The place of fighting in the game is hockey's eternal debate, a struggle between the hawks, to whom brawling is a time-honored way to hold players accountable for their actions, and the doves, to whom it is nothing more than a barbaric relic from a less enlightened time—one that prevents the sport from gaining mainstream acceptance in the U.S.
But even as new rules have been implemented at all levels—from the NHL to down to the junior circuits—that lower the game's tolerance for sanctioned violence, the debate over fighting has taken on new urgency this season. It began on opening night in the NHL, when Canadiens enforcer George Parros suffered a scary, if accidental, concussion when he fell face-first and hit his head on the ice during a bout with the Maple Leafs' Colton Orr. In an ugly incident one month later, Flyers goalie Ray Emery assaulted unwilling Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. And throughout the season, some of the game's most highly regarded men, including Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Scotty Bowman and Brian Burke, have made passionate public statements about their position on fighting, both for and against.
With the future of fighting under active discussion at high levels in the NHL—the topic was broached at the league's GM meetings in Toronto this week, and will be examined further when the Board of Governors convenes next March—and with the heightened awareness of the dangers of head injuries, we set out to examine the state of fighting in today's game.
We've compiled a package of features, interviews and personal takes that come at the debate from all sides. Bruins forward Jarome Iginla speaks for himself, but also for the majority of his NHLPA brethren. Former enforcers Stu Grimson and Jim Thomson offer the perspective of men who made NHL careers out of their willingness to drop the gloves. Singer and songwriter John Ondrasik asks Kings executives Luc Robitaille and Dean Lombardi about hockey's changing values, and also opens up about how he came to perform under the name Five for Fighting. Brian Cazeneuve considers the safety implications of grown men pummeling one another. And Anastassia Smorodinskaya, who sat on the U.S. bench during a recent game between the American and Canadian women, looks at fighting's place in hockey's most intimate rivalry.
The package wraps up with a list of 50 landmark fights in the history of the game. This is not a compilation aimed at glorifying brutality and bloodshed. Instead, we looked for significant bouts that would capture the purpose, scope, intensity and absurdity of fighting. Most importantly, we wanted to illustrate the impact that fighting has had on the game's rules, culture and image, as well as on its players, teams, officials and fans.
What's clear is that, while the debate may seem more polarized than ever, the game has already moved to the middle ground in many ways. Dropping the gloves remains a tolerated option for the aggrieved, but it's nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the past (down 25 percent in the NHL over the last 25 years according to one study). The singularly skilled goon is nearly extinct, and the bench-clearing brawls that came to define hockey's Slap Shot era have been all but eradicated.
That's not to say that the NHL isn't still speaking out of both sides of its mouth on the issue. While the league has appealed to the doves by, most recently, grandfathering in the use of visors and penalizing the removal of helmets during a brawl, it also continues to exploit fighting—even the near-universally reviled staged variety—as a marketing tool. Scraps are routinely highlighted on the NHL Network and on NHL.com. Licensed fight compilation tapes are a holiday staple in Canada. Even the league's licensed video game has a fighting component. There's money in all that tradition.
But that may be about to change.
The pressure on the NHL to eradicate fighting once and for all is growing, spurred in part by the NFL's massive $765 million settlement to address the effects of concussions suffered by former players. A link has been established between repeated head trauma and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. The 2011 deaths of three enforcers in four months—Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien—raised awareness of the hard life of an NHL goon. And in January 2009, fighting claimed the life of Ontario senior league player Don Sanderson, who hit his head on the ice during a scrap. (We've omitted Sanderson's fight from our list to avoid trivializing his death.) Given the outcry that would certainly ensue if the NHL suffered such a tragedy, it may be lawyers, and not hockey people, who eventually settle the game's eternal debate once and for all. -- Allan Muir
50. USA vs. Canada women (10/13/13)
Compared to some of the other Pier Six brawls on this list, this donnybrook between the national women's teams of Canada and the U.S. was about as scrappy as a couple of kittens tumbling in a basket. But the fight illustrates something that's seldom seen in the men's international game: The animosity between fierce rivals who constantly measure themselves against each other. With no real competition from the rest of the world, the U.S. and Canada play each other in a seemingly endless series of exhibitions and tournaments. Understandably, they get sick and tired of looking across the ice at the same old enemy. International rules-- and the cages that players wear to protect their faces-- prevent an old school score-settling brawl, but these two teams, who also fought in October 2009, always seem on the verge of finding a way. -- Allan Muir
49. Wayne Gretzky vs. Neal Broten (12/22/82)
The Great One rarely fought. Given the presence throughout most of his career of such bodyguards as Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley, taking on the NHL's greatest superstar was a risky proposition. But when Gretzky did throw down, it was a cringe-worthy affair. There are only two bouts on his entry at hockeyfights.com, and his unfortunate 1982 decision to drop the gloves and take on Minnesota's Neal Broten is most often cited as the classic example of his fistic shortcomings. He also had a 1987 encounter with the Kings' Phil Sykes that resulted in 99 being handed a roughing minor after their encounter grew out of a larger scrum in the corner. Gretzky suffered the indignity of a quick takedown in the crease and a glove to schnozz during an attempt to play peacemaker after the Oilers' Jari Kurri came to his rescue. -- John Rolfe
48. Brendan Shanahan vs. Bob Probert (3/23/02)
Shanahan, now the NHL's player safety czar as well as a newly-minted member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, dropped the gloves 97 times in his 21-year career, battling such notables as Chris Chelios, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Jarome Iginla, and such notorious enforcers as Donald Brashear, Marty McSorley and Bob Probert. His fight against Probert occurred after Shanahan went to the aid of Red Wings goalie, Chris Osgood. Probert thrashed Shanahan and undressed him during the fight, causing television announcers to call Shanahan out for violating the rule against not having his sweater tied down. -- J.R.
