- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

The importance of having a physical player in hockey was never illustrated better than by the Washington Capitals this summer, shortly after the free agency period began.

The New Jersey Devils signed Caps free agent left wing Jim McKenzie, who has been employed in the past to protect players like 5-foot-10, 180-pound Paul Kariya. Washington had claimed McKenzie to let former heavyweight champ Chris Simon do his latest thing, score goals.

Three days later, Washington signed former Cap Craig Berube, a free agent in Philadelphia, before anybody else had a chance to grab one of the best enforcers on the open market.

Hockey has evolved, but one necessity remains having an individual who is tough enough to make it risky for an opponent to target a finesse player, especially a goal scorer.

But even that role, once filled by goons whose only task was to fight, has evolved, mostly because teams cannot afford the luxury of having a Mike Tyson wannabe clutter the bench. In the age of specialization, there is no room for Rocky.

But as the quick acquisition of Berube suggests, the role of policeman has not been eliminated entirely. There are still physical players who enjoy fighting. If they're going to stick for long on an NHL roster, though, they also had better be able to play.

Remi Royer and Stephen Peat are two of the youngsters in the Caps camp trying to combine aggressive play with more traditional hockey roles, and both have been successful. Both were acquired in trades this year, Royer from Chicago and Peat from Anaheim.

Royer fought Caps farmhand Trevor Halverson three times in an exhibition game last season before delivering a knockout punch. Halverson suffered a concussion and retired. Peat was drafted by Anaheim but couldn't reach agreement on a contract. He played for three junior teams last season, getting traded each time to better contenders who wanted toughness on the roster.

"A guy who can only fight is useless to his team," said Peat, who started fighting at 14 to ensure a roster spot. He became proficient enough as a player to gain a spot on Canada's under-18 international team three years ago, a team made up of his country's 20 best teen-agers.

"That was a great confidence booster, playing with those guys and not having to fight," he said.

Royer was good enough as a defenseman in the Quebec junior league to be selected 31st overall in the 1996 draft. He said he was glad to join the Caps because they gave Simon a chance to be something besides a fighter and he responded with 29 goals.

"The reality of it, fighting, whether you agree or disagree, as long as it's part of the game, organizations are going to be looking for those types of players," said Shawn Simpson, the Caps' director of hockey operations.

"Peat is recognized as one of the toughest guys in junior hockey for the past three years or so," Simpson said. "He's not a bad skater, he's willing to learn and he certainly has the ability to get better." And he'll keep people honest.

Royer's "skating isn't too bad. He shoots the puck pretty well. He has shown some pretty good skills," Simpson said. "He's a guy who's really capable of doing a lot of different things."

But the question of whether that type of player is still necessary is always asked.

"As long as fighting and that type of intimidation are part of the game, I think it's just trickle-down effect," Simpson said. "When you're going into another team's building and they've got that toughness, I think it's important that you have people on your team who can address that. At least you'll have somebody present who will give your skill players a chance to play."

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