SAN JOSE — Jody Shelley often has a hard time explaining what exactly he does for a hockey team. Talking to kids especially can leave him tongue-tied.

"When I visit elementary schools, that's always the first question — 'Why do you fight?'" Shelley said. "I'm always like, 'Well, uh, you shouldn't fight. Fighting is bad. And don't you do it. But I fight to help my teammates.'"

Pause.

"You know, it's not an easy question to answer."

He finds it much easier to just drop the gloves than to describe the enforcer code. That's why the Sharks traded for Shelley, one of the NHL's heavyweights, this week. They hope he will add a dimension of toughness as they gear up for the playoff stretch drive.

"My role is pretty cut and dry," Shelley said.

He's the team bodyguard.

Shelley, who turns 32 next week, is a 6-foot-4, 228-pound bruiser. He arrives with 1,025 penalty minutes in 380 career NHL games — all with Columbus, where he was a fan favorite. His face shows the effects of his fight trade with scars and a nose that doglegs precipitously to his left.

When asked how many times his nose has been broken Shelley said: "Three real ones, but probably more."

Real ones?

"A real one is where your nose is floating on your face," he added with a grin, that revealed a missing front tooth.

Ouch.

It's a line of work that initially caught his wife, Mandy, by surprise.


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She grew up in rural Ohio and knew nothing about hockey until they started dating. Shelley recalls the shock in her eyes when he returned after one road trip.

"I really looked bad, but it's just what a hockey player looks like, whether he takes a puck to the face, a stick, or if it's a fight," he said. "And she's like, 'What happened to you?' That's when I realized I had to prepare her for this."

Mandy, a schoolteacher who abhorred the idea of fighting, remembers that day as well.

"He was really beat up, with stitches, and had to sleep sitting up," she said. "That's when I realized, 'Oh my god, this is strange.' But you do get used to it. And I think he likes coming home with bumps and bruises, because he feels like he's helping his team."

Shelley is regarded as a good guy, and that's actually very common for hockey enforcers. They usually are much different off the ice than their fearsome persona on it.

"But people think you're a hammer head, that you walk around and grunt, or spit on the floor," he said.

In fact, Shelley grew up peaceably in small Canadian towns, the son of a miner. The only youthful scrap he had, in a soccer game, left him with a black eye — which he thought was kind of cool.

His first hockey fight didn't come until age 18, when he attended a juniors camp. Then, after he was on his best behavior the next few days, a coach pulled him aside.

"He said, 'You had a good fight the other day. If you want to stick around here, you better get your nose in there every single day,'" Shelley said. "So I just kept doing it."

That was his ticket to the NHL. In 2002-03, he led the league in penalty minutes with 249, and he became known for his ability to take a punch.

"Not a lot guys can do it," he said. "I guess it's a mental thing. When you're in a battle, you need a mind-set where you can't be worried about getting hit and hurt."

Often misunderstood is that enforcers aren't brutes who fight just to fight. They are hockey's version of a bar bouncer who keeps the general peace by settling scores and policing the ice for players who shouldn't have to worry about defending themselves.

"If you don't understand the role, then I'm just a guy looking for a fight," Shelley said. "But you're doing anything possible so your guys feel a little more comfortable out on the ice. You try not to let your teammates get pushed out of the game."

Although regarded as a Columbus team leader, Shelley had played in only 31 games this season. The Sharks who haven't had an enforcer since Scott Parker was traded to Colorado last February, gave up a draft pick to get him.

The path to the Stanley Cup finals figures to go through Anaheim. The Ducks, who feature enforcer George Parros, are one of the NHL's most physical teams. Shelley will be expected to, well, combat that.

"Some teams have that ingredient, and it can make a difference in a game," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "You've got to be able to counter that. We feel we can be better at it. Having Jody now maybe helps us do that."

Shelley jokes that he was smart getting married when he did, because "I knew I was getting uglier every year."

When that's passed along to his wife, she just laughed.

"You know, people always are surprised, but he really is a great guy," she said. "And I'm always going to think he's cute, no matter how many scars he gets."