Whether you love or hate the fighting in NHL games, nobody can deny that the brawls have had a major influence on the way the game is played, how teams are formed, and the overall shape of the progression of the sport – for better or for worse. This is why we’re going to talk about the most memorable fights in NHL history. But before we get into the details of each of these fights, we’re first going to look at why fighting still exists in the sport, as well as when and how the fighting started.
If you’re a passionate fan (and maybe even someone who enjoysNHL betting), you might be wondering why fighting exists in the sport at all. Going as far back as 1922, the NHL had punishments for players who got into fights, although they are seen as “soft” when compared to rules regarding fighting in other sports.
For example, the NFL dishes out in-game punishments (such as 15-yard penalties or ejection from the game, depending on intent) but alsofines players upwards of $35,000for fighting in a game. In comparison, NHL players are forced to sit out of the game for five minutes if a referee punishes them for fighting, with players only risking ejection (or worse) if they rack up multiple penalties in a single game. Thecoach, player, and team also risk being fined, but these individual fines are smaller (the coach can take a $10,000 hit for a player’s first offense) than the fines in the NFL.
This is probably why, despite their best efforts to keep to the “fair play at all times” motto that became popular in areas such as Toronto, the gloves continued to come off during play to this day, with some players pushing the rules regarding fights as far as possible.
One of the earliest fights documented by hockey historians, and possibly one of the most important, took place in Ontario in 1890 during a game between the touring Rideau Hall Rebels, out of Ottawa, and the Granite Hockey Club, who were at home in Toronto. In the article “From deaths to monsters, a history of fighting in hockey” from Sports Illustrated, the authors explained that it was a significant event because it helped drive the formation of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) by Arthur Stanley – the son of Lord Stanley Preston and the founder of the Stanley Cup. In the season following this epic fight, he would meet with other prominent figures in hockey to bring this organization to life.
While the OHA had come together to create more structure for hockey as a whole, they minced no words in stating that the fighting should cease. Kevin Slater, a member of the Society for International Hockey Research, said, “Specifically, they didn’t like getting their asses kicked.” However, despite the best intentions of the sports’ rule-makers, fighting would remain a part of the game even until today.
It’s this long history of fighting in the sport that brings us to the reason we are here – to revisit some of the greatest NHL fights in history.
The 12 memorable fights in NHL history
This game from 1980 between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders felt like a boxing match with some hockey in-between rounds.
After a series of hard hits and a few scuffles here and there, the hard-fought first period came to an end. While it may have seemed the action was over, Mike Milbury skated over to Duane Sutter and began laying into him thick and fast. After only a few seconds, several other melees broke out, and the benches emptied.
It was almost impossible for the cameras to capture everything happening on the ice, but watching footage of the scene highlights other fights happening around Milbury and Sutter, including matchups such as Stan Jonathan vs. Bob Lorimer, Dwight Foster vs. Glenn Resch, Al Secord vs. Gord Lane, and Wayne Cashman vs. Gary Howatt.
7. – 2014 – Flames vs. Canucks
Have you ever walked into an ice rink and thought you accidentally discovered some kind of frozen fight club? If you’d arrived as the game started between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks on January 18, 2014, you might have thought exactly that.
Before the game started, the Flames’ and Canucks’ lines were shuffling and trash-talking, and eventually, the defensemen lined up for the faceoff and dropped their gloves before the puck hit the ice.
Calgary’s Kevin Westgarth and Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa started throwing punches while their gloves were still in the air. Chaos broke out, and fights started cropping up all over the ice while the coaching staff from both teams were exchanging words at the benches.
8. – 2004 – Flyers vs. Senators
In a game between the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers on March 5, 2004, Rob Ray and Donald Brashear started fighting practically inside the Flyers’ net. Ray and Brashear started throwing rapid-fire punches at each other, but Brashear managed to rip off Ray’s helmet and dealt him a few blows to the side of his face. It’s unclear whether it was the punches or Brashear tearing off Ray’s helmet, but as the referees pulled them apart, it was clear that Ray was bleeding quite badly from a wound on his head.
This wasn’t the end of the fight by any stretch, and it wasn’t even over for Brashear: His next opponent would come in the form of Brian Pothier, and 11 other fights broke out over the ice. This legendary brawl resulted in 419 penalty minutes.
The Flyers can’t seem to keep away from a good brawl, and this time around, they took on the Toronto Maple Leafs. After the game there were a few things the two teams wanted to settle – and the puck wasn’t necessary.
The fight started with Wendel Clark sending Daniel Lacroix hurtling towards the ice, and then getting a good couple of punches in before the two were separated by players and linesmen. The main event though, and the one that makes this fight so legendary, is the two goalies storming down the full length of the ice to face off against each other.
Ron Hextall and Felix Potvin went toe to toe in an NHL goalie fight that was one of the more impressive matchups in NHL history. The two armor-clad giants exchanged a flurry of shots to the head (both had ditched their masks), and once the commotion died down, the crowd cheered for the goalies as they left the ice.
11. – 1991 – Capitals vs. Flyers
On February 7, 1991, the Philadelphia Flyers went up against the Washington Capitals in a match that would produce one of the greatest fights in NHL history. A hard hit on Don Beaupre behind the net from Craig Berube resulted in a mass of players brawling against the glass. While there was a lot going on in the crowd of refs and players, there were a few main offenders to pick from the altercation.
Flyers’ wing Craig Berube landed a massive hit on Don Beaupre; as they both hit the ice, Berube tried to regain his footing and was elbowed in the face before lying back down on the ice. Nick Kypreos is then spotted issuing a barrage of hits onto Dale Kushner, and the melee continued to rage until the officials could get everyone under control. All the while, the head coaches from both factions were screaming through the glass at each other.
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