The NHL’s Gnarliest Fights

We take a look back at some of the most entertaining fisticuffs in the NHL over the years.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Fighting has long been a part of the National Hockey League, so much so that the two have long gone hand in hand.  In fact, it was the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who once said, “I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.”  There have been plenty of scraps over the years and we’re taking a look at some of the most memorable.

Everyone loves a good heavyweight bout, whether it’s Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier or Mike Tyson against Buster Douglas, there’s just something that seems to enamor an audience.  For the NHL it’s often rare that two of the biggest, most skilled players drop the gloves but that was the case on Jan. 19, 2004 when Joe Thornton of the Boston Bruins took on Eric Lindros of the New York Rangers.  At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Lindros was practically the same size as Thornton, though he outweighed him by nearly 10 pounds.  Landing a few early jabs, it looked as though Thornton was about to get the best of the Lindros but it was Lindros who emerged victorious thanks to two right hooks which sent Thornton to the ice.  Lindros had actually fractured Thronton’s cheekbone, causing the guy known as “Big Joe” to miss significant time.

Sometimes the opposition doesn’t get enough time to throw out more than one punch before they’re left feeling like one of Tyson’s victims in the mid-80s.  Take the matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jesse Boulerice and the Dallas Stars’ Aaron Downey on Feb 11, 2003, for example.  After it had reached a boiling point, the two men skated around in a circle with their hands out and ready to go.  Boulerice tried to grab his opposition and go in for the kill with a right hook.  Nonchalantly, Downey avoided the punch and then boom – cold-cocked Boulerice with a left that sent him to the ice, face down, wondering what had happened.

The lightweights can be just as entertaining, however.  Take the Jan. 5, 2002 fight between the Bruins’ PJ Stock and Stephen Peat of the Washington Capitals, for instance.  The fight lasted about 34 seconds but was a face paced barrage of haymakers, with each man landing upwards of a dozen punches before tying up and getting separated by the referees.

But why should the skaters get to have all the fun?  Let’s not forget the goaltenders.

Just because they wear all those pads doesn’t mean they can't fly off the handle. One of the most enjoyable goaltender fights wasn’t exactly a fight but more of a mugging.  It came during the 1989 Wales Conference Finals when Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall skated out of the crease after a whistle and tackled Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios, throwing two punches – one with his glove and the other with his blocker.  As he lay on top of him, wailing as fast as he could, the referees had to pull him off, while meanwhile the rest of the players on the ice were scrapping.  Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy even taunted Hextall to fight him but the refs kept Hextall from skating to his end.

Fighting and the NHL might one day no longer coincide if concussions continue to be a hot-button topic but for now just enjoy the only sport where players are allowed to take out their frustrations.