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The Enforcer: Brian McGrattan



If there was a platonic ideal of an NHL enforcer, it would look a lot like the Predators' Brian McGrattan.

He stands 6-foot-4 with a mighty lumberjack beard framing a mouth that's frequently bent into a wry "I'll get you!" grimace usually reserved for cartoon villains.

He has fists as wide as car-lot billboards, knuckles taped for the battles that are his lot.

He is a fighter — a designated pugilist, a man whose job it is to square off against a similarly pre-assigned puncher. Their goal is not goals; their goal is to bash one another in an effort to settle a score or settle down the action. They belong to a shrinking fraternity of men whose minute-long punch-fests-on-skates are becoming ever rarer in the NHL.

There is a respect between these men. Fighting another man is not easy. Fighting another man while balancing on the steel tightrope of a skate blade is a whole 'nother thing altogether.

Fighters are great showmen. They know what their action can do — it can amplify a home crowd into triple-digit decibels, and McGrattan is, by any metric, among the NHL's finest.

His punches land with a speed normally reserved for rail-thin bantamweights on Friday Night Fights. When he wins — and he almost always wins — he plays to the crowd, cupping a hand over an ear, raising his arms above his head.

"Are you not entertained?" his gestures ask.

It's easy to cast McGrattan as a comic book figure, all id and bluster. But off the ice, he's a quiet joker. His voice is so soft, it's off-putting.

McGrattan is also a recovering addict — one of the few NHL players to enter the league's substance abuse program and come back to play on the other side. As such, he keeps a close circle these days; he had to throw his old friends "out the window," he's said. There's a new friendship with teammate Jordin Tootoo — who is also clean and sober these days — that has both men openly speaking about their struggles with addiction.

On the ice, fighting is just what McGrattan does. It's his job, much as it is Pekka Rinne's to stop pucks, and his skill is apparent to anyone who saw his knuckles bleed after leveling Toronto's Jay Rosehill or when St. Louis' Ryan Reaves sat in the penalty box and said, "That's a big man," to fans lucky enough to be nearby.

But fighting isn't what he is. It's a role.

It's just that he does it better than anybody.

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