The NHL is famed for skilled shots, the grace of players skating, awesome saves and of course fighting. The enforcers job is to defend players who are getting “too much attention” from another player, this normally (pretty much always) ends in violence. Some see it as unnecessary and thuggish, others a key strategy in the game plan. Here’s Alex Underwood on the NHL tough guys…
In modern day NHL (not minor leagues) enforcers have a less visible presents with teams preferring to have skill players who can also throw a punch or two on the roster, although don’t get me wrong, they are still out there. The past is a different story though, goons were well known and when they were on the ice, more often than not the gloves were off. But just who were the meanest of a bad bunch. Here is my list of who I consider to be the toughest of them all.
Dave “the Hammer” Schultz, various teams 1969-1980
Philadelphia Flyers won back to back Stanley Cups in 74’ and 75’ and Mr Schultz was a member of the team’s “broad street bullies”. In the 74’-75’ season he grabbed the record for penalty minutes in a season (472). The 400 minuit mark has only been broken four times and 50% of those are Schultz (his other being 405).
The Hammer’s alterations with Terry O’Reilly and Keith Magnuson were brutal; some fans went purely in the expectation of the altercation and would often bet before the game. It was his talent that ultimately ended his career. More and younger enforcers who wanted to prove their worth would often hunt Schultz, as he got older he lost his ability to fight so many younger enforcers until his retirement in 1980.
Terry “bloody” O’Reilly, Boston Bruins 1971-1985
Terry was known for his protective nature over his team mates. He racked up 200 penalty minutes five years running and 2,095 in his 13 year career. Now these numbers are not the highest but it was the infamous Rangers game on the 23rd of December 1979 that puts him on the list.
In a postgame disagreement involving almost all the players, a Rangers fan thought it was a clever idea to grab a hockey stick and smack a team mate of O’Reilly in the face. Unfortunately for the fan O’Reilly spotted this, climbed over the barrier into the stands and had a “difference of opinion” with the fan. The situation got worse when a number of Bruins followed as other fans got involved. O’Reilly was given just an eight game suspension. Eric Cantona got nine months and £20,000 fine for a lot less, how times change.
Dave “Tiger” Williams, various teams, 1974-1988
Tiger makes the top spot because of his record total of 74 hours in the penalty box, he spent over 300 penalty minutes in a season six times and was described as “a dirty son of a #####” by a referee (don’t really hear that in the premier league!). As well as his ability to fight he was also a good all round hockey player. For example his best professional season saw him score 22 goals in 55 games. Tiger was once asked who his toughest opponant was, he said “all of them, but I respect O’Reilly and others like him”. He always argued he was picked on and did not deserve such a large amount of penalty minutes. However the reality is he should have had many more.
Marty McSorley, various teams, 1982-2000
McSorley’s enforcing credentials see him ranked fourth in all-time career penalty minutes (3,381), however he is famed for his on ice relationship with Wayne Gretzky. The two spent a total of eight seasons together when they played for the Edmonton Oilers, LA Kings and New York Rangers. They were not always on the same team but when they were it was McSorleys job to look after Gretzky, and it worked. Defencemen knew when Gretzky was on the ice, McSorley was not far behind. If they tried to intimidate or mess with Gretzky, there was only one outcome.
McSorley was often excessive in his fights and this ended his career when in February 2000 Marty, who was now playing without Gretzky for the Boston Bruins, beat enforcer Donald Brashear in the head with his stick. Brashear who played for the Vancouver Canucks was knocked out on the ice. McSorley was charged and convicted of assault and suspended by the NHL for one year. After serving a one year suspension he retired.
Bob Probert, various teams, 1985-2002
Probert’s career ran alongside McSorley’s so naturally when they met on the ice they had one or two things to talk about. The fights the two had generally lasted a very long time and were brutal, neither player ever gave in. Probert is considered the king of his era, 283 fights and 3000 penalty minutes with both the Black Hawks and Red Wings.
It was Probert who paved the way for modern enforcers, while some enforcers of the past could contribute most were pure fighters, today almost all enforcers are also skilled players. Probert’s best offensive year was in the ’92 –’93 season where he scored 43 goals.
Broad Street bullies, late 70’s early 80’s. “Everybody hated us, and we loved it” Ed Snyder
There are numorous other enforcers that could easaly end up on this list, but one group of enforcers must have a mention. Let me first give you a fact about the bullies. The style and reputation they had made the NHL consider felony convictions as an official statistic! Dave Schultz who was mentioned earlier was joined by (amongst others), Andre ‘Moose’ Dupont and Bob ‘Hound Dog’ Kelly. The three enforcers were brought together by owner Ed Snider in response to two meetings with the St Louis Blues, where the Flyers were pushed around and beaten badly.
To put it simply every game saw headlines of aggressive play from a team that appeared fearless, and everywhere they played, they were loathed. The linchpin of the team was Coach Fred Shero and centre Bobby Clarke, the star player had full respect from the whole team, and they knew he would never tell them to do anything he was not prepared to do himself. The team itself was a family who played, drank and fought together.
With three of the best enforcers on the ice the team became targets, the ensuing fights were truly unbelievable. With tough guys, talented players and protective spirit, the team was one of the toughest and most feared in history and the fastest expansion team to win the Stanley Cup after just six seasons.