A particularly brutal fight, it had the crowd roaring and the players on both teams transfixed by the replay on the Verizon Center scoreboard. The bout got high marks from the denizens at Hockeyfights.com, but it is still chilling to hear the television announcers voicing their concerns about Erskine's concussion history while he is taking bombs to the head from the Thrashers' Boulton. In 2008, Erskine, a rugged Capitals defenseman, had been concussed twice in the span of eight months and missed considerable time. "My main worry is whether I'm more prone to get another concussion that much easier," he told the Washington Post. -- J.R.
46. Sabres vs. Maple Leafs (9/22/13)
This nasty preseason melee showed that the NHL is serious about its ongoing efforts to contain fighting. The two teams went at it in the third period, after Buffalo forward Corey Tropp suffered a broken jaw and a concussion in a bout with Toronto's Jamie Devane. Sabres enforcer John Scott tried to take on Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel, who responded with some stickwork that earned him a three-game suspension. The NHL also gave Toronto's Dave Clarkson a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join the fracas. Among the 211 penalty minutes, three fighting majors, nine misconducts, two game misconducts, two goalie-leaving-the-crease penalties and a match penalty was the unusual undisclosed fine the NHL levied on Buffalo coach Ron Rolston for "player selection and team conduct." The league was essentially blaming him for playing a part in the bloody line brawl because it was Rolston who put Scott on the ice in a volatile situation—though no rule exists to prevent such a thing. Rolston's fine angered several coaches around the league. -- J.R.
45. Ray Emery vs. Braden Holtby (11/1/13)
Goalie fights don't happen very often, but intense ones are memorable and they attract attention. The timing of this brawl was significant, with the NHL still buzzing about the concussion Montreal's George Parros suffered in a fight on opening night. The Flyers were being toasted by the Capitals when a tussle broke out. Emery, no stranger to throwing down, streaked down the ice to confront his Capitals counterpart, Holtby, who clearly did not want to fight. What ensued was an unnecessary, one-sided beatdown between a seasoned fighter and a reluctant opponent. This wasn't so much Emery inspiring his team as it was Emery venting his frustration, a point seized upon by the anti-fighting crowd in both league management and the media. NHL player safety director Brendan Shanahan said, "I hate what Ray Emery did," but lamented that he had no grounds for suspending him and suggested that the league's GMs should consider making a rule change to prevent similar incidents. Commisioner Gary Bettman later approached Emery and said, "So just hypothetically, if there was a rule that said if you cross the red line to get into a fight with the other goaltender and you get a 10-game suspension, would you have done it?" Emery's response: "What? Are you crazy?"' -- Eli Bernstein
44. Herb Brooks vs. Jacques Demers (12/18/87)
Long before the October 2013 glass-pushing confrontation between Patrick Roy and Bruce Boudreau, Herb Brooks and Jacques Demers had a memorable coach fight. During an 8-3 rout by the Red Wings, the two exchanged barbs between the benches (note the lack of glass between them), with the North Stars' bench boss calling Detroit's Demers a "milk-truck driver," and Demers responding by inviting Brooks to engage in fisticuffs. "I told Jacques, 'Jacques, I'll go, but I don't think you can skate,'" Brooks later recalled to SI. It took two full benches of players to hold them apart with both coaches taking wide swings at each other. Much of the tension was discharged when a Detroit player skated by the benches and openly declared that his money was on the surly Brooks. -- Michael Blinn
43. Colton Orr vs. Todd Fedoruk (3/21/07)
It's easy to see why this incident re-ignited the debate over the dangers inherent in fighting. The Rangers' Orr KO'd the Flyers' Fedoruk with a vicious overhand right. Knocked cold, Fedoruk was taken off on a stretcher to the hospital. He later revealed to The New York Times that it was only a twisted knee that kept him from getting back on the ice. Fedoruk said that he'd returned too soon from injuries before, but brutal knockouts and broken cheekbones were part of his job description. As he told the Times, "When you're a fighter, you fight." -- EB
42. The Zamboni door fight (12/13/72)
A fight that could be set to "Yakety Sax" started when the Sabres' Jim Schoenfeld checked the Bruins' Wayne Cashman through the Zamboni doors in the corner. Cashman pulled Schoenfeld off the ice in a headlock and the two began trading blows outside the alley beneath the stands. In an ungainly way, Buffalo was trying to deliver a message to Boston—aka the Big Bad Bruins--that they would not be pushed around. -- M.B.
41. Rob Brown vs. Sylvain Lefebvre (12/5/92)
If it weren't for Lefebvre's right cross, who knows what the witticisms of blogger Sean McIndoe would be called these days. Lefebrve and Blackhawks' winger Brown danced around before throwing wild, wide swings. The big Toronto blueliner eventually used his reach to his advantage, landing three direct hits to the head of the much smaller Brown. Joe Bowen of Fan 1430 Radio (the "Voice of the Maple Leafs") immortalized the moment with a take on Howard Cosell's famous call from the night that George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier to win the heavyweight title in 1973, "Down goes Frazier!" McIndoe memorialized the bout with a popular hockey blog. -- M.B.
