Hockey can be a barbaric, cold-blooded sport sometimes. And that’s true in any league around the globe. But when it comes to the top league in the world, the National Hockey League, there’s a bevy of examples that illustrate just how violent this sport can be when played at blistering speeds. Worse, the NHL used to be littered with enforcers, or goons, whose sole purpose was to patrol the ice and send a message via a punch in the face or any means necessary. It’s a terrifying, outdated approach to sport, one that has been mitigated in recent years thanks to teams opting to play more skilled players in their place. Still, that doesn’t quell heart-stopping incidents completely. And perhaps it never will. Hockey is a fast game, one where emotions run high and the players have the flexibility to exact their revenge in a number of ways. After all, any league that promotes body checks has to expect tempters to flare—and flare they do.
When players do blow a gasket, it results in different incidents…some minor, some major. And when they’re major, they’re major. Sometimes it’s a malicious hit to the head, sometimes it’s an elbow, sometimes it’s a knee, sometimes it’s a punch… you get the picture. This list will focus on the 10 most brutal suspensions in NHL history, so prepare yourself for some truly repulsive behaviour. Some of it regrettable, some of it downright vicious.
So without any further ado, here are the 10 most vicious actions that led to suspensions. Don’t agree with the list? Send your picks in the comments section below!
10. Chris Simon Stomps Jarko Ruutu’s leg
Chris is a special kind of goon… mostly because he’s managed to make this list not once, but twice. And this suspension seems tame in comparison to his other infraction—and he’s had seven in total by the way. This all started with Jarko Ruutu having a dispute with a player from the New York Islanders before falling to his knees. Simon, who was about to hop on the bench, noticed Ruutu’s exposed leg with the backs of both referees turned away. So Simon being Simon, he stomped down with his razor sharp blade right on Ruutu’s foot, who squirmed on the ice in pain. Classy.
9. Dave Brown Breaks Tomas Sandstrom’s Jaw
Poor Tomas Sandstrom couldn’t get the benefit of the doubt, not even from the Philadelphia Flyers announcers, who claimed he was enrolled in “acting school.” That’s because the New York Ranger built himself a checkered reputation around the league, but this incident definitely didn’t involve acting. After a scuffle in front of the net, Dave Brown had seen enough from Sandstrom and decided to send him a message by, well, shattering his jaw with a crosscheck. That’s not an overreaction though, right? Brown received 15 games for the incident, while Sandstrom received little to no sympathy from his fans, especially of the Philadelphia broadcasting variety.
8. Raffi Torres Explodes Through Marian Hossa
Yeah, there’s no defending Raffi Torres on this one. Even the then-head of the NHL Department of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, left no room for interpretation, declaring that Torres came in late and targeted the head. Hossa delivered a pass in the neutral zone before lifting his head for several seconds to admire his work. That’s when Torres came blistering through the middle and shot up into Hossa, targeting his head and leaving his feet to send the Chicago Blackhawk collapsing to the ice. Torres, a repeat offender, received a 25-game suspension for the indefensible hit. Thankfully, this guy no longer plays in the NHL.
7. Steve Downie Targets Dean McAmmond’s Head
After collecting the puck behind the net, Dean McAmmond took a few strides to pick up acceleration and carry the puck in the offensive zone. Except Steve Downie had other plans for the Ottawa Senator. McAmmond didn’t even make it around the Philadelphia Flyers’ net before Downie charged through the zone and exploded through McAmmond. The hit was late, too, as McAmmond had time to pass the puck and skate around the net before Downie left his feet and targeted the head, sending the now-retired winger face down on the ice. Downie received a 20-game suspension for the illegal hit.
6. Marty McSorley Hammers Donald Brashear’s Head
Donald Brashear is no angel, but no one, no matter what nefarious actions they’ve done in the past, deserve what happened to the then-Vancouver Canuck. The chaos that ensued afterward had players from both teams exchanging copious amounts of fists with the goaltender even joining the fray. Brashear was slowly gliding through the neutral zone when Marty McSorley crept up behind him, with plenty of time to consider his actions, and two-handed the enforcer in the side of the head. Brashear fell to the ice in a heap and lay motionless for some time before being stretchered off the ice. McSorley was banned for 23 games, which was the remainder of the season.
5. Jesse Boulerice Crosschecks Ryan Kesler
This started after Ryan Kesler threw a hit and missed, but Jesse Boulerice didn’t like the attempt on his teammate and took matters into his own hands. The only problem is Kesler never knew it was coming. After missing his hit Kesler skated from behind the Philadelphia Flyers’ net, failing to notice Boulerice approaching from his peripherals. Rather than shaking his mitts to challenge Kesler, Boulerice opted to crosscheck him in the chicklets. After his opponent buried his face into the ice in agony, Boulerice rather comically shook his gloves as if to fight him. Too late, big guy. Boulerice received 25 games for the infraction.
4. Brad May Goes For the Head of Steve Heinze
It’s mind-boggling to imagine what Brad May was possibly thinking here. Steve Heinze of the Columbus Blue Jackets was simply skating in the offensive zone with May on his back before he decided to cut across the net and head for the end boards. May, in a fit of anger, lifted his stick and connected with a swing to Heinze’s head, who unknowingly skated straight into May’s makeshift clothesline. May was banned for 20 games for the baseball swing, though to his credit he immediately apologized to Heinze following the game. It’s the little things, right? And Heinze actually accepted the apology.
3. Dale Hunter Shows His Frustration on Pierre Turgeon
Dale Hunter was simply not having Pierre Turgeon’s goal celebration, and part of it was due to the fact that Hunter was responsible for turning over the puck. Turgeon promptly collected the puck and fired it short side to increase the New York Islanders’ lead 5-1 over the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of the 1993 Patrick Division Semi-Final. He had all of two seconds to celebrate the goal before Hunter lined him up and launched him into the boards. Turgeon had to be attended to following the hit and Hunter received a 21-game ban for the infraction. Considering it was after the whistle, this one leaves a worse taste than a lot of the other suspension on this list.
2. Chris Simon Slashes Ryan Hollweg’s Face
Oh hey, it’s Chris Simon again. And this time he’s hell-bent on repulsing you even more. Ryan Hollweg has the honour of being his biggest victim in what was one of the most horrific displays in NHL history. Hollweg unknowingly precipitated the incident after he finished a body check on Simon, who felt it was from behind. Instead of dropping his gloves or returning the favour with a hit of his own, he decides to two-hand chop Hollweg right in the face, sending him crashing to the ice. Simon was ejected from the game and received a 30-game suspension, the longest in NHL history.
1. Todd Bertuzzi Blindsides Steve Moore
What a mess. Steve Moore had no idea what was in store for him after he declined to drop the gloves with Todd Bertuzzi, which prompted the Canadian to shadow him around the ice before finally losing his cool. In this case, losing his cool meant grabbing Moore from behind and delivering a punch to the side of his head. Bertuzzi then fell on top of Moore with two other players joining the pile, which resulted in Moore suffering three fractured neck vertebrae and a concussion. It’s worth noting that Bertuzzi targeted Moore as retaliation for hitting then-captain Markus Naslund after the NHL deemed the hit clean, to which the Vancouver Canucks disagreed. It all culminated in a career-ending injury to Moore and the mental distress of Bertuzzi, who was never quite the same after serving a 20-game suspension.