- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

During a game of shinny at Piney Orchard Ice Arena last week, Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig was at his best, turning aside four shots on the same play in spectacular fashion. He darted here, darted there, flopped then dove to one side to snare with his catching mitt what should have been a goal.

Play ground to a halt, some words were muttered in his direction and the other Kolzig emerged furious, explosive, shouting words that never appear in daily newspapers, insulting his tormentor and all his tormentor's ancestors with every colorful description ever uttered.

In the corner, convulsed in laughter, left wing Craig Berube chortled like a jackal. It was Berube at his best, also agitating, digging a stick (or fist or helmet or skate or, on occasion, a whole body) in where it didn't belong, making inappropriate remarks at very inappropriate times, being more of a pest than a healthy dose of poison ivy.

Craig Berube, 37 in December, is a goon. It's a term he doesn't especially like, preferring enforcer or policeman or peacemaker. And the former Cap (two tours totaling 419 games) is about to accomplish something very few in the history of the league who carry his job description have ever done play 1,000 league games. He enters this season with the Calgary Flames at 999.

Tiger Williams (the all-time penalty minutes leader at 3,966) played in 962 games, the infamous Marty McSorley (3,381) 961. Tim Hunter (3,146) mixed it up in 815, Chris Nilan (3,043) in 688.

"For anybody to play 1,000 games in this league, and I don't care what kind of player the guy is, that's a tremendous achievement," said former Caps center Dale Hunter, who played in 1,407 games before retiring with 1,020 points and 3,565 penalty minutes, second only to Williams.

"Hey, hold it right there, chum," Berube commanded when a comparison was made. "Hunter was a player. There's a huge difference between him and me. He scored 80, 90 points a season; I got 150 [actually, 153] in my career. But I'll tell you this me and Huntz are the only players in history to have 3,000 penalty minutes and played 1,000 games."

He is a guy who is always running at the mouth but usually has something funny or at least interesting to say.

"You know, I would have had this 1,000-thing out of the way last season but I was a healthy scratch one night," he said, conveniently forgetting that he was suspended twice last season for illegalities associated with his job. All told, he has been suspended five times.

"He can sit and talk hockey for hours," Hunter said. "He told me once that his first season was horrible, he had so much to learn. But he stuck with it. There's a lot of really good players who never make it to 1,000 games so this is a great honor. You have to be more than a fighter, you have to be able to make a contribution and if he wasn't doing that, he'd be pumping gas somewhere."

Management loves him because he is a character voice in the dressing room, truthfully and accurately assessing the performance of each individual, not afraid to publicly dress down any player. It has earned him respect throughout the league.

Berube's story is one of persistence and a love of the game. He was raised in the tiny Alberta crossroads of Calahoo ("Go to Edmonton, take a left, keep driving," he says) but was never drafted. Philadelphia signed him as a free agent in 1986. Since then he has played for five teams, three of them (including the Caps) twice.

There was never much doubt about why he is employed he is fearless, he can fight and has a bond with those he played with that makes him want to protect them.

"You definitely have to take care of your key guys," Berube said. "I look at [Jarome] Iginla winning the scoring race with 52 goals and I like to think I had a part in him doing that, watching out for him on the ice.

"I still do my job, even though it's not fun, not easy. I have to go out and take on guys like [Edmontons] Georges Laraque he's 250 pounds and tough. I'm 205. But I love coming to the rink. You hang out with all these guys. It's different from hanging with your buddies at home. I enjoy this lifestyle and I don't want it to end, really."

He and Hunter are close friends. One common attraction is their love of pranks. Nobody is safe when they are on the prowl.

"You got to have fun with the game," Berube said. "A lot of guys don't and when they look back they're going to wish they did. Because you're going to miss the game, the dressing rooms, the guys."

Some years back, late in a game against the New York Rangers, Berube went out to take a very rare face off. Coming in to take the Rangers' draw was 99, Wayne Gretzky.

"I came into the circle and never even looked to see who was there," Gretzky said later. "I started to bend down and I heard somebody say, 'Gretz, make it look good.' I looked up and it was Chief. I laughed so hard I almost [wet] my pants."

Berube won the draw and has been laughing about it ever since.


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