Stu Grimson dresses impeccably, speaks eloquently, and, at age 46, appears to be in playing shape. But he has moved on to bigger and better, even using his hands in different ways than bygone days when he was a highly effective enforcer with the Chicago Blackhawks.
As radio analyst for the Nashville Predators, Grimson is animated—a trait duly noted along broadcast row by former teammate Troy Murray, who now provides color commentary for Chicago listeners on WGN Radio AM-720.
Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
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“Look at him, waving his arms all over the place while he’s talking,” Murray offers during a commercial break at a recent game. “It’s like Stu is directing traffic.”
When informed of Murray’s critique, Grimson barely pauses to take a breath.
“My old landlord Troy said that?” he replies. “Tell him I’m still waiting for my security deposit. In 1991, before my second season with the Blackhawks, Troy had been traded to Winnipeg. So, [my wife] Pamela and I rented his townhouse in Willowbrook for $1,000 a month. I still haven’t seen that security deposit. I only hope Troy has invested it in an interest-bearing account.”
In his previous life as “The Grim Reaper,” Grimson was not one to be crossed. During a lengthy National Hockey League career, he amassed 2,113 penalty minutes, most of them with gloves off, protecting teammates and sending messages. But now, to the surprise of nobody who knew him, Grimson is a successful lawyer with the Nashville firm of Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert.
“Really intelligent guy,” says Murray. “You were sure Stu would go places as soon as he hung up the skates.”
Grimson is so involved in his profession that broadcasting must be limited. He flanks play-by-play man Tom Callahan on 102.5 FM “The Team” for home games only during the regular season. Come playoffs, Grimson will travel with the Predators, for whom he completed his NHL resume in 2001-02.
“I’m just too busy with my real job,” says Grimson. “Funny, how things change. As a player, if a coach kept you after 1 o’clock in the afternoon because of a long practice or a meeting, you got grumpy because you wanted the rest of the day to yourself. Well, in real life, you’re working on a deposition, you don’t look at the clock to see if it’s time to go home. The radio gig I really like. It keeps me in touch with a game I still love.”
As a twenty-something, Grimson admits being slightly uncomfortable with his role. Few men in the NHL inspired fear as he did. “The Grim Reaper” fought whomever or whenever necessary and he was a certified heavyweight. That restlessness with the job title eased markedly when Grimson embraced religion.
“You were sure Stu would go places as soon as he hung up the skates.” - Troy Murray
“I realized God created me and the circumstances in which I live,” he says. “I was there to show up, do my best and leave the rest to Him. Hockey was a big part of my life, but not my entire life. Why did I fight? It provided me an opportunity to play at the highest level, the NHL. Also, and this is right up there, I knew my teammates appreciated and respected that I stood up for them. My role was not glorious, but it contributed to the greater good of the group, which is what hockey is all about.
“We have four children, and, of course, I had to talk to them about what their father does and why he does it. They came to understand the culture and that there is more to it all than the few seconds of gratuitous violence you might see on SportsCenter. The nature of the sport involves a variety of roles, and that was mine.”
The pantheon is extensive of on-ice fighters who are exemplary family men and thoroughly decent souls out of uniform. Keith Magnuson and Dave Manson are two ex-Blackhawks who immediately come to mind. Recently, as the NHL has taken a proactive position on concussions, Grimson has dealt with the obvious apprehensions. Will those instances when he punished his body affect his golden years?
“I’d be lying if I told you I don’t think about it,” he says. “All those times I ‘had my bell rung,’ as we used to call it. I’ve read about the fallout and noticed what’s happened in sports. But there is little I can do to remedy that at this point. I try to take care of myself; eat well, keep my weight down, which it is from when I played, exercise and use my mind. Beyond that, I can’t dwell on what might happen because, again, it is not in my hands.”
For a spell, Grimson was in-house counsel for the NHL Players Association. From a distance now, he wishes that upcoming negotiations on the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be conducted in a spirit of compromise between management and labor. Hockey, he asserts, cannot tempt turmoil.
Regrets? With his burgeoning next chapter still evolving, a place on the beach in Florida where he and his wife can escape and a faith that is as strong as ever, Grimson would seem to have it all. Except that 1991 Stanley Cup ring with the Blackhawks.
“We went into the finals with 11 straight wins,” he recalls. “Then in Game 1 at Pittsburgh we’re up three goals just like that. I’m thinking to myself, ‘It can’t be that easy.’ And it wasn’t. The Penguins turned the tables on us. It got to the point that our coach, Mike Keenan, got so mad that he yelled out on the bench, ‘Whoever wants to go play, get out there.’
“Well, when you’re Mike Peluso and Jocelyn Lemieux and Stu Grimson, that’s all you need to hear. We jump over the boards and Scotty Bowman, their coach, puts out Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis and Larry Murphy. Francis gets the faceoff with Jocelyn, back to Coffey in our end and he fires on Ed Belfour, who smothers it. We look to the bench, and Mike is waving us back. Our three-second shift is over. We failed to correct a radical shift in momentum. They swept us in four straight.”