CHICAGO -- Change is in the air when it comes to fighting in the NHL, with the league slowly implementing rules that at some point could lead to the abolishment of fisticuffs altogether.
For now, though, there will be roster spots for players such as Brandon Bollig, who makes his living protecting the Blackhawks' skill players.
"I don't know how you could really have a game without having someone there to keep people accountable," said Bollig, who is entering his third season with the Hawks. "The game is changing and I figure it will probably continue to change over the next couple of years but hopefully not waning out fighting completely. For now, I'm happy with where it is and happy there's a role for me."
So-called enforcers will have a new obstacle to overcome when dropping the gloves this season as any player without 25 NHL games played will be required to wear a visor -- a deterrent to some fighters who don't like the idea of punching a hard shield. Also, any player removing his helmet before a fight will draw an additional minor penalty. Along with expanded instigator penalties in recent seasons, the odds slowly are being stacked against players who make their living solely on fighting.
That's why the 6-foot-2-inch, 223-pound Bollig is determined to continue to hone his offensive skills to go along with throwing his fists.
"In today's game, (Bollig) is that guy who can play and has that element of toughness that everybody looks for," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "That one-dimensional tough guy, that role is almost evaporating from our game. You have to be able to play and play against good players. You have to be comfortable and predictable without the puck."
So while training in a mixed-martial arts gym during the offseason, Bollig didn't forget to work on his hockey skills. During Hawks scrimmages, the winger showed some scoring prowess with two goals and in Tuesday's night's exhibition against the Red Wings at the United Center, Bollig held his own in the offensive zone.
"My role is to be that physical presence and play well defensively," Bollig, 26, said. "My goal would be to expand my role and responsibility and get more playing time. I'm not here to put the puck in the net every night but it's an added bonus. I'd like to do that more often."
Bollig does not have a goal in 43 career regular-season games, but Quenneville believes it's only a matter of time.
"He has a great shot and decent hands and got decent awareness offensively to make plays and see plays," Quenneville said. "The finish wasn't there (last season) but I would expect his production (rises) to a regular rate and even more so for (that) type of a role player. Defensively, we're comfortable with him, but I think offense ... should come out a little more."
Still, Bollig knows his primary objective is to protect the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane when needed. That is why those training sessions featuring MMA-style workouts were so important.
"With my role and with the things I'm required to do, I definitely have to train and hone those skills and work on that stuff in the summer to keep that part of my game strong and tight," Bollig said. "MMA stuff minus the ground work ... helps you with technique and even endurance for certain parts of the body that require fighting."
Does that mean a career in MMA could be looming once his hockey career comes to an end?
"I doubt it," Bollig said with a laugh. "Hopefully, I last long enough to where I don't have to worry about that but I guess we'll see what happens."
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