The first time he ever fought, in junior hockey, a skinny youngster named Martin Simard one-punched a kid.

He made a reputation and a discovery at the same time. "That's when I knew I was a lefty," says Simard, a Golden Eagle assistant captain and right-handed-shooting right wing.Simard, who caught with the glove on his left hand the three times he played goal as a kid and catches a baseball with his right, found a niche for himself in juniors.

"I gained a lot of confidence with the fight. I was a big name after that," he says. He became Pierre Turgeon's personal on-ice bodyguard until Turgeon went pro with Buffalo.

Simard is still a big name with the Eagles. "They want me to play tough," he says about the parent Calgary Flames, "and I feel good when I play that way. I don't do any fancy stuff. I do the sure thing, and when I've got a goal, I do it."

Because he and linemates Marc Bureau and Stu Grimson are big and adept at physical play, they are getting enough room on the ice to do some serious scoring in the Turner Cup playoffs.

Grimson got the winning goal in overtime Thursday night to put Salt Lake in the championship round for the third straight year.

The Eagles are awaiting an opponent as Muskegon and Fort Wayne are still battling in their semifinal.

Simard has scored four playoff goals, Grimson has two goals and two assists and Bureau has six goals and four assists and is tied with Jim Leavins as the Eagles' No. 2 scorer behind Peter Lappin.

All season, players like Simard labor as checkers, but when the playoffs come around, so does more physical play. "I just love the playoffs," says Simard. "The big thing with our line is we are getting more space. The defensemen don't want to get involved. It happened with Denver and Milwaukee."

He did well in last year's playoffs, too, scoring six goals and three assists in 19 games after getting eight goals, 23 assists in 82 regular-season games.

Simard is a little different than a lot of enforcers. He's not just a fighter. In fact, he doesn't have to do it much any more after making his reputation in the International League early last season as a rookie.

"It's tough to go on the ice and fight for no reason," says Simard, who doesn't. "A guy has to do (instigate) something, and it has to be good for the team." He passes up personal retaliation and also wants it known that he's not a stick man or dirty player. "That's not in my temper. I get more respect than if I did crazy things."

When the time is right to fight, "It doesn't bother me - just the morning after when you wake up with a bruise. But when you win, like Thursday, you don't feel it," Simard says.

When he came to the Eagles, he gave himself two years to make the NHL. "The next training camp is a big one for me if I don't get traded," he says. He still has the option year on his contract next season.

He and wife Karolyne will remain in Salt Lake City for the summer, and he hopes to use the time wisely preparing for his best camp yet. Simard was ready for camp last year - he went to power skating school and upped his foot speed - but a knee injury early in the camp kept him out and slowed his speed, which is the major thing he needs to improve.

For a tough guy it seems a little odd, but Simard thoroughly enjoyed his wedding July 23. After months of planning, it went well, and he liked seeing the happy faces of the guests.

He also says his marriage is "the best thing that's happened to me so far" because Karolyne helps him through the difficult times and has done so since they met a couple of years ago when he was in juniors at Granby, Ontario.

The only trouble is, he's no longer the skinny kid he once was. He's 225 pounds at 6-foot-1, and if he's to become a better skater and make it in the NHL, he'll have to watch it. "She's a great cook," he says.