The new-rule NHL that came with the CBA in 2005 put a temporary damper on fighting and fighters in the NHL. But two years out, it doesn’t appear that this aspect of the game is going away anytime soon.
That’s good news for Myles Stoesz, the heavyweight in the Thrashers prospect pool. How good is he at fighting? Here’s one measure – he’s never had his nose broken.
The 6’2, 208-pound left wing was drafted in the last round of the 2005 NHL entry draft, 207th overall out of the WHL Spokane Chiefs. He was a defenseman when drafted, but moved to wing shortly after. Last year he split the season between the expansion Chilliwack Bruins and the Regina Pats, putting up 11 points and 214 penalty minutes.
This year, his rookie year with the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators, Stoesz has three points and 99 penalty minutes in 18 games. He trails only Lance Galbraith of the Idaho Steelheads in penalty minutes in the league. He’ll need to work on his skating to make the next level, but otherwise his resume is strong.
Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle has all good things to say of the Steinbach, Manitoba native, but the best praise often comes from peers. Gladiators captain Mike Vigilante had a lot of it for the 20-year-old Stoesz.
"I think he’s one of the smarter enforcer type players I’ve ever seen because he plays within the system, and he picks and chooses his spots," Vigilante said. "I think he’s going to develop, I think he’s going to be a great player. He plays his role, and he’s an all-around player. If you watch him play, he’s not the most polished player, but he does little things and I think at his young age, the more games he plays, the easier it’s going to be for him out there. He’s going to know he has maybe a little bit more time to make plays. A lot of players are one-dimensional, but I think he can do it all. He can play, he’s physical, can control the puck, he’s a great team guy. He’s really a pleasure to be around, the guys respect him a lot."
Hockey’s Future spoke to Stoesz following a recent home game.
HF: How do you think your year is going?
MS: So far so good. My confidence is getting better every game. I’m enjoying playing here, it’s a good team and when you’re on a good team it helps because you have guys to back you up.
HF: How has the adjustment been from junior? Have you had to change much in your game?
MS: No. I almost feel like it’s easier because guys are better here and they’re older and more seasoned. If I make a mistake, I know someone’s gonna be there to back me up. Whereas in junior if you make a mistake, it may cost you a goal against. Here if you give a guy a good pass, you know there’s a good chance he’ll put it in. It’s easier to make plays. Guys are in the right spots at the right times and I find it a little easier.
HF: Did getting taken in the expansion draft (and traded) last year help you, getting more ice time?
MS: It definitely helped me. My first two years in Spokane were good and then I kinda got pigeon-holed my third year. And then in Chilliwack my coach there was good and gave me an opportunity to play. And then once I got traded to Regina at the deadline, that was even better. The coach there was excellent and gave me a good chance. He helped me get where I am now.
HF: Do you think you’re getting more ice time here than you did in junior?
MS: It’s tough to say. Some games yes, some games no. It all depends on penalties. But I’m playing a fair bit. It’s tough with three lines because usually I’m the extra forward. Me and a guy like (Bryan) Dobek will switch off. It’s tough to get momentum going because I go one shift and he goes the next shift. I’m not on the power play or penalty kill.
HF: How would you assess the locker room atmosphere?
MS: Oh it’s great. Everyone gets along with everybody. As far as teams I’ve been on in the past, this team has gelled pretty good and getting better as the year goes on.
HF: Your bottom teeth, have they been gone long?
MS: September, when I was in Atlanta’s camp they got knocked out. I’ve got a flipper in the dressing room. I got it just two days ago actually.
HF: That’s a long time to wait to get one.
MS: Yeah. I just had to wait for it to heal and all that.
HF: But eventually…
MS: Implants go in in January. Then I’ll look pretty again (smiles).
HF: Do you think there is actually less fighting in this league than the WHL?
MS: (sighs) Ah, you know, it’s tough to say. I think it’s pretty close. Here, it’s like I kind of got off to a – I don’t know if want to call it a good start or bad start or whatever – but I got quite a few penalty minutes there the first couple games. Now it seems like guys know who I am because I’m at the top of the leaderboard in penalty minutes. They’re looking for me. In the WHL, guys knew who I was, knew I was a heavyweight and they wouldn’t necessarily come after me unless they had to. Even here, I’m not asking for fights – pretty much everyone has asked me or a fight just happens.
HF: What’s the best line someone has used on you to try and start a fight?
