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12/09/2012 10:41 AM -

If there’s funny business going on, you can usually count on Triston Grant being nearby.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

There aren’t many hockey heavyweights who would be brave enough to list a Muppet as one of their nicknames on the team questionnaire, but then Triston Grant is hardly your typical tough customer.

But Fozzie Bear? Really?

“Last year in Oklahoma City I took a slapshot right in the nose, and it swelled up so that it looked like a button nose,” Grant said. “One of the Barons’ assistant coaches, Gerry Fleming, said I looked like Fozzie Bear. It sounded funny and it just kind of stuck the rest of the year.

“I’ve been called worse things.”

The nickname fits in more ways than one. Not only does Grant’s smiling, stubbled face bear a passing resemblance to his fuzzy counterpart, but his sense of humor also matches the comic character’s love of jokes and running gags.

Grant is the unofficial team cut-up, the guy who keeps his teammates on an even keel with his goofy gags, one-liners and practical jokes.

“A lot of guys who are in my position tend to be that way because you don’t want to be so intimidating that it isn’t fun,” Grant said. “For me, it just wouldn’t work if I was always a tough guy.”

Grant made an impression on his new Grand Rapids teammates during the Griffins’ first road trip this season when he jumped up out of his seat on the team bus as it was pulling out of Toronto.

“Whoa! Stop the bus!” he shouted. After the bus driver pulled to the curb, Grant popped the question. “Did we remember to pack the two points?”

He credits a former Griffin for the instilling the idea. “Our captain last year, Bryan Helmer, did it a couple of times and the first time I heard it, I thought it was pretty funny, so I can’t take full credit for it.”

Now in his eighth professional season, Grant has earned a reputation as a solid hockey player who won’t put up with any funny business on the ice.

It’s been his calling card ever since his junior days in Lethbridge and Vancouver in the Western Hockey League.

In fact, he can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t playing the role of enforcer.

“My parents always told me that violence isn’t the right answer, but I always stuck up for my friends and other kids,” said Grant, the son of a truck driver, who credits his blue collar background for instilling a good moral code.

“Playing hockey, I’ve always been willing to stand up for myself and my teammates, and it’s still a good feeling to know that my teammates know I’m always going to be there for them.”

Willing to drop the gloves and go toe-to-toe whenever called upon, Grant eventually earned the respect of opponents who saw him as a tough, in-your-face agitator who wasn’t going to back down from a challenge.

“I’d rather score 50 goals than get into 20 fights, but everybody on the team has a job and this one’s mine,” he explains. “It’s what hockey has chosen me to do, but I’ve tried to work really hard on my other skills.”

Grant was interested in showing that he could do more than pile up 200 penalty minutes every season. Starting in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, he managed to reach double digits in goals and assists by his third pro season.

"I didn’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player,” Grant said. “I wanted to prove that I can score or be sound defensively, in order to show that I can be a player who can be depended on.”

Grant saw action in eight NHL games with the Flyers before a change of scenery took him to Milwaukee, where he played two seasons in the Nashville Predators organization. He played three NHL games with the Predators.

The past two seasons saw Grant toiling in Rochester (2010-11) and Oklahoma City (2011-12). At every stop, his role has been largely the same.

“Finishing hits and being physical is the foundation of my game, and I have no problem with it,” Grant said. “It’s not the easiest way to earn a living, but when it’s all said and done, I will have no shame in what I did.”

Indeed, Grant wants to make sure that people know he’s a tough guy with a soft side – and it’s okay if some people wonder whether there might be a loose screw or two rattling around his noggin.

Last season he earned a little notoriety in Oklahoma City with his penchant for naming his sticks. It was an odd tradition borne out of his habit of using ridiculous names when placing orders at Starbucks or Panera Bread with his girlfriend.

The birth of Cornelius, Jethro, Otto and others led the Barons to hold a fan contest to name his next stick. The winning entry, Sherman, earned a bit of infamy when it was used to crosscheck former NHL heavyweight (and former Griffin) Wade Brookbank.

The misdeed prompted a game misconduct for Sherman and Grant, and led to a five-minute power play.

“Sherman's got a bit of a temper, I guess,” Grant said at the time. “He doesn't use his head very well.”

Grant also broke out his “magic” rocks last year.

He had collected five small stones near his Manitoba home several years ago. Rubbing the rocks on his sticks during his final year of junior hockey, he scored 20 goals, doubling his output in any previous season.

When Grant turned pro, he put the rocks into retirement. It was only after his parents were preparing to move that he rescued the magic rocks from heading to the landfill.

Grant decided to bring the rocks with him to Oklahoma City, where they worked their magic, not only for himself but also for teammates like Antti Tyrvainen and ex-Griffin Ryan Keller.

“We used them a lot in Oklahoma last year, especially Ryan Keller. Every time I banged the rocks against his stick, it seemed like he scored. It was kind of trippy. I’m not really a superstitious guy, but it was funny because it seemed like they really worked.”

One can never predict what Grant will do next, or what someone might do back. Grant enjoys a good practical joke, but those who try to pull one over on Grant do so at their own peril.

When Grant recently discovered that someone had sewn his jean pockets shut, he began plotting his next move.

“I know who did it and I’m pretty sure they know I know,” Grant said. “For now, I’m just waiting in the weeds. I’m going to get him and get him good, too.”

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