Brent Severyn bounced around the NHL for parts seven NHL seasons in the NHL. A tough, depth defenseman, he played with six different teams over the course of 328 games, earning 40 points and amassing 825 penalty minutes. Lauded as a character guy on and off the ice, he won the team awards for community service in Anaheim and Dallas.
But on the ice he was labelled as an enforcer, which wasn't really fair. He accepted the role, and always answered the bell, but he was never really proficient as a NHL heavyweight gunslinger. Worse yet, with the label he was never really given a chance to grow into a solid NHL defenseman.
"Toughest job in professional sports, hats off to all of them for doing it for so many years. I had only three years of it and did not like the enforcer role one bit," Severyn told HockeyFights.com.
Severyn wasn't always a fighter. He tried to make the NHL as a tough but solid, all-around defenseman. He wasn't the most mobile skater and he was definitely a late-bloomer. The Winnipeg Jets drafted him out of the WHL in 1984. They never offered him a contract, and when he re-entered the NHL draft in 1986 he was not selected again. He ended up going to the University of Alberta where he blossomed into a quality defenseman.
"I was always a good fighter, but did not enjoy mixing it up. I started to grow into my body when I start to play in the minors. I was determined to make it to the NHL and my enthusiasm was the only thing that was going to get me there. I was a tough defenseman. I didn't have great coaches in junior and didn't start to improve until I went to the University of Alberta. They showed me what hard work and a team concept was about. I really wasn't an enforcer until my last few years in the NHL. Until that point I was an all-star in college and a runner up for defenseman of the year in the minors."
After leaving the University of Alberta he was signed by the Quebec Nordiques. He played half a season with the Nords but a complete organizational house cleaning saw him end up in the New Jersey system by 1991. He blossomed as a strong AHL defenseman in Utica, but never got a sniff in New Jersey because of a increasingly deep blue line.
Instead Severyn moved on to first the Florida Panthers and then the New York Islanders where he was a non-descript, depth defenseman. He got into a number of tussles and grew his name as someone to watch out for.
By 1996 Severyn returned to the Nordiques. Of course, by then the team was relocated to Colorado and known as the Avalanche. Severyn really accepted the role of tough guy when he joined the Colorado Avalanche.
"Being an enforcer got me a Stanley cup but I also think it shortened my NHL career. People only regarded me as a tough player and a great fighter. Tough to swallow having worked so hard to be a good player in the NHL."
Severyn said much more when he wrote a fantastic piece for Sports Illustrated:
"The day I became a "goon" is pretty clear. In September 1996 -- seven years into my NHL career, the same season that Wade Belak was turning pro and joining the Avalanche -- I got a call from Colorado. "We need a fourth-line forward to protect our guys, are you interested?" After a 15- or 20-minute conversation, I decided I would give it a shot.
"It was my dream to be playing in the NHL and I was willing to do anything to stay there. Being an enforcer was the toughest job I had to do. Protecting your teammates by fighting is a physical and mental battle waged daily with opponents and within your own head. The actual fight on the ice is not the worst part. It's thinking about the fight. A mental vise grips you at training camp and doesn't let go until the end of the season. Fighting permeates every aspect of your thoughts. A slow boil of fear is always under the surface of your life.
"Fighting was not enjoyable, but it had always earned me respect and room on the ice. When I joined Colorado, I had been working to establish myself as a stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL. I was known as a guy who could handle himself, but I generally left the heavy lifting to my team's enforcer. I didn't know much about the forward position. Frankly, I did not have the stick-handling ability for it. I was excited to play on a team that had just won the Stanley Cup and had an outstanding chance to repeat, but I did not realize that my life as a hockey player and how I would be viewed for the rest of my career would be altered forever."
Severyn joined Anaheim the following season, and Dallas the next - his last in the NHL. Struggling with injuries he quietly disappeared, extending his career in Germany for a couple of seasons.
"I headed to Europe. It was a chance to get back to playing hockey as defenseman again. The German League had very little fighting and a big ice surface with little contact, so I could relax and enjoy the game. It was also a chance to restore some of my dignity. After three years of being labeled a goon, it was time to contribute to a team in other ways."