40. Devils vs. Rangers (3/19/12)
The final regular season meeting between the two New York metro-area rivals made headlines, created social media buzz and fueled debate about the value of staged fights after it began with three bouts at the opening face-off. Both teams put their tough guys on the Madison Square Garden ice to start the game, clearly indicating a melee was coming. New Jersey forward Ryan Carter later said that he had been invited to scrap by New York's Stu Bickel before the first puck dropped. There was soon blood on the ice and coaches John Tortorella (Rangers) and Peter DeBoer (Devils) were jawing at each other. The crowd loved it, but Tortorella later lamented that it was disrespectful to players to create fights. The league office took notice, and discipline boss Colin Campbell announced that GMs would again consider a rule that dishes out a $10,000 fine for a coach and a one-game suspension for a player who engages in a fight at the start of a game. A previous proposal in 2009 had been nixed by the NHLPA. -- J.R .
39. Aaron Downey vs. Jesse Boulerice (02/11/03)
Few NHL fights remain in the memory long after the combatants exit the penalty box. But then, few feature an instant of sheer brutality as cold and stunning as this. Downey and Boulerice were young enforcers trying to prove themselves at the NHL level when they sized each other up in the midst of a rough game in Dallas. With the officials hovering and ready to move in, Boulerice leaned in with an opening right cross. Downey sidestepped it, then delivered a swift left hook to the jaw that buckled Boulerice's knees and sent the Hurricanes winger crumpling to the ice. The ring-trained Downey later called the knockout punch "a classic Joe Frazier." A decade later, it remains one of the best remembered fights of all-time. -- A.M.
38. Bruins vs. Canadiens (2/9/11)
Even in a rivalry filled with bad blood, this clash stands out. In a barnburner in Boston -- the Bruins were up 5-3 in the second period -- that was already filled with headhunting, Brad Marchand targeted a Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik after an icing call. Every player on the ice had soon suqared off. Canadiens goalie Carey Price even took on the Bruins' Tim Thomas. The melee also featured Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara going after Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, an ugly prelude to Chara running Pacioretty into a stanchion between the benches during a game a month later. -- E.B.
37. Bruins vs. Red Wings (11/2/91)
This game ended in a full-scale line brawl that saw both punches and equipment flying. The heavy-fisted bout between Boston's Jeff Lazaro and Detroit's Vladamir Konstantinov was just the beginning. As the teams skated off, an altercation between Red Wings' forward Steve Yzerman and a fan brought everyone back, including Detroit enforcer Bob Probert, who earned a 10-game suspension for starting a fight after the game was over. The NHL also handed out another 10-game ban to Bruins' tough guy Stephane Quintal for returning to the ice to participate in the fracas. The league rescinded Quintal's suspension. He now works in the Department of Player Safety, where he helps mete out punishment to current players. -- M.B.
36. Kings vs. Flyers line brawl (3/11/79)
It began with a passing elbow from Philadelphia's pesky forward Ken (The Rat) Linseman to Los Angelees defenseman Randy Holt at the end of the first period. Both teams seemed ready to skate off the ice without incident, but a 14-minute brawl erupted during which the Flyers' Mel Bridgeman fought the Kings' Steve Jensen three times in the same extended altercation. The clubs combined for 372 penalty minutes in the period. Holt finished the game with record single-period totals for most penalties (nine) and most penalty minutes (67). -- Brian Cazeneuve
35. Canadiens vs. Bruins: The brawl in the hall (11/20/86)
Proving that the smaller ice surface at Boston Garden was too tiny to contain the game's most bitter rivals, the Bruins and Canadiens took their aggressions into the Garden hallway. Officials had escorted Boston strongman Jay Miller to the hall before he could confront Habs enforcer Chris Nilan, but as Nilan later skated off, Boston's Ken "The Rat" Linseman jabbed his stick at him and the teams continued their hostilities into the runway. Once among the game's most willing scrappers, Bruins coach Terry O'Reilly played peacemaker, holding off Canadiens forward Mike McPhee and goaltender Patrick Roy. -- B.C.
34. Oilers vs. Kings (2/28/90)
It's always nice to have some cheerful organ music to accompany a hockey brawl. That was case when Los Angeles and Edmonton went at it during a chippy game that set the regular-season record for most penalties (85). Of note here is the rare case of goalies going toe-to-toe with non-goalies, as well as the players' complete disregard for the referees attempting to break up the brawl. The television crew sounds amused more than anything else, jovially narrating the action while Kings enforcer Marty McSorley tries to hit everything that moves. Watch for the PUNCH STAT graphic near the end, which gives L.A. a slight edge, 1,021- 997. --E.B.
33. Tie Domi vs. Flyers fan (3/29/2001)
Tie Domi was a prolific brawler. Hockeyfights.com credits him with 278 career fights, while dropyourgloves.com has him with 336. Either way, it's a lot of fisticuffs. Domi didn't reserve his ire for his fellow players. In 2001, while sitting in the penalty box in Philadelphia, the Maple Leafs' enforcer traded blows with an overzealous fan who had broken through the glass and fallen into the sin bin. The fan escaped with a bloody forehead and a story to tell his grandchildren, while Domi wore a bemused, befuddled smirk for the duration of his penalty. A bizarre incident, and one that lives on in the annals of hockey lore. -- E.B.
32. Canadiens vs. Bruins (11/8/70)
Boston and Montreal have been rivals for almost 100 seasons now. Despite recent evidence to the contrary—see Zdeno Chara's 2011 hit on Max Pacioretty, for example--the two teams used to have a lot more spite for each other. In this fight, they almost casually jump off their benches for a chance to drop the gloves. Just as quickly as things got out of hand on the ice, they got even crazier off it. Bruins forward Derek Sanderson ended up in a fight on the Canadiens bench with winger Phil Roberto, prompting Boston police to step in. Garden fans eventually joined in, and the Montreal players hopped into the stands for vengeance. Incredibly, despite the fact that every player on both rosters was involved in the brawl, only 32 penalty minutes were handed out. In that way, this brawl epitomized the NHL in the 1970s. -- M.B.
