Eric Selleck knows how to throw a left, protect his chin and drop an opponent with a punishing combination to the head.
Some of his most impressive knockdowns -- greatest hits? -- are on YouTube, as well as the fight that inspired him to learn a new sport.
In the off-season, Selleck works with a trainer twice a week in his hometown of Spencerville, Ontario. He laces up 11-ounce gloves and practices the art of the sweet science. Then he climbs into a ring and spars.
The result: Sellect has become a strong, more effective enforcer for the Rampage. “Now I’m throwing lefts and that surprises guys,” Selleck says. “It’s a confidence boost.”
He doesn’t go looking for fights. But he’s more than ready when muscle is required. Selleck is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound tough guy, a popular left wing who polices the game and holds guys accountable for big hits on star teammates. If someone takes a cheap shot at leading scorer Jon Rheault, for example, he’ll answer to Selleck.
“I’ve won a majority of fights,” Selleck says. “I think boxing has definitely helped.”
The inspiration to box came from the late Rick Rypien, a forward who spent parts of six NHL seasons with Vancouver before ending his career with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. The son of a Canadian boxing champion -- and cousin of Super Bowl winning quarterback Mark Rypien -- Rick had a reputation as a fighter. He stood only 5-11, weighed 194 pounds, retreated from no one and once fought Hal Gill, a 6-7, 250-pound defenseman for the Nashville Predators.
Rypien also fought Selleck. It happened during an AHL game when Selleck -- in his first season of pro hockey -- was playing for Rochester. The details are as painful as they are memorable.
“I wasn’t expecting to be boxed,” Selleck says. “Before I hit him even once, he hit me three or four times. It was amazing how quickly he got his punches off.”
The pounding drove Selleck to pugilism. In Spencerville, Ontario, he worked out in the garage of his trainer and returned for more lessons the following summer.
“I spent an hour to an hour and 20 minutes a day,” Selleck says. “We worked on techniques. Warmed up. Sparred. We started with five, two-minute rounds and worked up to nine, three- minute rounds. I learned how to make quick hits, control my punches, keep my hands up. Because I’m right-handed, I learned how to use my left.”
Selleck entertains with his grit as much as his graciousness, which has made him a fan favorite. During a recent season-ticket holder event at Sideliners, he stayed late after his last teammate had left, signing autographs and chatting with fans. During a Face-Off Against Kids Cancer event, he ran with children through an indoor play structure at Funtastic Playland.
He enjoys making public appearances and supporting community relations efforts. Roughly three of every four fans interviewed in-game list Selleck as their favorite player.
“I appreciate the fans,” he says. “It’s amazing down here in Texas how much they support our games. It’s our duty as players to respect that and let them know we appreciate it. When I go to events, I don’t like to leave and not say ‘hi’ to everybody. I want to give everybody a chance who wants to talk.”
Selleck is an out-of-nowhere player. He played two seasons of NCAA Division III hockey for the State University of New York at Oswego. An undrafted free agent, the Florida Panthers signed him to a two-year, entry level contract.
Rampage coach Chuck Weber remembers when Selleck showed up at the Rochester Americans training camp in 2010.
“I knew just a little bit about him,” says Weber, Rochester’s coach at the time. “But he opened our eyes because he played the game with a reckless abandon and hit everybody on the ice. He had opponents chasing him around, trying to contain him.”
In college, Selleck impressed with his speed and offense. In the AHL, he has assumed a different role, scoring less, checking more.
“If Eric is going to get to the National Hockey League, he’s going to have to do it with physicality,” Weber says. “He’s going to have to play with an abrasive edge to his game. Anything else is a bonus.”
The bonus this season is scoring. Selleck has not posted big numbers. But with 14 points, he’s on pace to break his AHL-career high of 16.
Yes, the Enforcer can score, as he did in Sunday’s 7-3 loss to Grand Rapids, banging in a rebound from the top of the crease. But what Selleck does best is patrol the ice. When he laces up the gloves in the off season, it’s to enhance his role on the ice and remind his teammates: He’s got their back.