The Hockey Enforcers

The Enforcer plays an important, if unofficial role in ice hockey:  to respond aggressively to dirty play by fighting or checking the offender. There have been many great “enforcers” throughout history. Here are ten of them.

1.  “Bruise Brother” Bob Probert

Probert, along with teammate Joey Kocur, made up the Detroit Red Wings “Bruise Brothers.” Throughout his NHL career, which went from 1985 to 2002, Probert was more than happy to throw fists. He got into 240 fights, according to hockeyfights.com. He averaged more than 3.5 penalty minutes per game. His career tally of 3,300 minutes in the penalty box ranks fifth in NHL history. A 2007 Hockey News poll rated him the greatest enforcer in hockey history. He also drank heavily and used cocaine. He spent three months in a U.S. federal prison after being found with cocaine at the Detroit-Windsor, Canada border crossing in 1989. His police record included driving citations, bar fights and assaults on police officers, according to the New York Times. He died at age 45 from heart failure. His brain was donated for research and it was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in people in who have suffered multiple concussions.

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2.  Tie Domi

At 5-10, 200-pounds, Domi was sort of a runt enforcer. He must literally have thick skin because he didn’t bleed. He ranks third in all-time penalty minutes with 3,515. He mixed it up 278 times, according to hockeyfights.com and posted two seasons with more than 340 penalty minutes. In one notable incident while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Domi squirted water on a Flyers fan while sitting in the penalty box in Philadelphia. The fan became incensed and tried to get over the top of the penalty box glass. The glass collapsed and the fan fell into Domi’s world. Not good for the fan, but the next time the Leafs played at Philly Domi got the fan tickets to the game

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3.  Dave Semenko

Semenko was known as Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard. His ability to fight freed up the The Great One and Mark Messier to do more on the ice during the Edmonton Oilers’ heyday. Semenko also had the intimidation factor going for him, which resulted in only top bruisers challenging him on the ice. His enforcer reputation led to an exhibition boxing match between him and Muhammad Ali in the early 1980s.

This Stanley Cup video shows somebody mess with Gretzky and Semenko is there in an instant to take care of business:

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4.  “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe

Gordie how played for five decades in the NHL, from the ’40s through the ’80s. He could shoot righty or lefty and he could, and would, knock people on their asses. Howe is one of the greatest to ever lace up skates. Howe was a skillful playmaker, goal scorer as well as a fighter. He is also known for the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” – a goal, an assist and a fight. His NHL debut came with the Detroit Redwings in 1946 at age 18. He finished his career with the Hartford Whalers in 1980. At age 51 he played in every game that final season. Now, at 83, Howe is raising money for dementia, a disease that took his wife in 2009 and that he suffers from as well.

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5.  Marty McSorley

After Dave Semenko, McSorley took over as the protection service for Wayne Gretzky. The Great One so appreciated McSorley that Gretzky made sure his enforcer was included in Gretzky’s trade to the Los Angeles Kings. . . McSorley’s NHL career ended with the Boston Bruins when in 2000 he swung his stick at the back of the head of Donald Brashear. Brashear fell to the ice and was knocked unconscious. The stick swinging incident resulted in assault charges for McSorley. The NHL suspended him for the remainder of the 1999-2000 season. After a jury found him guilty the NHL extended the suspension to a full year. He never played another NHL game.

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6.  Terry “Bloody” O’Reilly

Protected the Boston Bruins’ Ray Bourque for most of his career. He had a five-season stretch with at least 200 penalty minutes in each campaign. Beyond the thug role, O’Reilly had hockey skills and posted a 90-point season during his career. The most famous brawl he was in occurred at Madison Square Garden when he scaled the glass and went into the stands after Rangers fans.

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7.  Dave “The Hammer” Shultz

A member of the Philadelphia Flyers “Broad Street Bullies.” He holds the record for most penalty minutes in a season with 472. Over his 11 NHL seasons, Shultz averaged more than four penalty minutes per game. Schultz was the first hockey player to wrap his hands in boxing straps. Other players followed suit and the NHL outlawed this practice with what is known as the “Schultz Rule.”

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8.  Joey Kocur

Kocur and Detroit Red Wings teammate Bob Probert made up the “Bruise Brothers.” He may have had the most powerful right hand in hockey history. When threw that right it led to broken bones and hockey helmets. Here is a quote from Donald Brashear about what it was like to be on the receiving end of a Kocur punch: “Kocur was hitting me in the helmet like a power hammer and in the end the helmet split. I remember the next day I had a terrible pain, my gums on the left side of my head were hurting even though he was hitting me on the right side of my face. I couldn’t chew anything”

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9.  Rob Ray

This hockey pugilist used a very special move in fights – he would take off all his gear and fight bare-chested, giving his opponent nothing to grab. This gave Ray a definitive advantage in physical leverage in the fight. As a result of this technique the NHL created the “Rob Ray Rule,” which increased penalties for removing gear in a fight. Some hockey observers also see Ray as an early iteration of players whose primary job was to fight. Now, NHL teams have rosters spots for guys who simply excel at fighting on skates.


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10.  “Captain Crunch” Wendel Clark

Clark was a No. 1 pick in the NHL. He could score and fight, but a recurring back injury limited his effectiveness as a total player. He spent most of his career as a Toronto Maple Leaf . The city continues to fondly regarded as a warrior. He could, and did, mix it up in a melee, but he is known for his devastating checks, which led to his nickname – “Captain Crunch.”