Sheldon Wenzel fought opponents of many shapes and sizes as the enforcer for the Lewiston Maineiacs.

In the team’s first two years in Lewiston, Wenzel electrified crowds with his penchant for fisticuffs.

His 526 penalty minutes in just 123 games are still a team record.

These days, Wenzel is battling his toughest opponent yet – a serious injury.

In mid-November, the bruising forward, while playing for the Memphis Riverkings of the Central Hockey League, tore his ACL.

“I ran into a bump this year,” said Wenzel. “I don’t go on the road trips for now. I stay behind and do physio work while they’re on the road. By the sounds of it, I’m ahead of schedule.”

That should come as a surprise to no one. It was Wenzel’s drive that endeared him to so many fans in Lewiston in the first place.

He and another former Maineiac, defenseman Bobby Gates, call Memphis home. They even live together.

“He’s the reason I’m down here in the first place,” said Gates, who has had an interesting ride through the minor leagues already.

After being cut from the Providence Bruins’ training camp at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, Gates signed on with the UHL’s Danbury Trashers. He left there after a brief stay, and the team ultimately folded amid scandal. Gates found his way to Elmira, and played there with the Jackals.

“A day after I signed with them, Wenzy called me up,” said Gates. “He said his team was looking for some good defensemen.”

Already committed to last season in Elmira, Gates told him he would check it out this year.

Now, the Cranston, R.I., native plays on the second defensive pair for Memphis.

“It’s been a journey, but it’s been fun,” said Gates.

“Nothing is easy at this level, but I enjoy it. This is the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a while.”

Wenzel is targeting March for his comeback. Meanwhile, the fans in Memphis have grown attached to him like the fans in Lewiston did. The Riverkings have even created Sheldon Wenzel bobbleheads.

“The coach here played the same role I do,” said Wenzel. “He helps me out a lot. I think I’ve improved a lot skillwise, too. I’ve changed a bit that way. When I got here, it was just to be here to fight, and I’ve had some good ones, too.”

Gates was quick to comment about his pal’s influence on the local doll industry.

“If they can have a Sheldon Wenzel bobblehead, I don’t see why they can’t have a Bobby Gates one, too,” Gates said.

Both skaters are hoping to get tryouts at some AHL or even some NHL camps next fall.

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