, with his striking resemblance to actor and Raleigh native Michael C. Hall, has been the Carolina Hurricanes’ noted enforcer in the last two seasons. He’s a big body, a fourth-line type that bangs in the corners, is willing to stand up for teammates, drags others into the battle and still has the ability to contribute offensively every so often.
Over the last two seasons, his fourth and fifth in the league, he racked up 149 penalty minutes, 75 of which were served as the result of fighting majors.
I spoke with Malone in the Canes’ locker room on Tuesday, and we discussed the usuals of these end-of-season media availabilities: the strides the team made this season (“From an execution standpoint, by our record, I think it shows we were more dialed in. Night to night, the young guys in here figured out how to play a full 60-minute game. That going forward is going to be huge.”) and the uncertainty of his unrestricted free agent status (“You’ve got to be pretty confident and control what you can control. The only thing that I can do is make sure I’m ready if any situation arises. Coming closer to July 1, it may be easier said than done, but for now I’ll just look back, reflect, enjoy, take some things from the year and move on.”).
Then I steered the conversation toward the pugilistic elements of today’s game. I wanted to get Malone’s thoughts on the subject, especially considering the decline of fighting in the NHL – according to hockeyfights.com, there were 344 fights in the 2015-16 season, the fewest since the website began tracking fights in 2000-01 and even fewer than the total in the 720-game shortened season of 2012-13 – and the discussion of its merits.
CarolinaHurricanes.com: What are your thoughts on fighting in hockey?
Malone: I think there’s room for it in the game. I think you need it. With the decline, that role is kind of diminishing. Teams want four lines that can score and play instead of having [an enforcer] as the strongest asset on a line. You need some honesty within the game. I think fighting keeps it. I don’t know where it’s going to go.
CH.com: How valuable is it to have an enforcer on the roster?
Malone: I’d like to think it’s valuable. Being a guy that takes pride in bringing energy to the bench and to the rink, that’s something I can use to my advantage. As long as my teammates know that I’m willing to stick up for them and go to battle, I think that’s something that I take some pride in. In years past, when I’ve had other guys on my team that I know would go into the corner for me and take a punch or whatever it is, you can kind of play a little more free and confidently knowing someone’s got your back.
CH.com: Without fighting in hockey, what would happen?
Malone: If you watch college hockey, that pace and the way everyone kind of runs around looking for the big hit because after that you don’t really have to answer any bells. If that were to happen, that’s when guys would almost be in a more vulnerable position to get hurt because guys running around aren’t conscious of if they throw a big hit they have to fight.
CH.com: And in hockey, you’re essentially carrying a weapon in your hands at all times.
Malone: Yeah. You lose that code of if you put an opposing player in a bad position, you’re supposed to answer the bell. If you lose that code and everyone is allowed to keep their gloves and helmets on, I think you bring your stick back in as a factor.
CH.com: When did you know you would be that guy to stick up for your teammates, to be that enforcer?
Malone: For me, it just kind of happened. I never go out in the game and look for it. I’ve been around for a couple of years now, so I kind of know who’s willing and who’s not. From that standpoint, I think you’re aware of what’s happening. It’s not like it was 10-15 years ago when guys were just going out there to fight. I still prepare to play hockey.
CH.com: And staged fighting is down.
Malone: Yeah, and that’s something that’s good for the game. Just as long as you know you’re willing.
CH.com: But fighting still exists as a deterrent.
Malone: Yeah, absolutely.
CH.com: Have you or do you scout fighters on other teams?
Malone: A few times. When you really know it’s coming, I think you kind of prepare yourself more and look at guys’ tendencies. For the most part, I’m not looking for the knock out and I’m not looking to get knocked out. When you know it’s coming, you definitely want to get the advantage and take that extra look to see what they like to do.
CH.com: Do you have to psych yourself up when you know it’s about to happen?
Malone: You’re psyched up. From an adrenaline and nerves standpoint, you’re pretty on edge. When you’re in it, you don’t really realize you’re in it. And then during that five minutes in the box, there’s a lot of things going through your head. I wouldn’t want to be those guys who had to do it 20 times a year when you’re squaring off with someone with a right hook who you know can really hurt you.
CH.com: With the medical information available now about concussions, head injuries and their long-term effects, is that something you consider?
Malone: You’re definitely more aware, I think. From a medical standpoint, they keep a pretty close eye on it. You’ve just got to trust that they’re doing the best they can as long as you give them all the information and be honest. It’s part of the job, and it’s part of the game.
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email