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Habs enforcer walks fine line
Tuesday, October 20, 1998
By BILL BEACON -- Canadian Press
MONTREAL (CP) -- It took Dave (Moose) Morissette eight years to brawl his way from the East Coast Hockey League to the NHL and now he can barely believe he's a Montreal Canadien.
"I keep repeating it, but that's how it is -- it's a dream come true," Morissette said Tuesday, scanning the portraits of Hall of Fame greats in the Canadiens dressing room.
"I come in and see these pictures of Aurel Joliat and Guy Lafleur and all those great players and I have to pinch myself to believe I'm really part of this organization. But I know the hardest part is staying here."
Morissette, 26, beat out the heavily-favoured Sylvain Blouin to win the enforcer's job in training camp, but the Baie-Comeau, Que., native knows he's only a couple of knockdowns away from going back to the minors.
He hasn't bought a house or signed an apartment lease yet -- for good reason. The jury is still out on whether he'll make it as an NHL tough guy.
In his first NHL game last Saturday against Buffalo, the six-foot-one, 220-pound Morissette was punched to the ice by Rob Ray and later got into a wrestling match with winger Paul Kruse.
He redeemed himself -- and may have saved his job -- two nights later when he squared off with Bob Probert and landed a right cross that buckled the knees of the Chicago heavyweight.
Losing two in a row at home would have been very bad for the resume.
"Against Ray, I slipped," said Morissette. "But that's how it works -- if you fall, you lose, even if you get the better punches in.
"You've got 20,000 people in the stands judging the fight and it went to Ray. That's the way it is. It's a lot of pressure, especially when you fight a big name like that."
Another contender for the job was Terry Ryan, Montreal's top draft pick in 1995, but the Newfoundlander has had little success as an NHL brawler.
Fighters are part policemen, part tactical weapon and part side show in hockey. Every team has at least one.
"I don't know to what extent it affects the outcome of a game," said coach Alain Vigneault, who ran up his share of penalty minutes as a tough defenceman in the St. Louis Blues system in the early 1980s.
"But I do know that some people like that part of the show. I don't mind it."
Some find it surprising that grim-faced NHL fighters are often the friendliest and most approachable players off the ice. Morissette is among them.
After being drafted 146th overall by Washington in 1991, he has been a crowd favourite at his stops in Hampton Roads (ECHL), Minnesota (IHL) and Houston. In Minnesota, he did comedy spots on local television called Moose Thoughts.
But he was not always a fighter.
In minor hockey, Morissette scored enough goals to be selected fourth overall in the 1988 midget draft by the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- just behind future NHL players Yanic Perreault and Pierre Sevigny.
In his last year of junior in 1990-91, he scored 20 goals to go with 224 penalty minutes.
"I changed my style in junior," said Morissette. "I don't know why, but I had a tough time combining fighting and playing hockey.
"Maybe I would have made it up here sooner, but I appreciate it more now than if I made it here when I was 19. Now, I know what I've got and I don't want to lose it."