BOSTON. Sean McIlvanney was a top prospect for the Boston Bruins before this season, but it wasn’t for his skating, shooting or puckhandling skills. “If I get into a game it’s for one reason only,” says the 24-year-old whose face looks like a railroad map due to the number of stitches it bears. “I’m an instigator, and if I don’t get into a fight it’s a bad day at the office.”
“No, seriously–you go first.”
But McIlvanney’s skills are on ice for now as the owners’ lockout remains unresolved over financial issues, so he and other so-called “enforcers” are using their ample free time these days to help the growing anti-bullying movement. “I know it sounds strange,” says Marty Deneen, a Detroit Red Wing who tallied fourteen game misconduct penalties last season, “but nobody knows how to stop a bully like a headhunter.”
“Use your stick upon his knees, ’til you hear his anguished pleas.”
This morning McIlvanney is at Andy Moog Elementary School in Natick, Mass. to speak to a group of fifth-graders, who have endured threats and physical violence from sixth-graders at the school. “Your teachers will tell you that bullies are cowards, but that’s a bunch of baloney,” he begins, raising a skeptical eyebrow. “They’re sadistic maggots, and you gotta beat ’em at their own game.”
“If some punk won’t let you by, poke a stick into his eye!”
He asks for volunteers, and Jason Berbick, a bespectacled boy who is interested in poetry, steps forward. “Okay, Jason,” the towering jock asks the little boy, “What happens if I take off your glasses?”
“I can’t see,” the boy manages weakly.
“And is it easier to hit me when you can see, or when you can’t?”
“When I can.”
“Okay–so what does that tell us?”
A boy at a desk shoots up his hand. “Make sure the other guy can’t see!”
“Was it something I said?”
“Exactly!” McIlvanney says, as he picks up a pointer from the blackboard chalk tray and holds it out gingerly towards Berbick. “There’s nothing worse than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, and you can run away while the other guy is screaming.”
In Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Deneen is trying to draw out a group of reticent fourth graders whose giant snowman was recently toppled by a marauding band of fifth-grade toughs. “Which would you rather have, a one-on-one or a two-on-one?” he asks the class.
“Two-on-one,” says Todd Reisdorph, a freckle-faced redhead who’s been tapped to play Santa Claus in his school play. “That way you can pass it to somebody else.”
“Is somebody being a brat? Remember to use your bat!”
“Okay, let’s think how we can use that against bullies. Who’s one of dese fifth-grade punks who wrecked your snowman?”
“Bobby Gogarty,” Reisdorph says. “I hate his guts.”
“Okay, so next time he shakes you down for lunch money, somebody else come up behind him and whack him behind the kneecaps with a bat!”
Elinor Rutman, a recent education school graduate who’s monitoring the proceedings, clears her throat and then speaks. “I think we can be a little bit more constructive than that, Mr. Dineen,” she says delicately.
A look of embarrassment clouds the face of the brawny defenseman as he realizes his error. “You’re right,” he says with chagrin, then turns to the class to correct the misimpression he’s created. “Make sure it’s an aluminum bat,” he says, “and not one of those wimpy plastic Whiffle ones.”