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Fighting For A Living St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist, whose pugilistic talents appear to run in the family, doesn't pull any punches on the job

March 16, 1998
March 16, 1998

Table of Contents
March 16, 1998

Fighting For A Living St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist, whose pugilistic talents appear to run in the family, doesn't pull any punches on the job

It was as if the hockey gods were making their own little joke
when, eight years ago, Tony Twist and Guy LaFleur wound up as
teammates on the Quebec Nordiques. Said the young pugilist to
the ancient artist, "When I was a boy I had a Guy LaFleur lunch
box."

This is an article from the March 16, 1998 issue Original Layout

"Kid," said LaFleur, wearily, "you're making me old."

The Twister had idolized the Flower, which is like discovering
that the boy who admired Matisse grew up to excel at paintball.
Although the nicest thing one can say about Twist's
stickhandling is that he does not break the puck, it would be
inaccurate to describe him as unskilled. It takes a special
talent to stand on skates and beat someone senseless, and no one
does it better than the St. Louis Blues left wing.

He is 6' 1 1/2", 240 pounds of pure deterrence. Thanks to the
Twister's lurking presence, Blues snipers such as wings Brett
Hull and Geoff Courtnall enjoy much more elbow room. "The
respect he gets on the ice for our team is huge," says
Courtnall. The momentum swing that a Twist ass-whuppin' can
bring is, likewise, considerable. "When there's a good fight,
everybody on both benches is standing up watching," says
Courtnall.

"But with Twister," Hull interjects, "the fight's over before
you get a chance to stand up."

"He throws hammers," says San Jose Sharks right wing Owen Nolan,
who also played with Twist on the Nordiques in the early 1990s.
"He throws to kill. I've seen him crack a helmet with a punch.
If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it."

"It's not complicated," says St. Louis right wing and fellow
tough cookie Kelly Chase, of Twist's fighting style. "He holds
you at arm's length and rocks you with big, hard rights."

"You don't want to see him looking at you the wrong way," admits
Los Angeles Kings heavyweight Matt Johnson. "No one in the
league matches his pure punching power. He's an honest player
but as tough as they come."

Indeed, Twist abides by the unwritten code of the NHL tough guy:
no sucker punching, no taking advantage of an injured foe, no
jumping a guy when he's gassed at the end of a shift and no
pairing off against a nonheavyweight unless he's a jerk who
really has it coming.

These pugs on ice are a surprisingly honorable and amiable
bunch. In the first period of a game against the Phoenix Coyotes
last season, Twist lined up for a face-off opposite Jim
McKenzie, with whom he's traded blows since their days in the
Western (junior) Hockey League. "You guys are up a couple of
goals," said Twist. "We gotta go."

"No problem," said McKenzie. "Skate around for a while. I'll
find you." He did.

Few are so willing to engage the Twister. When Reid Simpson of
the Chicago Blackhawks fought him on March 3--after Twist had
been unable to drum up a fight since Dec. 17, he pounced on and
routed his overmatched foe--Twist's wife, Jocelyn, expressed, of
all things, gratitude that Tony had finally found a place to
blow off steam. "More power to Reid," she said. "At least he
dropped his gloves."

Why aren't people challenging Twist anymore? It's simple, says
Chris Simon, the Washington Capitals' left wing and designated
tooth-loosener: "He broke Rob Ray's face--and no one wants to
get his face broken." Simon is referring to the November 1995
bout between Twist and Ray, the Buffalo Sabres' enforcer, in
which Ray suffered a fractured orbital bone.

Like a lot of other fighters Twist, 29, is a different person
off the ice. After cold-cocking tough guy Mike Peluso five years
ago--Peluso, then with the New Jersey Devils, was hospitalized
with a concussion--Twist went to the hospital to check on his
erstwhile sparring partner. (Peluso had already been
discharged.) Twist will earn $650,000 this season, roughly
$40,000 of which he will donate to sponsor Twister's Iron Horse
Tour, a five-day Harley-Davidson ride organized by the Head
First Foundation. That's right, the host of an event expected to
raise more than $1 million for the prevention of head injuries
batters craniums for a living.

A loving father at home with his kids--Brittany, 7, and
Christian, 6--Twist is merciless on the job. "I want to hurt
them," he says of opponents. "I want to end the fight as soon as
possible, and I want the guy to remember it. If he becomes a
repeat customer, I want him on his heels before the next fight
starts."

Like male pattern baldness, extraordinary punching power
apparently skips a generation. Twist's paternal grandfather,
Harry Twist, was a welterweight boxer who fought under the name
Harry Runcorn (after his home county in England) and held the
welterweight title of Western Canada. On the Ides of March in
1923, Harry fought Handsome Howard Weldon in Toronto. Handsome
Howard "got his feet mixed up," according to a newspaper
account, and Runcorn popped him. Weldon's head hit the mat with
a sickening thud. He died shortly thereafter.

"Dad was a very, very powerful puncher," says Stan Twist,
Harry's son and Tony's father. "But after the accident, he
didn't have the same intensity." Harry retired to Burnaby, B.C.,
where he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and gained
renown as a trainer of young fighters. His wife, Ethel, was a
field hockey player of legendary fierceness; she is in the B.C.
Lacrosse Hall of Fame and was dubbed "Dirty Andy" by one
newspaper.

Stan, who became a Mountie too, was stationed in Kelvington,
Saskatchewan, in 1968 when his wife, Carole, gave birth to their
only son, whose destiny it also was to take up a career in
enforcement. (Kelly, their daughter, was born seven years
later.) As a 15-year-old playing midget hockey, Tony seldom
fought and logged lots of power-play time. A year later Twist's
first coach in junior hockey, Len McNamara of the Prince George
Spruce Kings, took a look at the precociously buff
adolescent--Twist had been pumping iron since he was 13--and
made him a specialist of a different sort. The new Spruce King,
it was discovered, had a gift for knocking the sap out of
people. It was made clear to Twist in Prince George, and later
with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, that he
had been given a uniform for one reason: to fight. And fight he
did, several times per game and sometimes even during warmups.
His pugilism, however, paid off. One summer morning in 1988,
Carole poked her head into the bedroom of her still slumbering
teenage son and announced, "You got drafted." Replied Tony,
"Mom, shut the door. I'm sleeping."

Twist had been selected in the ninth round by the Blues, whose
incumbent enforcer, Todd Ewen, he set out to unseat. Their first
fight, in the first scrimmage in training camp, ended with both
of them sitting in the training room, Twist with a cut on his
forehead, Ewen with a bruised hand. When the trainer attempted
to stitch up the rookie, Twist said, "Just throw some
butterflies on it. Todd and I are fighting again this
afternoon." When Ewen refused to fight him the next day, Twist
says he skated to center ice and flapped his arms like a chicken.

His attempts to shame Ewen into brawling failed. "I don't blame
him," says Twist. "The job was his. Why do anything that would
give credibility to some young punk trying to take it?"

Twist spent large chunks of the next three seasons playing for
the Peoria Rivermen of the International Hockey League, living
in a basement apartment with Jocelyn, whom he had married in
'90. Even when she was alone in that apartment, Jocelyn recalls,
she never wanted for company, thanks to the mice living in the
walls.

The Twists were happy when Tony was traded to the Nordiques in
'90. There, as a reward for making the ice safe for players like
LaFleur and young star Joe Sakic, coach Dave Chambers
occasionally put Twist on the ice with those two snipers, who,
if the lead was secure, would try to get him a goal. "Jeez,
Twister," Sakic would say after his muscle-bound friend
failed--as he unfailingly did--to cash in a goalmouth feed,
"what do you want me to do?" In 373 NHL games through Sunday
Twist had scored seven goals.