31. Windsor Spitfires vs. Owen Sound Platers (10/25/98)
It isn't often that junior hockey makes the highlight shows in Canada, let alone the U.S., but the clip of the Spitfires' 6-7 265-pound Jeff Kugel leaping off the bench to one-punch unsuspecting Juri Golicic before chasing a terrified Chris Minard halfway around Windsor Arena was the precursor to viral video—it was everywhere. Although his wild actions suggested otherwise, Kugel hadn't snapped. The forward had been ordered on the ice by his coaches. That fact, however, didn't mollify OHL commissioner Dave Branch, who has spearheaded the effort to contain fighting in juniors. He came down hard on Kugel, suspending him officially for 25 games, but he also said that the Spitfires enforcer would never play another game in the league. It was essentially a death sentence for Kugel's career. The Platers also took a hit: a kid by the name of Sean Avery, who went on to a notable NHL career as an agitator, was suspended for eight games while Adam Mair had to sit out two. Owen Sound's coach, Dave Siciliano, got a two-game ban and his team was fined $1,000. --A.M.
30. Bob Probert vs. Tie Domi (12/2/92)
Probert was already regarded, at the time of this fight, as perhaps the greatest heavyweight in NHL history. He was certainly one of the most willing, having twice topped 20 fights in a season. Domi was an undersized brawler who could, and would, trade blows with all comers. When they first met in a ferocious fight in February 1992—a bout that left Probert bleeding while Domi brashly pantomimed putting on a championship belt--they were the two most feared men in the game. Their second fight came, fittingly, at Madison Square Garden. Domi, the Rangers enforcer, boldly baited Probert with some pregame boasting. The Red Wings forward wasted no time once the game started, crosschecking Domi just 37 seconds into the first period and instigating an epic tilt that saw the two men exchange 70 blows over more than a minute of battle. Probert got the better of Domi this time, landing something in the neighborhood of 45 punches in a bout that many consider the greatest fight of the modern era. -- A.M.
29. Blackhawks vs. Blues: St. Patrick's Day Massacre (3/17/91)
The old Norris Division was known as the Black and Blue Division for a good reason. An already scuffle-filled game intensified in the second period when a scrum in front of the St. Louis net escalated into a full-on line brawl. The crowd at Chicago Stadium was especially appreciative of the beating given to then Blues captain Scott Stevens by Blackhawks defenseman Dave Manson at center ice. Twelve players were ejected and the league fined each team $10,000, but St. Louis' appetite for destruction was not sated: Just a few weeks later they threw down against the Red Wings in a melee that set the playoff record for most penalties (66) and penalty minutes (298) in one game. -- E.B.
28. Kings vs. Maple Leafs (5/17/93)
Few players captivate a city the way Wendel Clark enthralled Toronto. But then, there have been few players like Clark. In his prime, he was the ultimate warrior: a skilled player who was at his best when he got his hands dirty. He would do whatever it took to get a win, and go to any length to defend a teammate. So it was no surprise that on this night, during Game 1 of Campbell Conference finals, the battered Maple Leafs captain answered the call after L.A.'s Marty McSorley had laid out Doug Gilmour, Toronto's best player, with a questionable open-ice hit. What followed was recognized as an instant classic, with the undersized Clark trading bombs with McSorley. While the Kings' enforcer eventually won the fight, the bout became the moment that, according to Sean McIndoe, "managed to perfectly capture everything that Wendel Clark meant to a team, a city, and generation of fans." (As a side note, Toronto coach Pat Burns charged his L.A. counterpart, Barry Melrose.) -- A.M.
27. Penguins vs. Flyers (4/15/12)
Philadelphia prevailed in six testy Eastern Conference quarterfinals games in part because the Flyers reached back to their bullying roots and manhandled Pittsburgh. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Game 3, when Sidney Crosby and Philly's Claude Giroux met up for a venomous tilt in a fight-filled first period. The fact that the normally imperturbable Crosby would deign to fight showed how thoroughly off-kilter the rough-and-tumble Flyers had knocked the favored Penguins. -- E.B.
26. Rangers vs. Kings (4/9/81)
As the first period ended in Game 2 of New York and L.A.'s first round playoff series, an eight-minute brawl erupted. "If the referee goes by the rulebook now, there'd be nobody to play the hockey game," said Rangers color analyst Bill Chadwick, a Hall of Fame referee. "This kind of a thing could set the game back ten years." The aftermath of the fight is still on the postseason record books, for most penalties by one team in a single period (24), and for most penalties by two teams in a single period (43). It could have been worse. Rangers tough guy Nick Fotiu wasn't dressed for the game, though he did fight a Kings fan by the New York bench during the fracas. -- B.C.
25. Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood (4/1/98)
The Avalanche and the Red Wings surely did not like one another. Theirs was the biggest, meanest rivalry of the late 1990s, and when the two teams met the chance to play for the Stanley Cup was often on the line. So when Colorado's Robert Rychel and Detroit's Bob Rouse started jostling after the whistle at the blue line outside the Avalanche's zone, things escalated quickly. Roy, Colorado's goalie, calmly removed his gloves and helmet and skated over to join the fray - perhaps looking to avenge the beating he had taken from former Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon a year earlier. The referees wouldn't let him join the dogpile of forwards, but Roy found a willing opponent in Detroit goalie Chris Osgood. The two met at center ice and neither hesitated to throw big, hard blows. Both were ejected from the game, and Roy was given an instigator penalty. -- M.B.
