How hockey fights work during a pandemic: A conversation with one of the NHL's last enforcers

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Nicolas Deslauriers rose from the ice, blood trickling down his face from a cut on the bridge of his nose.

He had thrown a flurry of right hands at San Jose Sharks forward Kurtis Gabriel before Gabriel threw him to the ice. It was the kind of spirited tussle that would have had Anaheim Ducks fans screaming in appreciation of Deslauriers' efforts. But there were no fans at the Honda Center for this battle between division rivals. No cheap seats to play to after the fight. The only sounds the combatants heard were the ritualistic banging of sticks against the boards from their teammates, and the piped-in artificial crowd clatter that masks the emptiness of an NHL game during a pandemic.

"The people that work at the rink, they try to make fan noise. But it's not the same. It's night and day. It's really, really different from last year, that's for sure," Deslauriers said.

No one in the NHL has fought more than Deslauriers in the past two seasons. His 14 fights last season were double that of the next highest brawler, Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators. He has five more fights this season, one fewer than Watson, who's now with the Ottawa Senators.

Fighting is at one of its lowest ebbs in NHL history. Teams no longer put a premium on having players whose main contribution to the roster is dropping the gloves. Deslauriers, 30, is one of the few players in the league who proudly wears the sheriff's badge of an enforcer.

"Oh yeah. I have that role. I think when you talk about Anaheim and you talk about skill guys, my name isn't going to come up. I'm not going to score 50 [goals], that's for sure. I'm also not an agitator. I don't have a dirty mouth. I don't chirp a lot on the ice. I've always been respectful to every player in the league," he said. "I don't have this big résumé of being a tough, tough guy. But I do fight a lot. And I'll fight anybody."

Even in a pandemic.