After a brawl-filled preseason compounded by the horrifying injury to the Montreal Canadiens‘ George Parros on opening night, the call to remove fighting from hockey is once again at the forefront of discussion. As always, this has brought the role of the “one dimensional enforcer” (also referred to as “goons”) into question. Though the proposal to remove fighting – and thus eliminate the “goon” role – is very much in the early stages, Brandon Bollig’s offseason work on his offensive game could already be saving his place in the league.
Bollig was a healthy scratch for the Chicago Blackhawks on many occasions last season, often splitting games with veteran Jamal Mayers. Though he was noted by coach Joel Quenneville as playing well defensively in games where he was on the roster, Bollig knew going into the offseason that if he wanted to be an everyday fixture with the Blackhawks, he needed to make improvements to his offensive game, as well as work on becoming more of an all-around player. With the recent outcry against enforcers and fighting, this turned out to be a timely realization.
“Every day is kind of a tryout for a guy like me,” Bollig said, “but it’s great that I’ve been given this opportunity to expand my role and expand my responsibility. I’m looking to take it and run with it and not look back, as far as what my role was last year and the year before.”
Both Bollig’s statement and his preseason play suggest he is tired of being pigeonholed into that one-dimensional role. With two goals in the Blackhawks’ camp, and two more in preseason games, he is off to an exponentially stronger start than years past. He carried that strong start into the preseason, netting the Blackhawks’ first regular season goal on the Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby.
That goal also happened to be Bollig’s first career regular season goal.
“It’s nice to already surpass my offensive output from the last couple seasons,” he joked. “It’s nice to get that out of the way and start the season off well.”
“We like how he plays,” Quenneville said to the media after the game against the Capitals. “The production that we saw in the preseason continued off the bat. His production’s definitely going to be at a different level than we saw last year.”
The Blackhawks clearly expect to utilize Bollig more this season than they have in the past. In the preseason they have tested him on both the penalty kill and the power play, though naturally he saw more time on the former than the latter. He continues to figure as a potential penalty killer as the team works to redefine their PK unit after the departure of Michael Frolik, and at any rate will undoubtedly be an important piece of the Blackhawks’ bottom six this season.
But don’t think that his increased role and offensive output will keep Bollig from fighting at all – he’s already taken on the Capitals’ Michal Cajkovsky in a preseason matchup. He recognizes, though, that the role of the enforcer is changing.
“The day of the fighter that can’t really play is over,” he told the media Thursday. “Everyone that does fight can get around the rink these days.”
And “everyone” now clearly includes Bollig himself.