Guillaume Desbiens joined the EIHL’s Sheffield Steelers in November of 2015. Coming from Slovenia with his wife Alexa and young daughter Olive, he’d been told good things about the team by long-term friend Zack Fitzgerald and others from the Steel City side. In this interview we discuss how he juggles the role of enforcer, in the light of the new release of Ice Guardians and also his role of Papa, to three year old Olive.
I’ll admit, I have yet to see the film but as it turns out, Guillaume, although I’m well informed that one of his fights was briefly included, has not seen it yet either.
The film, directed by Brett Harvey is a documentation of the changing role of the enforcer and the premise of the film is this:
“On-ice enforcers struggle to rise through the professional ranks of the world’s most prestigious hockey league, only to be confronted with a new found fight for the existence of the role itself.”
I discussed this very issue only last year with Zack Fitzgerald, in light of the John Scott fiasco during the 2016 NHL All-Star run up.That particular interview had more emphasis on the changing role of the enforcer. If you wish to read what Zack had to say on the matter, click here.
For this particular interview however I wanted a different spin on things. How do you explain the fights to even the smallest of ice hockey fans? Within the ice hockey community worldwide there are fans of all ages. Being a mother to a child of similar age to Guillaume’s own daughter, the questions are beginning to come in. Why are they fighting mummy? You told me that wasn’t a nice thing to do. Or when her favourite player doesn’t return… Mummy is [insert name here] okay? It can be hard at times to explain to a small one about the role an enforcer plays on a team, so how does the father of one and one of Sheffield’s enforcers explain it to his little one? I’d love to know in the comments what you think of Guillaume’s explanation. Would you take a different tact with your own children?
How did you end up in the role you play? Was it something you always wanted to do, or more a role you were given as a rookie and just continued to do as you progressed?
I think it was more of a progression. When I was younger, I’m talking 9-10-11 years old, the emphasis was less on physical play and more on skills. Then I started to grow and get bigger, and bodychecking was allowed and I started to use it to my advantage, but at the same time, when you do, people get mad and tempers flare. I got into my first fight when I was 16 years old and realised that it gave me an advantage over some guys and it also gave me more time with the puck as some opponents were more tentative to come and check me. I never had a coach that told me, ‘Go fight now” but I was smart enough (most of the time!) to figure out when it was time. Even though fighting is part of the game, I always pride myself into being about to play a smart, effective two-way game and try to chip in offensively. There always will be hard hits and cheap shots, and I will always stand up for my teammates if another player crosses the line.
Enforcers often get a tough rap from fans of other teams, especially if you injure [in the course of the fight] someone on their team. How would you explain to someone who was new to the game, what your role on the team is?
Part of the role is to make sure that your teammates are respected, and not abused physically on the ice. If another player takes a liberty on one of my teammates then I will step in to make sure he doesn’t do it again.
Sounds fair and logical to me. Did your outlook on the fighting aspect change at all when you became a parent?
Well, it changed naturally as my career progressed, but also when my daughter was born. She’s still a bit young to understand it all, but I know one days she’s gonna come asking me why I do this on the ice when it is illegal off the ice.
That was one of my questions actually. How would you explain to her the difference between what you do on the ice and a fight in any other scenario outside of sport?
My answer is still being tinkered with but something along the lines of what I answered for the 2nd question. The important thing to understand here is that on the ice and off the ice are two completely different things. I, myself, have never been part of a fight off the ice. I’m usually the one trying to break it off if it happens. You have to follow the rules on the ice and the laws off the ice. The rules on the ice allow for defending your teammates when needed. The laws off the ice don’t.
Sounds like you have it covered when the question comes. Though this isn’t strictly an ‘enforcer’ question, it’s more likely to come with fights. As your daughter has gotten older, how does she react when you come home with an injury? Do you try to hide them from her?
It all depends on the injury, but most of the times she just gives me a puzzled look, like what the hell?! Last year, I had a concussion at the start of the season in Slovenia and every time I went on my knees to play with her or pick her up, I’d have this throbbing headache that’d make me have to lay down and she couldn’t quite understand why I couldn’t play with her for lover long… That was tough on me as a parent. When its cuts, scrapes or stitches, she casually says that my booboo will go away with time, just like hers… And I don’t try and hide it from her, it’s part of the job and I’m not ashamed by it.
Aww, what a little sweetheart she is!
She truly is
I have a daughter of my own who is a couple of months younger and she is starting to ask questions about why players fight because obviously as a parent you do try to discourage your child from fighting with others. I just had to explain to her that on the ice it’s okay because whoever is fighting is protecting someone else. She often wants to go and see if people are okay afterwards too, so I’ve taken her to see players she recognises from the fights afterwards so she can see that they’re okay.
That’s a good idea!
Otherwise, sometimes players disappear and she doesn’t understand why. She’s a beady eyed little devil and knows if someone is missing, especially if they’re one of her favourites.
Aww, that’s very cute.
You and Fitzy [Zack Fitzgerald] seem to almost share the role of supporting and defending your teammates, how do you think that makes your job easier or more difficult?
It’s always nice to have a fellow protector with you on any team. You can’t be on the ice all the times and obviously the odds of one of us being on the ice if something were to happen are greater than if he or I would be alone. I’ve known Fitzy for a long time and I know how dedicated he is to a team and much he wants his teammates to be safe, it’s a great pleasure to be able to play with him again.
I’ll admit, you and Fitzy are our favourite Steelers so she knows you and now she’s learning numbers she can spot you too.
What’s your earliest memory of playing with Fitzy? Did you two hit it off from the word go?
We played together with the Manitoba Moose back in 2008-2009. He was roommate with an already old teammate and good friend of mine and we got to hang out and go out together often. Fitzy is a goof and it’s always funny when he’s around. We had an outstanding season as a team that year, winning the regular season championship and making it all the way to the Calder Cup Final (Playoffs Championship) Then after that season, our paths separated but we always kept in contact and went for dinners on the road when we were playing each other. And of course last year he was one of the guys I knew already on the team and talked to him (among a couple of others) before I decided to make the move to come to Sheffield.
If like me, you haven’t yet had the chance to see Ice Guardians, here is the trailer for you.
According to the film’s official website the film will be available to buy in the Spring of 2017. I know I’ll be buying it the moment I can. These men should be respected, no one really knows what goes on behind the scenes. They’re not just fighters. They are fathers, sons, brothers and uncles. They are the men who keep their teammates safe and allow them to do their job. Next time you hear someone yelling abuse at any teams enforcer, just take a minute to remind them of that. They are doing their job and that job is not an easy one for anyone.
So now you know Guillaume’s response, what would yours be to your children when they ask about fighting in ice hockey? Leave a comment below and let me know! Subsequently, if you think this article helped you or could help others please give it a share on your social media.
I just want to take a moment to thank Guillaume for his time in answering these questions. As always, it was a pleasure to talk to him.
If you are a Steelers fan, you can catch them tonight at the Sheffield Arena, taking on the Cardiff Devils. Tickets available from: http://sheffieldsteelers.co.uk/game-day-tickets/
*feature photo taken by Alexa Desbiens @alexacollections on Instagram.