New Penguins enforcer Ryan Reaves on role: 'I like to play daddy'
Ryan Reaves' NHL fights — 57 of them, if you're counting — include a Las Vegas-like spectacle four years ago, with the Penguins' new forward launching a flurry of body shots and upper cuts toward the face of the Dallas Stars' Brenden Dillon.
After 50 seconds, Reaves, then with the St. Louis Blues, threw up his hands in triumph and skated to the dressing room while the hometown crowd cheered wildly and his teammates banged their sticks on the boards.
Small drops of blood appeared on Reaves' brow. Not from the fight (Dillon barely touched him), but from the skates of the Stars' Valeri Nichushkin. The fight with Dillon was immediately preceded by Reaves shoving Nichushkin into the Blues bench so hard that his legs flew up, and his skates caught Reaves in the face.
There also is the quick hit — his latest pugilistic endeavor March 23 — when the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Reaves slammed 6-4 Vancouver Canucks forward Joseph LaBate to the ice, firing and landing right hands while his opponent was falling. It lasted 11 seconds. He high-fived fans on the way off the ice.
You can see most of Reaves' fights on hockeyfights.com, a website devoted to just what it says.
If the Penguins were looking for someone to protect their stars when they traded a first-round draft choice and Oskar Sundqvist to the Blues in June, they might have found their man.
Random voters on the website have named Reaves the winner of 38 of his fights, including one against the Penguins' Tom Sestito, who was a member of the Vancouver Canucks at the time.
"I like to play daddy," said Reaves, who had seven fights in 40 days early in the 2013-14 season. "I like to make sure the boys are taken care of on and off the ice. It's something I've grown into and embraced."
Reaves made his first appearance as a member of the Penguins on Wednesday night in a preseason game at PPG Paints Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. The game was a milestone for the 30-year-old Winnipeg native, whose first NHL fight was eight years ago to the day against Cody McLeod of the Colorado Avalanche.
You can't watch that one on hockeyfights.com since it came in the preseason, but that's OK. Reaves has fought McLeod three other times in his career.
After seven seasons in St. Louis, Reaves said one of his goals with the Penguins is to prove there is more to his game than fighting. Last season, he recorded career highs in goals (seven), assists (six) and points (13).
"Last summer, I focused a lot more on offensive stuff and working in the corners," he said. "I want to put that to work here."
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he had a conversation with Reaves at the start of training camp to map out his role with the team.
"He obviously brings a dimension that I think is unique, especially to our group," Sullivan said.
Reaves also is an accomplished skater, so Sullivan believes he should fit the Penguins' style.
"We think he can play the type of game we're trying to play," he said. "We're asking him to work on his conditioning, work on his stick work, work on his timing. Try to grasp some of the concepts we're trying to implement and some of the strategies and how we play here that may be different from where he's been in the past. He's focusing on all those things."
Reaves always has been an aggressive player, but he didn't especially like fighting after a referee popped out Reaves' shoulder trying to break up his first fight.
One day, an assistant coach with the AHL's Peoria Rivermen told him fighting was his ticket to the NHL.
"I took it to heart and went and started boxing every day in the summer," he said. "I came back (the next season) and asked everything that moved to fight."
He was trying to show he belonged, but some veterans didn't always cooperate.
"I've been that kid who's been trying to come up and do whatever I could to make an impression," he said. "At the same time, when I was that kid, there were a lot of vets who told me to go prove it with somebody else."
He picks his spots now, his number of fights dropping from 38 in his first four seasons to 19 in the past three.
"Based on the situation, we'll see what happens," he said. "Obviously, I'll protect a teammate if I have to, but I'm not looking to drop the gloves to still work on my fighting."
Reaves said some NHL enforcers train in MMA to work on punching technique, but he doubts that sport is for him.
"Not anymore, the way my body feels," he said. "But maybe back in the day I would have.
"I would train. I don't know if I would actually go fight somebody now. But you never know. When I'm done with hockey, maybe I jump right into that."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.