Fighting in hockey isn’t what it used to be, with officials stopping fisticuffs as quickly as they can before it gets too out of hand.
But there was a time when fighting was a huge part of the game. Every team had at least one player who could swing his fists and do some damage – an enforcer who was on the roster to protect the better players on the team. Often, these players had long careers as expert punchers. Their ability to spin in a circle on skates and simultaneously deliver blows on opposing players was valued by team officials and exciting to rabid fans.
The Red Wings have had a long history of great enforcers. Here’s my choice for the toughest to ever wear the Red Wing sweater.
5. Darren McCarty
McCarty was known more for his fists than his scoring ability, taking on the role of the Red Wings enforcer most of his career, a role in which he won four Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, the last of which after resurrecting his career in the Red Wings minor league system. Perhaps no other player in franchise history loved being a Detroit Red Wing more than McCarty.
4. Ted Lindsay
Though Lindsay scored over 800 points in his Hall of Fame career, won the Art Ross Trophy in 1950 for leading in scoring, and won the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit, he’s legendary as “Terrible Ted” – the enforcer who played on the famous “Production Line” with Sid Abel and Gordie Howe. His rough play led the NHL to develop penalties for ‘elbowing’ and ‘kneeing’.
3. Joey Kocur
Known for his extreme physical play, Kocur was one of the most penalized players in NHL history, amassing a total of 2519 penalty minutes in a career that spanned from 1983 to 1999. One opponent described how Kocur had cracked his helmet with his punches, and though his helmet had absorbed most of the blow, he still felt serious pain in his gums, even on the other side of his face, leaving him unable to eat for two days. Kocur’s punches often seriously injured opposing players, such as Brad Dalgarno of the New York Islanders, whose orbital bone, cheek bone, and jaw were fractured by Kocur.
2. Gordie Howe
When Howe entered the NHL in the the years after World War II, there were just six teams in the league. Players on opposing clubs were very familiar with each other, and newcomers were always tested for their mettle. The Canadian was a skilled skater and scorer, and when he joined the Wings as a rookie at the age of 18, older veteran players targeted him. But Howe was big, tough, and fearless. Howe fought so often in his rookie season that coach Jack Adams told him, “I know you can fight. Now can you show me you can play hockey?” The term Gordie Howe hat trick (consisting of a goal, an assist, and a fight) was coined in reference to his penchant for fighting. A Hall of Fame for his amazing scoring records, and arguably the greatest player to ever lace on skates, Howe was also a tough player who would fight when he had to.
1. Bob Probert
No player had more altercations and controversy on the ice (and off) for the Detroit Red Wings than Probert. Among his fighting and enforcer highlights: Probert once traded punches with Marty McSorly of the Penguins for nearly two minutes; he had a series of bouts with fellow enforcers Craig Coxe, Tie Domi, and Wendell Clark. With teammate Joey Kocur (#3), Probert formed the infamous “Bruise Brothers” on the Red Wings in the 1980s and early 1990s. Laterm when they were playing against each other after both leaving Detroit, Kocur and Probert traded punches on the ice during a melee.