McSorley was as tough as they come in hockey at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, and he survived as long as he did with six NHL teams because he would drop his gloves in a heartbeat if a teammate was being bullied.
You can't bully a bully, and that's why McSorley ended his career as the fourth-most penalized player in NHL history. He also won two Stanley Cups with Edmonton and reached the Cup finals once with Los Angeles. In both cities, he was Wayne Gretzky's protector.
McSorley's stick to the head of Donald Brashear during a Boston-Vancouver game in 2000 gave Brashear a severe concussion and the Bruins' McSorley a year's suspension. He also received 18 months probation instead of prison time. But his playing career was over.
Now 43, McSorley is in his first year as television color commentator for the San Jose Sharks, with whom he spent two seasons in the late 1990s. Before Wednesday's game with Edmonton, he addressed fully the role of a goon and whatbrought about his confrontation with Brashear.
Q. Did you like or dislike the label of goon?
A. I didn't like the term "goon," but it served its purpose, the job of going out and fighting somebody, intimidating, keeping the peace. You went out there with a reputation, and you didn't need to fight to have your message out there. I could go by their bench and say, "Enough's enough," and let the game resume in a more peaceful manner.
Q. What title besides goon would you have preferred?
A. Policeman, because I was lucky enough to play on some really good hockey teams. In Edmonton and Los Angeles, we didn't need to make it a chippy game to mess them up. But I like policeman in a romantic sense.
Q. It's not easy being a fighter, is it?
A. No, it's definitely not. I never watched my fight tapes. My challenge was to be a better player. What you find is that for the tough guys, fighting is stressful on them. The hardest part of fighting is mental.
Q. But didn't you receive some vicious shots?
A. Yes, but me being in the middle of a fight isn't as hard as keeping an eye out, making sure nobody on my team was being taking advantage of. Ninety-nine percent of my fights were because of something that was done to one of my teammates.
Q. Did you suffer injuries from fighting?
A. My left wrist isn't right. My left shoulder is bad. My jaw's been dislocated a few times. You might be groggy the next few days after fighting, but I got hurt a lot worse playing.
Q. Might you have lasted 18 years without fighting?
A. I probably would not have played in the NHL without them knowing I could fight. I wasn't good enough. I'm dead serious. But when I went to Edmonton, I gave them toughness, and then I could grow (in size). Then I could play. But the tough guy is one of the three most respected players on any team with the fans, and also in the locker room.
Q. The three rules of engagement in hockey: protection, intimidation, retaliation. Does that make sense?
A. Yes. First of all, you want to protect. Very rarely do you fight on your own terms. Even if you have broken bones, you're out there fighting. Otherwise, one of your teammates is getting hurt. Intimidation ... I like fighting as a better term. And retaliation is protection.
Q. What happened exactly with Donald Brashear?
A. My shoulder was dislocated. I probably should have had it fixed that summer, but if I had, I would have missed the whole hockey season. Donald Brashear had come by our bench, challenging us to fight. We mostly ignored him. The two of us had not much of a fight earlier in the game, and then he got tangled up with our goaltender and hurt him ... accidentally or how that might seem. But our goaltender got carried off the ice.
Q. Enter the goon/enforcer/policeman, right?
A. The coach threw me on the ice with 20 seconds left in the game, and not at my position, basically to challenge Brashear. Hockey has changed. In the past, tough guys would stop and honor (the challenge), but Donald didn't want to fight. I'm trying to get him to turn around, the clock is winding down, and if we fight after the game, I get a 10-game suspension.
Q. But was a stick shot to the head necessary?
A. I hit him, but no different than I hit 100 other guys. I was as shocked as anybody when he went down. I didn't think he was hurt. I hit him in the shoulder, and the flat part of the shaft came up and struck him in the face. What happened was not intended. I have done some mean things. I'm not going to lie. I went out of the league the same way I came in, scrapping, fighting for my space, fighting to make it.
Q. Do you have a relationship with Brashear today?
A. No. I just leave it alone. I'm sure he realizes as much as anyone that what happened wasn't intentional. It was unfortunate. I didn't want to see him get hurt, but I'm fine with it. Others have been hurt a lot worse.
Q. Did the NHL blackball you after that incident?
A. That's a subject ... I back away from that one.
Q. But couldn't you have been incarcerated?
A. I don't think so. It became such a big story, that that was the problem with it. Let's just say hockey is a small family ... for the greater good, I better not say anything more.
Q. Fists are acceptable, but not sticks, correct?
A. You try not to, but there are tough guys who will use their sticks at times. Probably because something was done by a non-tough guy in the manner of the stick. When I played, something absolutely had to happen. The game has changed. The penalties are more severe, and so-called tough guys duck and cover their heads trying to get the other guy penalized.
Q. What's your life like today?
A. I'm a lucky man. I married a beautiful lady, Leanne Schuster, who was a professional beach volleyball player. We're having our first baby in about four weeks. We finished building a really nice home. Financially, things have worked out well for me. (TV work) is my full-time job. I have the luxury that if I'm not having fun doing it, I won't do it.
Q. What do you bring to your Sharks commentary?
A. I'm a fan of the game, but I'll bring up mistakes, and I'll talk about the great players on the ice, and what the players are thinking. I'm not really dramatic, and I try not to cheer for the Sharks.
Q. What do the Sharks need to win the Stanley Cup?
A. Make sure they keep their personality. Walk on the ice with a bit of swagger, draw a line in the sand when you need to, keep the grit and the toughness.
Q. Do they have a policeman/enforcer/goon?
A. They do have a policeman. They're tough enough. But they need that mental toughness, take a game over when you need to, to react and up your level of play when you really need to. All the components are there for this team to win. I really believe that.