One hundred and seventy one.
Myles Stoesz grins as he says that number, representing the amount of fights he’s had in his hockey career.
One hundred and seventy one times he’s dropped the mitts with the biggest and baddest in the Western, East Coast and American Hockey Leagues.
He can remember most of them with crystal-clear clarity, but the one he talks about most of all is one that didn’t happen.
In mid-March, Stoesz and his Lowell (now Albany) Devils hooked up with the Hartford Wolf Pack at the XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Hartford.
Early in the game, Stoesz skated up to Donald Brashear.
Brashear is a tough guy.
With 2,634 penalty minutes in 1,025 big league games, he has long been regarded as one of the top three heavyweight fighters in the National Hockey League.
If you wish to continue living, he’s not the sort you usually challenge.
But Stoesz, man without fear, skated up to him anyways and asked Brashear if he wanted to go. Brashear looked at Stoesz, sizing him up with a blank-slate stare. Then he said, ‘Kid, you wouldn’t last two seconds,’ and skated to the bench.
But the next time Stoesz and Brashear share the same patch of ice, you can bet your house the challenge will be laid down again. While he works his butt off every day to become a better player, Stoesz knows what got him to the AHL in the first place.
And he knows any player’s grip on a job is tenuous the moment they lose their edge.
“How many guys get to skate on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk?” Stoesz said of an experience he had attending training camp with the NHL’s Atlanta Trashers. “I’ve met Scott Stevens and Larry Robinson. I’ve had Jacques Laperriere, a guy with eight Stanley Cup rings, coaching me and coming up to my after my first AHL game to shake my hand. I’m doing something 99 per cent of the Canadian population would love to do, and I’m going to work my hardest to hang onto it.”
Hockey has taken the ex-Chilliwack Bruin to interesting places since he left for Regina midway through the 2006-07 WHL season. The original Bruin was dealt to the Pats for prospect Brayden Metz, spending 29 regular season and nine playoff games in Saskatchewan before departing to the minor-pro ranks.
He played 108 games with the ECHL’s Gwinnett (Atlanta) Gladiators and another 32 with the Trenton Devils before finally graduating to the AHL early last year.
“I was sent back to Trenton out of training camp, and it was really discouraging. But it’s the best thing that could have happened,” he said. “My contract was up after the season and I just figured I’d have fun and let whatever happens happen. I had a great start and got elevated to Lowell with confidence and just took off.”
Last year’s experience in Lowell was particularly enjoyable, owing to its proximity to Boston.
“There’s a great pizza point there called Fig’s Pizza,” Stoesz said. “Just amazing pizza, with some real good toppings. Spicy chicken-sausage and feta cheese and all kinds of crazy stuff. It was cheap too. You can get a big pizza for $20.”
Asked to play the role of tour guide, Stoesz can quickly rattle off a day-long itinerary for Beantown, one that would include stops at Fenway Park, Boston Common and Newbury Street (the Boston equivalent of Vancouver’s Robson Street).
“If you’ve got a few thousand bucks to spend, that’s a good place to be,” he laughed.
Stoesz desperately wanted to see a Boston Bruins game at the TD Garden, but his schedule never allowed for it. With the Lowell Devils moving to Albany this season, he fears he’s lost his chance.
“I really wish I would have done that,” he lamented. “There was a lot I liked about Boston, just walking around looking at the old buildings and the history. It’s amazing how many places I’ve been able to see and how many people I’ve been able to meet, all because of hockey.”
And yet, of all the cities he’s seen from Toronto to Chicago to Atlanta, Stoesz and his new bride (Brianne Hicken) are planning to make little ol’ Chilliwack their long-term home.
“We are looking to make Chilliwack our base of operations,” he confirmed. “But there’s still a lot left for me to do in hockey, and I can’t wait for the season to start.”