MS: That’s tough. There’s a lot of good ones. A lot of guys like to make fun of my skating stride, they’re like "Sweet stride, Stoesz" and whatnot. That and the girlfriend jokes, those always get ya.
HF: Who taught you how to fight?
MS: Two guys, Jamie Huscroft, he played in the NHL for a couple years, and also Kevin Sawyer. He played in Spokane growing up in junior and he was also a fighter with Anaheim for a couple years. They were my coaches my first two years and they taught me a ton. Even now, with Brownie (assistant coach Cam Brown) here, he’s teaching me a lot. And you learn from experience.
HF: What all has Brownie shared?
MS: Just little tips, tricks. If you’re fighting a big guy, get in close. Different ways to duck. When I first came to pro, I wasn’t sure maybe guys were way tougher. But everybody’s the same. We all came from the same place. Unless you’re fighting a guy like Georges Laraque, we’re all fairly equal.
HF: Have you ever taken boxing lessons?
MS: This year I did for the first time, this summer. It’s tough because I’m from a small town and there’s no boxing around there.
HF: So where did you take them from?
MS: Just in Winnipeg, a bigger city near my hometown. I went about five times this summer, got some quick tips. But I have a punching bag in my basement and hit that every day.
HF: Do you have one here?
MS: No I don’t. I just do shadow boxing here and try to work on stuff, get quicker.
HF: Do you think the boxing lessons helped at all?
MS: Everyone will argue different things. It’s good for maybe my confidence and working on left hand, or maybe throwing harder. But other than that it’s a completely different game as far as hockey fights and boxing. Boxing is throwing from here (demonstrating tight arms), and hockey is always like this (reaching way back) and holding onto someone. It’s completely different.
HF: Have you tried to start a book on guys in the league?
MS: Nope. If I don’t know the guy, I’ll ask around the room. If no one really knows him, I’ll go on the internet and check their stats. But everybody knows somebody usually. Brownie knows a lot of guys, and Milo (Jamie Milam) too. Or I go talk to Jeff (Pyle).
HF: Who do you think has been the toughest opponent for you so far this year?
MS: I’d say Riley Emmerson on Texas, just because he’s like 6’6 or 6’7. It’s tough to fight those guys. I told him in the penalty box, "You need to shrink a couple inches." (laughs). He’s like "I know." I don’t think he beat me too bad, but just because he’s bigger, it’s tough to get in.
HF: What’s the worst injury you’ve suffered in a fight?
MS: A broken finger? I think that was it. I’ve been pretty lucky.
HF: Ever had a concussion from one?
MS: Yeah, when I was 16. In an exhibition game.
HF: That was the last time you’ve had one?
MS: Yeah. The last time I had like a real serious one that I missed games for.
HF: You must have a good solid head then.
MS: I’ve been told I have one of the hardest heads out there. Especially in junior, everyone would always say, " You have a hard head, Stoesz." I just take them off the back [of the head]. You’re not gonna get knocked out or a concussion getting hit back there. I try not to give up those punches [to the face]. It’s all about taking them in the back of the head.
HF: When you go to Thrashers games, what to you watch?
MS: I’ve been to two this year. I like to watch the old guys and see how they handle themselves. I watch guys like Eric Boulton, the guys that maybe down the road I’ll have to battle for a spot one day. Just what he does – simple things. Guys still make mistakes in the pros. I always get mad at myself out here if I make a mistake, but these guys still make mistakes too. [I watch] things like that and how Boulton carries himself out there.
HF: He’s good in that he almost never takes stupid penalties.
MS: Yeah, and that’s huge now in the game. As a tough guy you can’t cost your team. I think I’ve been working hard at that and trying not to take too many minors. A lot of my penalties have been five minutes, a couple 10’s, but those don’t hurt the team. You don’t want to put the team down because then you won’t be seeing the ice.
HF: During warm-ups, you’re often at the red line checking out the other team. What are you thinking about then?
MS: Some tough guys will skate up and down the red line and try and like intimidate the other team. I just do it because usually everything else is going on in the zone. I’m not one of those guys who tries to talk crap before the game. I just do my thing, it’s all business. I’m just at the red line, it’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.
HF: You’re just done warming up?
MS: Yeah, pretty much (laughs). Stretching and whatnot.
HF: Are there any songs that kind of get you going for a game?
MS: I like techno. Upbeat and gets the blood flowing and the adrenaline going.