Don't let P.J. Stock's perpetual Cheshire grin and wee stature (5'10", 190 pounds) fool you. This Bruin can brawl. The 27-year-old center doesn't just drop anywhere, anytime, though. He picks his spots-when a thug goads a teammate, or when the crowd dozes, or when a chippy reporter from The Magazine says, "Okay, tough guy, show me what you got." before we tussle, we establish some ground rules. I won't touch the cut on the right side of his mouth-a remnant of an Ed Belfour kick-save-and he'll steer clear of my porcelain front teeth, a product of New Jersey's slopes and rinks. There'll be no hair-pulling, kicking or biting, either. But as I find out, there's this funny thing about rules ...
P.J.'s one smart (and tough) cookie: He avoids my lethal lead right hand. First, he circles clockwise to open up his left shoulder (he can lead with either hand). That forces me to close my right shoulder. Then he "gets inside" my punch with a straight-armed crossover death grip on my right biceps. Yikes!
FLIPPIN' THE LID
P.J.'s not into bloody knuckles, so he swipes off my helmet. It's loose and falls with ease. If my chin strap is tightly drawn, he could fold one of the plastic earloops be tween his fingers, then snap it. The helmet would slip back like the top of a PEZ dispenser.
So what to do now that P.J. has me locked up? He advises me to "waste an uppercut"- i.e., throw a sky-high right hand, which will alter (and hopefully loosen) his hold. The tactic works wonders: after unleashing my uppercut, I'm free for a quick overhand right. Bam! Good night.
"I definitely yank jewelry," P.J. says, eyeing the stud in my ear. Geez, how low can you go? I find out. P.J. pulls my sweater toward my neck to choke me with my own shoulder pads. Mercy! I retaliate by thumbing his Adam's apple. I feel bad-for a second. Then he bites my arm. Hey!
WEAR AND TEAR
All this grappling is taking its toll-and I'm not talking about black eyes or bloody noses. I'm totally exhausted after just three minutes of trying to break P.J.'s clinch. Worse, my neck is raw and red from being dragged around by my collar. As P.J. puts it, "Your whole body starts to pulse." Break it up, ref! (Please.)
TAKE IT, LIKE IT
P.J. gets hit. a lot. "Everything goes black," he says. "Then I open my eyes and all I see is a fist, and it's black again." but like all NHL pugilists (Oiler george Laraque gets P.J.'s vote as champ), he wears his scars with honor. So do I. My neck stil hurts and my bite mark still shows, but I keep telling myself one thing: Guys dig scars.