One night in Vancouver during his first season with Quebec,
Twist squared off with his Canucks counterpart, Gino Odjick.
From the stands, someone shouted, "Twist, you goon, get off the
ice!" Abruptly, the heckling ceased. It was the heckler's
misfortune to be seated directly in front of Carole, who along
with Stan had made the three-hour drive from their home in
Kamloops, B.C. "She cracked him one right across the back of the
head," says Jocelyn, who was also at the game. Twists were
landing blows all over the arena. "I told him if he ever
repeated those words, he would have to deal with me," says
Carole. "In the second and third periods he and his friend were
cheering for Tony."

Nevertheless, whether she is at the game or watching on TV,
Carole scolds her boy when he drops his gloves. "Tony don't do
this," she will fret. "You're going to hurt someone."

Had Twist listened to his mother, it is unlikely he would have
become a favorite of Mike Keenan. Twist was traded back to the
Blues in '94, and it was with Keenan's encouragement that he
reached his full potential as the Guy Whose Gloves You Least
Want to See Hitting the Ice at Your Feet. Keenan is gone, but
Twist's popularity in St. Louis is at an alltime high. On any
given night at the Kiel Center, one sees an equal number of
TWIST and HULL jerseys in the stands. The Tony Twist Show runs
weekly during the season on the Fox affiliate in St. Louis. If
it's been a good week and the Twister has drawn blood, the bout
is analyzed and dissected. No fight, no problem: The show isn't
so much hockey-driven as it is Twist-driven. A recent show was
taped at a biker bar named Cadillac Jack's, not a place you want
to take your date after the prom. Hours before taping, the joint
was packed with, as producer Mitch Fager says, "a lot of Tony's
hard-core fans."

He has earned their affection the hard way. He has a tough job,
and the NHL, mildly embarrassed by the existence of a creature
such as Twist, is making it tougher. As of last season, those
judged to have instigated fights face stiffer penalties, which
have so far resulted in two ejections for Twist. New this season
is a graduating scale of suspensions for players who pile up
three or more game misconducts.

What, Twist worry? "As long as there's hockey," he says,
"there'll be a need for what I do."

Right now, nobody does it better. Thirteen years have passed
since Jocelyn has seen her husband definitively lose a
fight--while with Saskatoon, Twist was bloodied by Link Gaetz,
whom he paid back with interest later that season--but there is
another, more telling testament to his skill. "Touch wood," says
Stan, "Tony's still got all his teeth."

COLOR PHOTO: MARK BUCKNER [Tony Twist and opposing player fighting]TWO B/W PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE TWIST FAMILY FIERCE FOREBEARERS Twist's grandfather, Harry, killed a man in the boxing ring; grandmother Ethel was known as Dirty Andy. [Harry Twist; Ethel Twist]COLOR PHOTO: SUE OGROCKI/REUTERS [Tony Twist and opposing player fighting]

THE 10 COUNT

Perhaps the best measure of Tony Twist's pugilistic ability is
the fact that he is rarely challenged anymore. Here are 10
other top NHL brawlers and what made them notorious.

Player Skinny

Tie Domi, Maple Leafs Wrapped imaginary title belt around
his waist after bloodying Bob Probert in
1992.
Stu Grimson, Hurricanes Thinking man's fighter doesn't just whale
away--he brings a true boxer's mentality
to pounding opponents.
Joe Kocur, Red Wings Former Islander Brad Dalgarno retired
after Kocur knocked him out in 1989.
Darren Langdon, Rangers Good stamina and ability to fend off
early blows enables him to outlast
opponents, come on strong late in brawls.
Paul Laus, Panthers NHL leader in fighting majorsover past two
seasons (50).
Sandy McCarthy, Flames Good pedigree: He's the son of a former
Golden Gloves champ.
Marty McSorley, Sharks His bouts usually go the distance.
Bob Probert, Blackhawks Feared fighter is out for year;
usually doesn't lose rematches--just ask
Domi.
Rob Ray, Sabres He's reason NHL imposed so-called Rob Ray
rule, which prohibits fighters from
shedding their jerseys during a skirmish.
Chris Simon, Capitals Intimidating presence missed by Colorado
during last season's punch-outs with Red
Wings.

"He throws hammers," says Nolan. "He throws to kill. I've seen
him crack a helmet with a punch."