Two years ago, goaltender Bill Smith of the New York Islanders was considered public enemy No. 1 in this northern outpost of civilization. An Edmonton publication even printed Smith's picture complete with a superimposed target after he swatted the Oilers' Wayne Gretzky in the leg with his stick.
Smith's mantle as the visiting bad guy has been assumed this year by defenseman Ed Hospodar of the Philadelphia Flyers. If the local newspapers have been persuaded that target practice is in bad taste, Edmonton Coach Glen Sather has not been reluctant to serve as prosecutor, judge and jury after Hospodar's stick altered Mark Napier's dental chart Saturday night.
"If the league doesn't do something about this guy, we're going to get two boxes for him -- one for his head and one for his body," Sather challenged.
Sather sent his tough guy, Dave Semenko, out after Hospodar had cross-checked Napier in the mouth, but the move backfired. The first time, the officials intervened and both players were assessed misconduct penalties. The second time, Hospodar turned turtle and Semenko spent four minutes in the penalty box.
Obviously, thoughts of revenge could disrupt the Oilers more than the journeyman defenseman who is a pleasant guy off the ice, has a priest for a brother and attends summer school at Villanova. But speculation about the next move has increased anticipation of Tuesday's fourth game in a Stanley Cup series the Oilers lead, 2-1.
"We're not going to go out just to get even and forget about our main task of winning the game," Semenko said. "I wouldn't say there's a price on his head. But I know what my job is, too."
It is no secret that Semenko, a 6-foot-3 winger of limited talent, serves as a policeman for smaller teammates. Hospodar, meanwhile, has been promoted to a key role as one of the Flyers' top four defensemen, following the shoulder separation against Quebec that put Brad McCrimmon out for the season.
So Philadelphia Coach Mike Keenan does not mind if Semenko takes himself off the ice, but he was not pleased when he is joined by Hospodar.
"There's no comparison," Keenan said. "One guy's playing two or three shifts. Eddie's logging between 27 and 30 minutes a game. Semenko's got a responsibility and you can see what it is.
"I don't know if Eddie's throwing some of the Oilers off their game or not, but I'll tell you one thing, he'll keep playing. We're short of defensemen right now."
Although assessed 63 penalty minutes in the current playoffs, Hospodar has become more famous for the penalties he has avoided. Against Quebec, he speared Peter Stastny, who collapsed in pain, but no penalty was called.
Later in the same game, Hospodar shoved his stick in Anton Stastny's face with unusual force, prompting Peter to do the same to him. Peter received a major, Hospodar a minor, and afterward Quebec Coach Michel Bergeron displayed the videotapes, which brought the Nordiques a $5,000 fine from the NHL.
In the first game of the final, Hospodar raced across ice behind the play and flattened Kevin McClelland, who was knocked unconscious. A call of charging or interference would have drawn a major; Hospodar went unpenalized.
Then, in Game 3 on Saturday, came the cross check of which Sather later said, "The referee was out to lunch, but Mark won't be, with three broken teeth. There was nobody in the building who didn't see Hospodar cross-check him in the mouth except the referee."
Surprisingly, Hospodar's victims have been less sanguine than their coach.
"I thought he hit me clean," McClelland said today. "I had my head down and all I remember is waking up with the trainer looking at me."
"I didn't get any quarters from the tooth fairy," Napier joked, "because I never found one tooth. I had to have another one capped and a third pushed back and straightened. But it's all part of the game. He's a hard-noser. I hope it wasn't deliberate. Maybe he was just trying to protect himself."
Hospodar, who usually is willing to talk at length, preferred not to discuss the Napier incident.
"I definitely think they're paying a lot of attention to me," he said. "When you play the body, people get distracted and upset.
"I'm just glad to be contributing to the hockey club. For a lot of the season, I'd play a couple of shifts and no more, because we were going with four defensemen who just thrive on ice time. Now I'm playing a bigger role and it's a good feeling."