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"I Wanted to Kill 'Em"The legendary Wayne Gretzky amassed 2,857 points in his storied 20-year career. Tony Twist racked up about one one-hundredth as many, but he does best The Great One on one score: He spent twice as much time in the penalty box and in a career half as long. Those statistics are just fine with Twist. As an NHL enforcer, the job wasn't to score, but to ensure by force and the threat of force that the other team didn't rough up his team's star players.
"If you want to make sure your best player plays great every night, how do you make sure he's not hurt?" Twist posits. "You stick me on the ice and make sure that, if you fuck with him, I take your best player out. I took it very serious, and I became the best at what I did."
In a 1998 profile of Twist that appeared in Sports Illustrated, Austin Murphy wrote: "Although the nicest thing one can say about Twist's stick-handling is that he does not break the puck, it would be inaccurate to describe him as unskilled. It takes a special talent to stand on skates and beat someone senseless, and no one does it better than the St. Louis Blues left wing."
On eBay, one can still find tapes of Twist wailing on opposing skaters. Watch these snuff-style greatest-hits clips many of which feature spirited French-Canadian play-calling and you'll see a style evolution. Twist loses his mullet for a goatee, and trades his light-blue Quebec Nordiques jersey for the 'Notes' bright yellows and blues.
But his jackhammer of a right hand remains constant. Centrifugal force spinning the opponents like figure skaters, Twist tears off his jersey so his opponent has nothing to hold onto, grabs the other guy and smashes away. In 1995 Twist fractured Buffalo Sabres' enforcer Rob Ray's orbital bone.
"We didn't hold any punches back," Twist says. "I wanted to kill 'em. We had dinner the night before, but I still wanted to kill them. You got 20,000 people watching, another half-million watching on TV, and you have a job to do. This ain't the WWF here, boy."
Twist was drafted by the Blues in 1988. After serving a year with the squad's top farm team, the Peoria Rivermen, he made a name for himself at training camp by baiting established ruffian Todd Ewen. When Ewen refused to fight him, Twist flapped his arms like a chicken.
"The night previous, at the hotel," recalls Twist, "Coach Brian Sutter told us, 'You're here to do a job, boys. If you're here to score goals then score goals. If you're here to play goal play goal. If you're here to fight, you damn well better fight.'"
"He went up to play the puck, and I hit him with a body check chest-to-chest," remembers Twist. "I didn't hit him from behind or with a high stick. It was payback from his interceding in a fight the period before, when he smoked me in the head and cut me open. I went and visited him in the hospital in Peoria. I said, 'I'm sorry, man, I didn't mean to hurt you like that.' He goes, 'I knew it was coming.'"
McKichan took Twist to court anyway, winning a jury award of $175,000 for compensatory damages from the Blues in 1996. An Illinois state appeals court overturned the decision in 1998, however, citing hockey's "violent nature."
The incident, though, was cited by the Blues organization as justification to trade Twist to the Quebec Nordiques, as part of a four-man deal for Darin Kimble. In Quebec, Twist became known as a prize ice-fighter. After resigning from the Blues as a free agent before the 1994-'95 season, his star reached its zenith. In the mid- to late '90s, the Blues were one of the NHL's elite teams, and Twist's brutal poundings became staples of highlight reels. At the Kiel Center, Twist's jerseys were almost as popular as star player Brett Hull's.
"St. Louis is a blue-collar town, and they like somebody who goes to work every day and puts in a night's work," offers Twist as explanation for his popularity. "They enjoy the fighting. I didn't cheat anybody. They knew what I was going to do.
"People say, 'Did you like playing hockey?' What an asinine question that is. You get to take a charter flight to a great city all the National Hockey League cities are great cities, except for Hartford, which was terrible and then they pay youto eat the best food at the best restaurants. You stay at the best hotels, and you play the fastest and, in my mind, one of the best games to ever be invented. The first and fifteenth of every month, they give you a paycheck. You think to yourself, 'Could this get any better?'"
220 Pounds of MountainTony Twist may have learned his killer instincts from his grandmother, Ethel Twist, honored at the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in Vancouver. Or maybe he learned from his grandfather, Harry Twist, the former welterweight champion of Western Canada.