Four minutes into a late-October Missouri Mavericks game against the Wichita Thunder, Wichita defenseman Jason Goulet mashes Mavericks winger Karl Sellan hard into the boards with a hit near his face. Sellan crumples to the ice for several seconds. The fans, at least the ones who aren't still filing into the Independence Events Center at that moment, howl. It won't be the hardest hit of this third game of the Mavericks' season, but it dictates the way the rest of the night will go.
Eleven minutes later, Mavericks right wing Carlyle Lewis does what he gets paid to do. He skates onto the ice and zeroes in on Goulet rather than going for the puck. The two drop their gloves, gravitate toward the cartoon-horse logo at center ice and begin the first fight of Lewis' 12th season of professional minor-league hockey.
Goulet is called "The Orangutan" for the unusually long arms on his 6-foot-5-inch frame. They allow him to hold an opponent away while punching. He lands solid blows to Lewis' face while the Maverick throws wild punches and misses by inches. The linesmen, thinking the skirmish is winding down, close in to stop the fight. But before the officials can tear them apart, Lewis holds Goulet's sweater and whips him to the left, causing Goulet to change his position and extending the fight.
Off the ice, the first thing you notice about Lewis is that his body sounds pained. His joints groan with noisy reminders of hundreds of Plexiglas-rattling checks and fistfights with other sub-NHL heavies. During conversations, he extends his action-figure legs and arms regularly and curls his fingers and toes in succession — movements that, together, sound like a brush fire.
The rest of his road-weary body hasn't been spared. At just 32, Lewis has the face of a man who has thrown a lifetime's worth of fists in small arenas in second-tier markets. The scar over his right eyebrow. The orbital around his right eye that still protrudes a bit — courtesy of a slap shot that sneaked under his visor during a hitch in a European league and broke the bone. The long knee-surgery scar on his left leg, where the muscle pulled away from the bone. Then there's the 3-inch canyon on the inside of his right thigh.
"I hit a guy, and he fell back, and his skate came up and sliced me right on the leg," he says. "That thing was open. It was just blood coming everywhere."
But the enforcer can't be concerned with vanity, and Lewis is the Mavericks' enforcer: the tough guy, the goon. Any opposing player who smashes the team's scorers, jaws too much from the bench or looks at him the wrong way can expect pain and soul-crushing humiliation through a series of swift punches to the head in front of thousands of jeering fans.
"I think there's not a whole lot of guys in this league — there are a few — that want to go toe-to-toe with him," Brent Thiessen, the team's president and general manager, says.
There's a good reason that Lewis has a reputation in the Central Hockey League (commonly referred to as an AA league). Lewis isn't a fists-of-fury kind of fighter. Some guys, especially small players looking to find their roles on a team, tangle with opponents and throw as many quick, firecracker punches as they can. Lewis' fists are more like bricks of C-4. As Lewis and his opponent orbit each other, Lewis bobs his head patiently, waiting for the chance to land an explosive face destroyer.
A career-defining example of his fighting prowess came January 9 this year during the Mavericks' inaugural season. Lewis and Arizona Sundogs right wing Cedric Bernier circled for several seconds, each looking for an advantage. Bernier attempted to wrap up Lewis' arms in his own, but Lewis broke free and slammed Bernier in the chin with an impossibly fast right uppercut. The Quebecer collapsed on the ice unconscious, and slid like a dead man for a couple of feet before coming to rest against one of the referee's legs. While Bernier stayed down on the ice, Lewis skated his familiar path to the penalty box, put his hands together and rested one cheek on them like a sleeping baby.