For a lot of hockey fans, fighting is one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. A lot of “enforcers” over the years have become fan favorites because of their fighting skills alone.
For years, fighting was a big part of the game. In today’s league, it is a more rare occasion to see two bruisers go toe-to-toe in a real hockey fight. Sure, there are still some big guys in the league who can throw down with anyone. However there are very few true fighters like there have been in past years.
Don’t expect to see any current players on this list.
But that doesn't mean there haven't been some fierce fighters in NHL history.
Let's breakdown the 10 best fighters in NHL history.
10. Terry O’Reilly
A Boston Bruins legend, Terry O’Reilly was one of the most famous enforcers in NHL history. O’Reilly fought a number of bouts against Dave Schultz and Tiger Williams, which proved he was capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the toughest players in hockey history.
9. Tony Twist
Tony Twist never saw much ice time but he still managed to put up six 10-fight seasons including a career-high 15 fights during the ‘92-’93 season. His NHL career ended when he broke his pelvis in a motorcycle accident. Twist threw down with some of the biggest fighters in NHL history on a regular basis, including a couple of names on this list.
8. Stu Grimson
Stu Grimson was an intimidating 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds and was perhaps the most feared guy of the 1990s.
Grimson had a career-long rivalry with Bob Probert and the two squared off a dozen times, although Probert got the best of him more times. Grimson could take a punch better than any other fighter which is what helped him take down a lot of other fighters. However, a concussion suffered during a fight with Georges Laraque in 2001 ended his career.
7. Rob Ray
Rob Ray created the fighting technique where players would remove their jersey and shoulder pads to prevent their opponents from grabbing onto them, which was later banned. Ray finished his career with 241 fights and led the league in penalty minutes during two seasons. Ray fought with another elite fighter on this list, Tie Domi, 13 times. Those were regarded as some of the best brawls in NHL history.
6. Chris Nilan
Chris “Knuckles” Nilan saw more fights than almost any other fighter in NHL history. Nilan averaged more penalty minutes per game than any other player in league history and also holds the record for most penalty minutes in a single game (42). Nilan is also just one of only nine players to pass the 3,000 penalty minute mark in their career.
5. Joey Kocur
Joey Kocur fought 217 times during his NHL career. That's a lot. Kocur started his career by earning the most penalty minutes in the NHL during his rookie season. During the ‘85-’86 season, Kocur amassed 377 penalty minutes, the eighth-highest total in NHL history. He managed to do that in just 59 games. Impressive.
4. Tie Domi
Tie Domi may not have been the biggest guy on the ice at just 5-foot-8 but he made up for it by being the toughest. Domi retired with the third-most penalty minutes of all-time. Domi finished his career with a whopping 274 fights. Domi also had some of the most epic battles in NHL history with Bob Probert.
3. Dave “Tiger” Williams
Dave “Tiger” Williams is the career penalty minute leader with 3,971, more than 400 more minutes than the next highest player. In today’s NHL, this record will likely never be broken.
Williams finished his career with 246 total fights. Williams led the NHL in penalty minutes three times during his career.
2. Dave Schultz
Dave “The Hammer” Schultz holds the all-time record for penalty minutes in a season with 472, which he earned during the 1974-75 season, a year in which he also won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers. Schultz was a founding member of the Broad Street Bullies. He led the NHL in penalty minutes four times, and also had 7 10-fight seasons and two 20-fight seasons. Only four times in NHL history has a player accumulated over 400 penalty minutes in a single season. Schultz did it twice.
1. Bob Probert
Bob Probert racked up 3,300 penalty minutes in his career and it took him just 935 games. For comparison, the players ahead of him totaled 3,381 PIM in 961 games, 3,515 PIM in 1020 games, 3,565 PIM in 1,407 games and then “Tiger” Williams who blew everyone else away with 3,971 PIM in just 962 games. Probert threw down with some of the league’s best all-time fighters and he got the best of them all. No other fighter has the track record like Probert does.
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