I have never heard Raitis Ivanans speak a word.
I have never read a single interview with him.
I am not certain he actually talks.
Nearly every photograph of him displays an angry scowl or mid fight action in which he has his fist in someone else’s face and, as my co-writer Surly Jacob aptly pointed out, Raitis isn’t just angry during the game, he wears that same look of terror during the National Anthem.
Human or cyborg, one thing is clear. Nobody in their right mind wants to fight Raitis and that is because he is big, mean and incredibly strong.
He took a Rob Blake slapshot flush to the face and didn’t get knocked out. He didn’t even fall down. He looked mildly annoyed. Read what Daniel Carcillo had to say in a 2008 interview with the Sporting News: “I fought Raitis Ivanans in L.A. even though I really didn’t want to. I’d scored a nice goal and was kind of revved up and skating around being an idiot. Wayne told me, “If he comes out, I want you to come right off the ice.” Sure enough, on my last shift, Ivanans came out looking for me. He’s a pretty scary guy: 6-3, 263 and incredibly strong. But I didn’t listen to Wayne because I thought it would be cowardly to back down. We traded punches, he hit me on the forehead and I went down. It was quick, but it was one of the worst beatings I’ve taken in hockey.”
I doubt any opponent goes into a fight against Ivanans with the thought or hope of winning. Most would settle for a draw or a respectable loss. You see, Raitis is not a boxer. He is a brawler. He takes punches as well as he gives them and if anyone who has ever been in a fight will tell you, there are few things more disheartening to the one that lands the punch than seeing the impact only anger and strengthen the recipient.
So who is Raitis Ivanans to the Kings? Just another player willing to drop the gloves? No. Simply put, he is balance. He is the yang to the skilled forwards and defensemen’s ying. He provides not just the willingness to fight but a deterrent to that very fight or, better yet, cheap shots or liberties with our star players. While team toughness is important and players like Jack Johnson, Justin Williams, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Greene, and Sean O’Donnell can hold their own, none of them provide what Raitis brings – concern – a very real concern that a beating is in your future if you run Jonathan Quick, shove Alexander Frolov or take any liberties with Anze Kopitar.
I, like most Kings fans, realize that Raitis isn’t going to provide a lot of offense. In his 10 year career from the UHL Flint Generals through the CHL, ECHL, AHL and NHL and a total of 215 games played, he has a grand total of 12 goals and 18 points – and 8 of those goals were in the past two seasons with the Kings. He also isn’t going to vow you with his defensive skill. Most of the time last season, we just hoped he wouldn’t turn the puck over. But this season and specifically as a result of his hard work in the offseason, Raitis has come in 20 pounds lighter, in much better game shape and has shown a willingness to play the hard hitting game with the gloves on. Let’s hope that translates to unexpected goals and penalties by opponents but never at the sacrifice of a good butt kicking. I know I represent all Kings fans when I write, we would much rather have him with us than against us.