24. Red Wings vs. Blues (4/12/91)
As Jay Greenberg wrote in the April 22, 1991 issue of SI, "these playoffs turned out to be the worst of times for the league. After a sane—for the NHL, anyway—regular season that seemed to support the league's claim that brawling is on the wane, ugliness erupted in nearly every series." The Norris semifinal between Detroit and St. Louis included a Game 3 incident in which the Red Wings' Bob Probert was suspended one game for high-sticking Blues agitator Garth Butcher and punching goalie Vincent Riendeau ... on the same play. St. Louis GM Ron Caron got into a press box scrum with Detroit goalie Glen Hanlon after saying he thought Probert should go to jail. Caron was fined $1,000 and banned from press boxes for the rest of the postseason. Hanlon was docked $10,000. By Game 5, the underdog Red Wings had the Blues on the brink of elimination when the series turned. St. Louis led 5-1 with 13:30 left in the third period when an all-out melee ensued. Along with 18 fighting majors and nine ejections, both teams combined to set postseason single-game marks for most penalties (66) and most penalty minutes (298 -- including the Wings' all-time mark of 152). The Blues won the game 6-1, and became the eighth team in NHL history to win a series after falling into a 3-1 hole. -- J.R.
23. Wayne Maki vs. Ted Green stick fight (9/21/69)
Nasty stickwork once plagued the NHL, especially in the 1930s, when the Bruins' Eddie Shore ended Ace Bailey's career by skating up and clubbing the Maple Leafs' star from behind during a game in '33. Though the league had somewhat curtailed stick fights by '69, the Blues' Wayne Maki and Boston's Ted Green got into a vicious duel that almost cost Green his life. After Maki chopped Green to the ice, the Bruins' defenseman suffered a compound skull fracture. He needed three brain surgeries, and had a steel plate inserted into his head, but he nevertheless returned the next year and lasted nine more seasons in the league. Maki became a virtual pariah and finished his career with the expansion Canucks. He died from the effects of brain cancer in 1974 at age 29. -- Brian Cazeneuve
22. Dave Schultz vs. Dale Rolfe (5/5/74)
This painfully lopsided bout in Game 7 of the Flyers' second round playoff victory over the Rangers remains a legendary moment in the Broad Street Bullies era. Schultz, Philadelphia's infamous Hammer, repeatedly nailed Rolfe while the New York defenseman's teammates stood and watched. Afterwards, the Rangers took heat from fans and the media, both for their lack of character and their lack of an effective enforcer. "Let's get it straight once and for all," New York defenseman Brad Park told the New York Post in 2012. "We did not meekly stand by; we were forced to stand by. It was Game 7, [the league] had brought the third-man-in rule, so someone would have gotten thrown out of the game [with a game misconduct for intervening], so who did you want to want to lose? Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, or myself? I did [finally] decide to go, but Dale looked me in the eye and said to stay out of it. Sorry you weren't on the ice to hear it." -- JR
21. Ty Bilcke vs. Carson Dubchak (3/17/12)
Most players set personal goals at the start of each season and Ty Bilcke was no different. Heading into 2011-12, his rookie campaign with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound winger set out to rack up 30 fights, and he let everybody know about it. Taking on all comers, he rang up an astounding 37 scraps in just 62 games. He made a name for himself, but his fistic excesses were a tipping point. After the season, OHL Commissioner Dave Branch, who had been looking for a chance to curb serial brawling, instituted progressive discipline for players involved in more than 10 fights per season, including suspensions and fines for the player's team. The message got through. Fighting was down across the league in 2012-13. Even Bilcke limited himself to just 10 scraps. -- A.M.
20. Derek Boogaard vs. Wade Belak (12/2/09)
The fight, the fourth and last between the two notorious enforcers, was not monumental. But the combatants have become linked by both tragedy and growing concerns about the lasting impact of fighting. Combined, Belak and Boogaard fought more than 300 times during their pro careers. They died about four months apart in 2011: In May, Boogaard overdosed on painkillers and alcohol; in August, Belak hung himself in a Toronto condo—his parents later described his death as accidental, but revealed that he had suffered from depression. Along with the suicide of former enforcer Rick Rypien on Aug. 15, the deaths intensified the ongoing examination of fighting's role in head trauma, and of the struggles endured by many former enforcers. Boogaard's family has sued the NHL, and his case raised the possibility of a league-wide problem with easily-acquired painkillers. -- J.R.
19. Dave Schultz vs. Tiger Williams (4/22/76)
While two linesmen were preoccupied with the bout between the Maple Leafs' Dave Dunn and the Flyers' Bob Kelly, the main event between Philadelphia's Schultz and Toronto's Williams continued against the sideboards 30 feet away. Williams, who would retire as the NHL's career penalty-minutes leader (4,421, including playoffs), had incited the displeasure of Schultz, the league's record holder for penalty minutes in a single season (472 in 1974-75) by slashing Flyers' captain Bobby Clarke. Neither enforcer suffered serious damage after their initial exchange of blows, holding each other with tired arms the rest of the way. It was all part of a busy day for Schultz, who left the ice holding his nose in disgust. He ended up with a single postseason game record of 42 penalty minutes -- a minor, two majors, a 10-minute misconduct, and two game misconducts. -- B.C.
18. Ryan VandenBussche vs. Nick Kypreos (9/15/97)
This horrifying preseason bout drove home the potentially catastrophic consequences of fighting. Kypreos, a spirited Maple Leafs winger who'd been in his share of scraps (81, during his eight years in the NHL), took a vicious punch from Rangers enforcer VandenBussche and was unconscious before his head hit the ice, where he lay motionless in a spreading pool of blood. Kypreos was hospitalized and the resulting concussion immediately ended his career. Currently a Sportsnet commentator, he later admitted that he felt he had to beat VandenBussche to keep his spot on the Toronto roster. -- J.R.
17. Penguins vs. Islanders (2/11/11)
With Sidney Crosby sidelined by a concussion, New York routed Pittsburgh 9-3, but the game is most remembered for its two all-out brawls, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors, 20 misconducts and 346 minutes worth of penalties. The NHL hit the Islanders' Trevor Gillies with a nine-game suspension (without pay) for concussing the Penguins' Eric Tangradi with an elbow to the head and several punches. (Gillies also taunted Tangradi.) New York's Matt Martin, who sucker-punched Max Talbot in the head, got four games, and the Islanders were fined $100,000. Penguins enforcer Eric Godard received an automatic 10-game ban for leaving the bench to join a third-period donnybrook. "It was a travesty, said Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux. "It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that." Lemieux criticized the NHL for not being tough enough on New York, and wondered aloud if he wanted to remain in the league. The Islanders later provoked a firestorm by announcing that they were going to show the game at a fan viewing party the following August. The club backed down after widespread public criticism, including from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. --J.R.
16. Larry Robinson vs. Dave Schultz (2/17/74)
For several years, the Flyers had been beating teams into submission before beating them on the scoreboard. Few teams ever stood up to Philadelphia's thuggish ways. But during a 1974 line brawl that brought fans, photographers and uniformed cops on to the ice, towering Canadiens defenseman Larry Robinson battered Flyers goon Dave Schultz. The fight showed that there was at least one finesse team that would not be intimidated by Philly's bullying. Though the Flyers won the Stanley Cup that season and the next, they often had trouble beating Montreal. Two seasons later, the Canadiens swept Philadelphia in the finals on their way to winning four straight Cups. -- B.C.
The 2004 Stanley Cup Final was billed as a battle between the skill of the Lightning and the depth and physical superiority of the Flames. And the series might have played out that way if not for this spontaneous battle in Game 3. Lecavalier took the brunt of the punishment in his spirited bout with Calgary's captain, and Tampa Bay went on to lose 3-0 to fall behind 2-1 in the series. But ask any of his Lightning teammates and they'll tell you that this was the defining moment of their run to the Cup. "Our bench definitely rose up when Vinny did that," Dave Andreychuk said at the time. "Vinny has taken charge in a lot of games for us. That's what he did tonight." By dropping the gloves, Lecavalier sent a message that Tampa Bay would not be intimidated, and it resonated right through the Lightning's Game 7 victory. -- A.M.
14. Vityaz Chekov vs. Avangard Omsk, KHL (2/9/10)
Three minutes and 39 seconds of playing time yielded 840 penalty minutes, a hockey world record. When it was all over, no players were left to continue the game. A minor fracas in pregame warm-ups led to Vityaz's Brandon Sugden, a former AHL enforcer, taking on Avangard's Alexander Svitov. The melee devolved from there, and after a brief pause for penalties, players from both benches and the box joined the fray, turning the ice into a minefield of sticks and gloves. Jaromir Jagr, playing for Avangard, even took on Darcy Verot. The following year, Vityaz was involved in other incidents that alarmed the KHL brass into a rule limiting the number of reputed tough guys a team could employ. -- E.B.
13. Ted Lindsay vs. Bill Ezinicki (1/25/51)
The war between the Terrible Ted and Wild Bill was fought with wood and knuckles. After some mutual stick swinging, the Red Wings' Lindsay freed himself from the linesman and pummeled Ezinicki unconscious in one of hockey bloodiest battles. Lindsay took five stitches. The fiery Ezinicki, a recent Bruins acquisition, took 19 and suffered a broken nose. Both men received five-minute match penalties for their deliberate attempts to injure, the first such penalties handed out at a time when the NHL was trying to curtail violent stick work. -- B.C.
12. John Wensink challenges the North Stars (12/1/1977)
The fight grew in importance as it became ingrained into the national consciousness of Canada as a staple of the opening montage for Coach's Corner on CBC's Hockey Night In Canada. Wensink's immortal moment came at the end of a line brawl between the Bruins and Minnesota in which he had gotten the better of big center Alex Pirus. Enraged by a couple of cheap shots that he had taken while being restrained by officials, the Boston forward veered away from his trip to the penalty box to boldly call out the North Stars for their cheap play. His unanswered challenge came to symbolize Bruins coach Don Cherry's brand of hockey--and, by extension, old-time hockey—rough and fearless, and epitomized by the having the talent to out-skate and out-shoot your opponent, as well as by the willingness to out-work and out-fight all comers. In other words, everything that's wrong with hockey to some, and everything that's good about it to others, although emulating Wensink can prove hazardous, as this player learned. -- A.M.
11. Clark Gillies vs. Terry O'Reilly (4/17/80)
Laden with future Hall of Fame talent, the Islanders of the late 1970s were considered soft underachievers until Gillies, their rugged and talented winger -- nicknamed Jethro after the Beverly Hillbillies character -- gave Boston tough guy O'Reilly all he could handle in the second round of the playoffs. The two men squared off four times in the five game series, most memorably twice in the first period of Game 2, a brawl-filled affair that saw the Islanders and Bruins combine to set the postseason record for penalty minutes in a period (248). The Isles won the game and the series en route to the first of their four straight Stanley Cups. More significantly, Gillies sent a message to the rest of the league and sparked the birth of a dynasty. "I only fought when I had to, but it was what I had to do if I wanted to survive in the NHL," Gillies told The New York Times in 1996. "At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, you should not have guys pushing you around." -- J.R.
