Jarkko Ruutu's old teammates have known for a long time that he's an agitator.
A pest. A disturber. A frequent pain in one of the body's more remote locales.
But it wasn't until a few days ago that most realized Ruutu might have a bit of cannibal in him, too.
Now, Ruutu, whom the league suspended for two games for allegedly biting Buffalo enforcer Andrew Peters during an on-ice run-in Tuesday, insisted in a statement released by the Ottawa Senators that he was acting strictly in self-defense when he took a bite out of Peters' thumb.
"I feel that he put his glove in my mouth with intentions to injure me," Ruutu said. "There was no intent to hurt him, just to get his thumb out of my mouth."
If so, it worked.
"Sometimes, when you're in the heat of the battle, I guess you do weird things," said left winger Matt Cooke, who played with Ruutu in Vancouver. "We can chalk this one up near the top [of the list]."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, for what it's worth, isn't entirely convinced that Ruutu did anything, let alone anything wrong, although Ruutu's confession doesn't do much to bolster the case for an acquittal.
"I've watched the whole video a bunch of times, and I thought he just wanted to go to the bench, and Peters wouldn't let him," Orpik said. "I'm not defending what he supposedly did ... but it wasn't like he reached out [for Peters'] hand. I'm not justifying what he supposedly did, but I'm sure there are two sides to that story."
And there are more stories like Ruutu's than some might suspect.
Fact is, several Penguins quietly acknowledged -- albeit only on a fiercely not-for-attribution basis -- they had chomped down on an opponent during the course of a game, too, generally because they believed themselves to be in immediate danger of serious injury and/or pain.
In one case, a player said a much larger opponent had stuck a finger into his mouth and was "fish-hooking" him by using it to stretch the aggrieved player's cheek. In another, the player said an opponent had a chokehold on him, with his neck caught in the crook of that player's arm, and sinking his teeth into the guy was the only way to assure that he'd be able to continue breathing.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't one of those who admitted biting an opponent and said he doesn't expect to be on the receiving end anytime soon, either.
"I have pretty good gear," he said, "so I'm usually well-protected against that."
Former Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque, who signed with Montreal as a free agent last summer, did two installments of a blog for Sportsnet.ca before pulling the plug on it at the behest of Canadiens officials, who invoked a team rule prohibiting players from being involved in such projects.
Laraque's final offering focused on fighting, and included the following insights and observations:
• "In fighting you risk many injuries; the broken nose is an obvious one, but a broken orbital bone is something else and the thing people have to realize is that there is a life after hockey. So while you do this job, you have to make sure you take care of yourself. I don't want to look like the Elephant Man when I retire."
• "The mental part of fighting can sometimes be tougher than the physical part. A lot of the time, fighting starts a couple days before the actual game. You look at the schedule and get really worked up because you have a game against a team that has a top tough guy and, mentally, that's tough. You think about the guy, you watch his fights on YouTube, you try to tell yourself it's going to be OK, but it's not. No one can ever understand this pressure unless you're a fighter yourself."
• "I fight because it's my job, not because I like it. How many fighters like fighting, anyway? I've talked to many tough guys and I can't even name you one. We do it because it's our job; that's it."
• "I never talk about fights; I never look at my fights or get revved up about it. I often wish my opponent good luck and always talk to the guy in the penalty box after the fight to ask him if he's OK, or say, 'Good job.' I never fight mad, and maybe that's an advantage in a way, because you're more in control of what you're doing. I also never wish for anyone to get hurt in a fight because I respect all my fellow brothers and when did winning a fight become not enough? You don't need to embarrass the guy and, if you want respect from your peers, there is a lot of stuff you have to do."
• The Code (that governs fighting) says things like: Not fighting a guy at the end of his shift, not jumping guys to get a head start, never punch a guy when he's down ... and, especially, don't celebrate after a fight. You see that stuff a lot in junior hockey, but for guys who do it in the NHL, it's embarrassing and shows no respect for the other guy."
• "Last summer, all the tough guys were signed quite quickly and before any other player, other than the obvious nine or 10 megastars. Who is the first player Pittsburgh signed this summer? Eric Godard, three-year contract, figure it out. As much as you need a fighter, a good one that can play is hard to find and the teams that have them won't let them go."
• "The toughest guy in the East is Donald Brashear, hands down. He's the king and has been for years. Pound-for-pound, the toughest guys are Riley Cote and Chris Neil. And in the West, the toughest guy is Derek Boogaard and the toughest pound-for-pound is, hands down, Cam Janssen."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .