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Gentle Giant : The Ducks’ Stu Grimson, the ‘Grim Reaper’ on the Ice, Is a Great Guy in the Real World

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stu Grimson comes across as the kind of man children like to climb on. He’s the sort of fellow who always seems to be at the center of a room, no matter where he stands.

He visits hospitals and runs a hockey camp for Christian athletes. He smiles simply because it’s another fine day, asks how you’re doing, calls you by name.

This is a man known by thousands as “the Grim Reaper?”

Indeed it is. That’s because Stu Grimson is also a 6-foot-5, 227-pound hockey player who will drop his gloves at the drop of a stick. With his tree-trunk arms whaling away and his jersey tugged halfway over his pads, he takes on a possessed, disoriented look that says one word: maim.

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Mighty Duck Coach Ron Wilson was an assistant coach with Vancouver’s minor league team the first time he saw Grimson, then a youngster in the Calgary organization.

“Stu came out and threatened every guy on our team,” Wilson said. “I said, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’ They just said, ‘That’s the Grim Reaper.’ I said, ‘Holy Cow.’ ”

Grimson, 28, a left wing for the Ducks who has logged 632 penalty minutes and only three goals in his NHL career, is one of hockey’s most striking yet common paradoxes--a fighter on the ice, an thoughtful, gentle man off it.

“He’s a contradiction in terms,” said right wing

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Terry Yake, one of Grimson’s new teammates. “You see him off the ice, how he lifts his little kid up, and then you think about how he can just about put a big guy through the boards.

“His stature, his size and the fact that he can skate make for a pretty scary combination when he’s breathing down your neck and you think he’s going to run you over.”

With his quarterback aura and a wit that already has dubbed the Mighty Ducks the “Muscular Waterfowl,” Grimson could become the most recognized player if not the captain of Anaheim’s new NHL team, which plays its first exhibition game at 5 p.m. today against Pittsburgh in Anaheim Arena.

“He has, No. 1, the presence,” Wilson said. “He’s very intelligent, and he’s a very caring person. He sincerely takes an interest in helping everybody out. He’s just a good person. That’s why everybody gravitates toward him. People want to be around good people, and Stu’s a good person.”

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Grimson is not the only example of an enforcer who is a teddy bear off the ice. There’s nothing threatening about former King Marty McSorley in a restaurant, for instance. But he and Grimson squared off twice in one game last season, and could do so again tonight, now that McSorley is a Penguin. How can these men be so different when they take off their skates?

“I think we all have guilty consciences,” Grimson said, beginning to tease. “And we feel we have to be upstanding role models away from the game because we have all this baggage we’re carrying around . . . all this guilt and prejudice we’re carrying around with us on the ice. We feel we have to make amends in everyday society. . . . I’m just kidding. I guess you notice it with big guys because they seem to be two extremes, an on-ice and an off-ice persona.”

Grimson considers fighting part of the game.

“In this environment, I’m competing in a physical sport, where something like that is permitted and is a natural part of the game, and I’ve always seen myself in a protector-enforcer role,” he said.

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“Away from the game, that is not at all anything that I’m about. Certainly through my faith in Christ, I’ve really done a turnaround where those things are concerned. I have nothing to prove to people in that regard. I think they’ll quickly understand that what you see on the ice has nothing to do with who I am away from the game.”

Grimson’s on-ice personality prompted guffaws when the Disney-owned Ducks picked him from Chicago at June’s expansion draft. Mickey and the Reaper? Could this work?

“I’m sure a few people did say that,” Grimson said. “I guess I understand the game well enough to know that if Disney’s excited enough to come forward and actually put a hockey team into operation, I’m sure they understand the aspect of the game that’s the more physical side of the game and they’re willing to accept that as part of their image as well.

“It hasn’t been a concern for me; I certainly haven’t felt as though I’m being asked to change any aspect of my game. I’ll just continue to do what I do--and hopefully add a little more.”

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He frowns ever so slightly, as if his feelings have been hurt, at the mention of the word goon . He prefers tough guy or fighter. Protector, though, is best of all, and that is the way Wilson sees him, as the defender of the littlest Ducks.

Wilson remembers watching Grimson play for Calgary’s minor league team in Salt Lake City.

“I saw the one quality everybody he’s played with knows about,” Wilson said. “He has this strong loyalty to his teammates. If he felt that someone on his team was being taken advantage of, usually you heard from Stu before the game was over. No, not before it was over--in the next five minutes. He made his presence felt. It was instantaneous retribution.”

Said Grimson: “I don’t want to say I’m indifferent, but I think it’s unfortunate it gets that much attention. I mean, when you see a fight take place on the ice, that’s a 20-30 second burst of activity, two guys skate away, they go to the bench and they serve a five-minute penalty.

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“It’s a very spontaneous thing, one that two mutual parties are entering into, and I mean, it just gets far too much attention.”

Then again . . . “It’s probably kept me employed,” he said.

Not only employed but making a good living in a game that allows him to get out all his frustrations.

“I understand Psych 101, abnormal psychology, child psychology,” he said.

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“I don’t kick the dog, no. I don’t have a dog. But if I had a dog, I wouldn’t kick it.”

Hockey Notes

Mario Lemieux might return to the ice in late October, based on an evaluation by a back specialist in Los Angeles. Lemieux, who underwent surgery July 28, probably will miss the regular-season opener on Oct. 5 in Philadelphia. . . . Marty McSorley has disputed King Coach Barry Melrose’s statement after the trade with Pittsburgh that McSorley would have been the team’s No. 4 defenseman: “Well, I’m not going to judge my own playing ability, but I don’t think you play your fourth defenseman more than you play the top three, you know what I mean?” . . . Among the Mighty Ducks not scheduled to play are center Anatoli Semenov and goaltender Guy Hebert. . . . Duck right wing Peter Douris could be out four to six weeks with a left knee sprain suffered in a scrimmage Thursday. Douris played in the Boston organization and was signed as a free agent.


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