10. Nordiques vs. Canadiens: Good Friday Massacre (4/20/84)
At the end of the second period of Game 6 of the Adams Division finals between the provincial rivals, Quebec and Montreal players began milling. And then they began swinging. Attempting to break up one of 14 separate scrums, linesman John D'Amico appeared to have the Nordiques' Louis Sleigher and the Canadiens' Jean Hamel tied up, but Sleigher was able to free his left hand and knock out Hamel with a solid blow over D'Amico's hold. When the teams returned for the third period, the PA announcer was still reading the penalties. Fighting began again before the puck dropped to start the period. Referee Bruce Hood assessed 252 penalty minutes, but was widely criticized for losing control of the situation. He retired after the season. -- B.C.
9. Punch-up in Piestany (1/4/87)
It was the fight that turned the IIHF U-20 World Championship, better known as the World Juniors, into the staple of Canadian holiday viewing that it is today. It was also, perhaps, the darkest moment in the tournament's history.
The 1987 tournament in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, was winding down when Canada, needing a five-goal differential to win the gold medal, squared off against a Soviet team that was itching to play spoiler. The Canadians built a 4-2 lead, but poor officiating and growing Russian frustration put the contest on the verge of chaos. A slash by Soviet forward Pavel Kostichkin on Canada's Theo Fleury ignited a bench-clearing brawl in the second period. Unable to regain control, the officials left the ice and, inexplicably, ordered the arena's lights to be shut off. Eventually, the two teams tired of slugging it out in the dark and the game was called. Both teams were later disqualified, robbing the Canadians of a medal.
The debate that ensued continues to this day. Did the Canadians honor themselves by coming to the aid of their teammate? Or did their behavior only embarrass them and their country? -- A.M.
8. Gordie Howe vs. Lou Fontinato (2/1/59)
Leaping Lou Fontinato was among the most feared enforcers of his time, the first NHL player to earn 200 penalty minutes in a season. That made Gordie Howe's demolition of the Rangers defenseman at Madison Square Garden all the more remarkable. Fontinato charged at the Red Wings forward, who held Fontinato off with his left hand, while delivering several devastating uppercuts with his right. Howe broke Fontinato's nose and dislocated his jaw. One media report described Fontinato's face by saying, "It looked like he ran the 100-yard dash in a 90-yard gym." The fight further solidified Howe's reputation as a great player who did not need anyone to stand up for him. -- B.C.
7. Flyers vs. Senators (3/5/2004)
The line brawl that produced the NHL record for penalty minutes in a single game (419) was two seasons in the making. Ottawa had dispatched Philadelphia in the playoffs in each of the two previous years, and the Flyers' frustration reached a head after the Senators' Martin Havlat was suspended two games for hitting Philly forward Mark Recchi in the face with his stick during a game on Feb. 26. When the two clubs met a week later in the City of Brotherly Love, Ottawa's Rob Ray and the Flyers' Donald Brashear exchanged words and checks deep in the Philadelphia zone zone before dropping the gloves with just 1:45 left to play. By the time the final horn sounded, the Flyers had only seven players left. The Senators had six. It took the officials almost 90 minutes to sort out all the infractions. Flyers GM Bobby Clarke was so enraged he tried to storm the Ottawa dressing room and nearly came to blows with Senators coach Jacques Martin, whom he accused of sending out goons against Philly's softer players. -- M.B.
6. Marty McSorley vs. Donald Brashear (2/21/2000)
This was the night that ended McSorley's 17-year NHL career. McSorley had lost a bout earlier in the game to Brashear, and the Canucks' enforcer had mocked the Bruins defenseman by dusting off his hands when he got to the penalty box. McSorley retaliated with a cross-check that earned him a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Later in the game, Brashear injured Boston goalie Byron Dafoe by landing on his knee. He also continued with his antics, flexing his muscles as he skated by the Bruins' bench. When McSorley was sent out for another bout at the end of the game, his nemesis refused to go. With three seconds left, McSorley coldcocked Brashear from behind with his stick, catching the Vancouver forward in the right temple. Brashear fell backward and his head slammed into the ice. The NHL suspended McSorley indefinitely, and local authorities in Vancouver brought him up on charges of assault with a weapon. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months of probation, which extended his NHL ban to a full year. By the time he was eligible to play again, McSorley was 38. He ended his playing career with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL. -- JR
5. Bruins vs. Rangers: The shoe attack (12/23/79)
NBC analyst Mike Milbury will forever be the face of this unforgettable melee at Madison Square Garden. At the final buzzer, Boston's Al Secord flattened New York's Ulf Nilsson in retaliation for an earlier sucker punch, and chaos ensued. When a fan named John Kaptain hit Bruins forward Stan Jonathan and stole his stick, a contingent of 18 Boston players went into the crowd. Milbury ended up pummeling Kaptain with a shoe. Security guards rushed in to end the violence, and mounted police later had to stop enraged Rangers fans from rocking the Bruins' team bus. The incident has come to be remembered fondly, but the NHL did not look kindly upon it at the time. The league suspended Milbury and teammates Terry O'Reilly and Peter McNab, and fined all but one Boston player. The Kaptain family filed a lawsuit and the NHL ended up putting higher glass in its arenas to more thoroughly separate the players from the paying patrons. "In the greater public's view, it re-emphasized stereotypes of hockey players," Milbury admitted to The New York Times in 2009. -- J.R.
