Here’s the Q&A Don did recently with Manchester Monarchs enforcer Kevin Westgarth, who will attempt to extend the not-so-long tradition of Kings enforcers who graduated from Princeton…
He’s 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, an imposing right winger. He’s got long hair that goes in every which direction while he beats the snot out those who would dare to drop the gloves with him.
He is Kevin Westgarth.
The 24-year-old Princeton graduate has a classic hockey fighting style that harkens back to a 1970s brand of throwing punches, and he has a tremendous respect for the game, his team, and surprisingly, the opposition.
The Monarchs’ smart tough guy took a few minutes to discuss the sweet science that is hockey fighting.
Q&A with Kevin Westgarth
Question: You’re a Princeton grad, correct?
Westgarth: Yep, that’s true. Thank God.
Question: You being a Princeton graduate, I’m thinking that you likely would rather not refer to yourself as a hockey goon?
Westgarth: As a Princeton grad I’m probably a lot less concerned with that than as a hockey player. I kind of pride myself in playing the game the way it is supposed to be played and not just being a meathead that kind of runs around.
Question: Is the role of an enforcer something you have always taken on because of your size?
Westgarth: I think that there is always a big time need for somebody who can kind of make sure to keep the other team in check to allow their own team to do what they need to do, the skill guys play with their weapons without having to worry about being taken out by the evil, darker side of the game. For me it is a part of the game. and fighting is something that I enjoy. Coming to Princeton for me allowed me to work on my skills and skating and kind of forget about fighting for a while.
Question: Scouting reports speaking of you as not being the “meathead” that you spoke of, with a good hard shot and presence in front of the net. Sounds like you just need to work on your acceleration a little bit. Sound fair?
Westgarth: I’d say that is a pretty good assessment. As a big man I think skating tends to be the issue and that is definitely something that I’ve worked a ton on. It is a focal point of my off season workout. Quick feet will definitely be a major priority this summer, and the good thing is that is something that can definitely be worked on off the ice. Improving every facet of my game I think is going to be important in making the next step to the big show.
Question: Speaking of the big show, with the Kings lacking in toughness, you have to be thinking about making the NHL roster come training camp?
Westgarth: Absolutely. It would almost be dumb to not have that as a goal. That is my ultimate goal. I want help the Kings out as much as possible and as soon as possible. I want to make sure that I am basically at mid season form when training camp comes around.
Question: I’ve read where Philadelphia coveted you and the Kings snagged you, so you must figure into their future plans?
Westgarth: I definitely hope so. I love the organization. I think what Dean Lombardi and his crew are going in the right direction for sure. It has been crappy seeing them not doing well, you never want to see that out of the organization, but seeing the youth and where the organization is going you have to think that things are going to get better very soon. I will be absolutely honored to be a part of it.
Question: I checked you out on the Princeton website. You are this clean cut, handsome young man. Then you check out your bio on the Monarchs’ site and there is this long haired guy with a big scratch under his eye. What has become of you?
Westgarth: (Laughing) Yeah, it didn’t take too long did it? I guess part of it was fitting into the mold to a degree, our coach at Princeton is a big reason why I am where I am. To see what he has done with the program the last four years is remarkable. Guy Gadowsky was always very cognizant of the image that we had to portray, so he wasn’t a big fan of the long hair or scraggly look that hockey players are kind of known for, especially around playoff time. The long hair is kind of the character I play on TV. Hopefully it gives me a little flare. I know some of the fans definitely have told me they like it, and to tell you the truth, I really like it. Hopefully it give me a bit of a trademark. I have quite got the Parros-stache yet, but I need to find my niche somewhere (laughs).
Question: You niche is kind of unique in that you take a rather old school approach to fighting don’t you?
Westgarth: I would say so. I don’t know if my mom is too happy about it, but I kind of have an all-or-nothing approach. It’s all about hitting him more times than he hits you. It has been kind of cool this year and I’ve had some pretty entertaining fights and I’ve heard as much from fans, players and even some linesmen and referees. It is something I’m going to continue to work on, with technique and everything. I don’t think I will ever really change the core of my fighting, which is very aggressive and go out and get them. It really is a simple aspect of the game in a lot of ways. You just hit him harder than he hits you and it will work out well for you.
Question: So is hockey fighting a science, a skill or a bit of both?
Westgarth: I think it is definitely both. There is definitely a lot of technique to it. In a big way it is almost a mindset. It is just something where you have to overcome that fear of being hit. I’m always honored when a younger guy is going to come up and ask me for advise about it. We had some guys come up this year out of college and they asked me for some pointers, and we’d go through some stuff where you are just holding on and working on balance. But honestly the most important thing that anyone can learn is that it doesn’t hurt to get hit. That is the biggest thing to get over, because if you get tapped and you get hit you can’t freak out. You just have to get through it.
Question: Has there ever been a time when you were about to drop the gloves and you were scared?
Westgarth: I think before every fight there is fear. Ironically enough, even though you don’t want the thought of losing a fight in your mind, that fear can actually be the most motivating force on your side. Knowing what can happen, and knowing that you can’t let it (losing) happen allows the survival instinct to kick in.
Question: On the flipside, when you beat someone handily, do you ever skate away feeling guilty?
Westgarth: Not really. I look at myself as a respectable fighter. Most of the guys I play with and against would probably agree. Even when I fight a small guy it is just too bad, because they probably did something to deserve it. It is not going to be just grabbing someone to beat the crap out of them unless something that happens in the game requires it. I fight for my teammates and my team. I’m never going to do it just to have a K.O. on my record.
Question: Walk me though this classic moment: It is a face off at center ice and you are talking to your likely combatant. What are you guys saying to each other?
Westgarth: When you play each other as much as you do, especially in division, everyone can kind of see who the fighters are. I think everybody would be shocked by the cordiality of it all. It is so polite, especially when you see two heavy weights. You both kind of know it is coming, and you say, ‘Hey, are you ready to do this?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, sure, let’s go.’ It is always kind of funny, just the way you react to each other, I mean you are trying to hurt each other, punching each other in the face and immediately after you kind of tap each other. There is a respect for each other, especially for the guys who fight a lot. There has to be that respect. There are a few players who don’t abide by that hockey mentality and you will just see that they aren’t respected throughout the league, and you kind of have an inkling that they aren’t that respected by their own team.
Question: Hey, feel free to name names.
Westgarth: (laughs) Yeah, I was debating on doing that. In our league, Francis Lessard and Louis Robitaille are kind of two that come to mind, and you definitely see those kind of guys in the NHL. It just becomes a different animal when it comes to fighting one of those guys, because you have to be on the lookout for a cheap shot. You definitely have a lot more anger when you fight one of those guys, and maybe in some ways those are more pure fights. I’ve always appreciated the respect that hockey fighters and hockey players have for each other in general.