that other guy'' on the
legendary Islander line featuring Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. The
joke is that if Gilbert gets noticed at all, it's by nearsighted fans
who mistake him for Rod Gilbert. Says the current Gilbert, who
doesn't even share the pronunciation of his surname with the Ranger
legend, ''Rod Gilbert and Greg Gilbert in the same sentence? I don't
think so.''
Sitting quietly in the frenzied victors' dressing room last week,
Gilbert thought only about how lucky he was to have won a Stanley Cup
with both New York teams. A few stalls away Kocur celebrated his
first title. Wrapping his gnarled digits around the neck of a
champagne bottle, Kocur put a new spin on an old line: ''What a way
to make a living!'' -- T.C.