4. Canucks vs. Avalanche (3/8/04)
It wasn't a fight so much as it was an assault. At least, that's the way the courts interpreted Todd Bertuzzi's attack on the unsuspecting Steve Moore, in another of the few times that the criminal justice system has intervened in the wake of an on-ice incident of violence. Vancouver was determined to get its pound of flesh from Colorado after Avalanche forward Steve Moore had delivered what the Canucks considered to be a dirty hit on Markus Naslund in a previous game. In many cases, a player in Moore's spot will accept a challenge to fight just to get past a grievance, and that's exactly what he did, fighting Matt Cooke early in the first period. But by getting the best of Cooke, he further infuriated Vancouver's players, particularly hulking winger Todd Bertuzzi. After Moore rebuffed several invitations from Bertuzzi to drop the gloves, Bertuzzi skated up behind Moore, delivered a cheap shot to the side of his head and drove him to the ice where he continued the beating. The attack put Moore in the hospital with a broken neck, ending his career. Bertuzzi was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, but that was hardly the worst of it. He pleaded guilty to assault charges in a British Columbia court, earning probation for a year, and he continues to battle a civil suit brought by Moore that could destroy him financially. The case is scheduled to go to trial in September 2014. -- A.M.
3. Avalanche vs. Red Wings: Bloody Wednesday (3/26/97)
It was the fight that came to define the bloodiest rivalry of the NHL's modern era, a spontaneous and frightening eruption of malice and anger that had been building for nearly a year. It had begun, as all deep-seated NHL rivalries do, in the playoffs. During Game 3 of the 1996 Western Conference finals, Colorado's Claude Lemieux retaliated for an earlier hit on teammate Adam Foote by sucker punching Slava Kozlov in the mouth. Three games later, Lemieux slammed an unsuspecting Kris Draper head first into the boards with such force that the Red Wings forward suffered a broken jaw, cheekbone and nose, and also lost several teeth. The hit is regarded as one of the dirtiest in recent memory. The Avalanche won the series, but the NHL suspended Lemieux for the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Panthers.
Detroit waited for revenge until the following March, when Colorado visited Joe Louis Arena. The fuse was lit early by a series of high hits and cheap shots after the whistle. The fight exploded when Red Wings enforcer Darren McCarty sucker-punched Lemieux, who was nearly knocked out by the gloved blow and fell to the ice in a turtle position. Before the night was over, Detroit's Brendan Shanahan had blasted goalie Patrick Roy, Roy had bloodied the face of Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon, and even mild-mannered Detroit center Igor Larionov had gotten involved, taking on giant forward Peter Forsberg. The repercussions from the brawl continued for years, as grudges became entrenched and no act of mischief went unpunished by an even more aggressive reaction. All the enmity created one of the most hate-filled -- and to many fans, thoroughly entertaining -- rivalries in all of sports. -- A.M.
2. Canadiens vs. Bruins: Rocket Richard riot: (3/17/55)
Three days after Montreal legend Maurice (The Rocket) Richard slashed Boston's Hall Laycoe and then punched out linesman Cliff Thompson, NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the remainder of the 1954-55 season, costing him his first scoring title. During his hearing, Richard claimed that he thought Thompson was actually one of the Bruins. The next day, against the advice of the mayor of Montreal, the English-speaking Campbell attended the Canadiens-Red Wings game at the Montreal Forum. Enraged French-speaking fans went after him when their team fell behind Detroit 4-1 in the first period. One fan slapped Campbell in the face and was promptly pounded by a former Red Wings player who happened to be in the stands. Another fan set fire to the seats, and more than 100 people--some of whom had been driven out of the Forum by tear gas--were arrested after they smashed windows, looted stores and overturned cars. Richard, himself, went on the radio to appeal for calm.
"The Richard Riot is generally considered the first explosion of French-Canadian nationalism, the beginning of a social and political dynamic that shapes Canada to this day," Michael Farber wrote in the Nov. 29, 1999 issue of SI. "The riot was a harbinger of the 1960 election of Quebec premier Jean Lesage, which gave Francophiles a greater sense of empowerment, and the so-called Quiet Revolution, in which French Quebecois began asserting greater control over their lives." -- B.C.
1. Flyers vs. Canadiens: The warm up brawl (5/14/87)
The brawl began--like a scene out of Slap Shot--during warm-ups before Game 6 of the Wales Conference finals in Montreal. Philadelphia defenseman Ed Hospodar warned Canadiens forward Claude Lemieux not to shoot a puck into the Flyers' goal at the end of pregame drills. Lemieux did it anyway and the teams spilled on to the ice, where Montreal found itself outnumbered 26-20. Philly enforcer Dave Brown wasn't even wearing his jersey when he emerged from the dressing room to scrap with Canadiens tough guy Chris Nilan. Hostilities had been underway for eight minutes before officials even took the ice.
The whole episode was so shameful that it finally spurred the NHL to make significant changes to its rules governing fighting. Brian O'Neill, the league's discipline czar, summoned a raft of participants in the fight to his office in New York, and he suspended Hospodar for the rest of the playoffs. The following summer, the NHL introduced rules that mandated a 10-game ban and up to a $10,000 fine for leaving the bench to fight. Coaches who failed to control their players would also be fined, and the number of players allowed on the ice for warm-ups was restricted. The measures effectively ended the days of bench-clearing mayhem. -- B.C.