The classic saying in hockey circles goes as follows: “I went to a hockey game and a boxing match broke out.” Hockey is a rough sport to begin with. In some respects, it is rougher than football, becoming a figurative car crash every few seconds. Eventually, something has to give and that is when fights break out.
There are seemingly no rules of engagement for hockey fights. The game could be going along smoothly with no team pulling ahead very far and, all of a sudden, it's go time. Gloves are dropped to the ice and the sparring begins. From there, it's goon versus goon in a round of furious, rock ‘em sock ‘em robots-style action until one, the other, or both fall down to the ice surface.
It used to be that every team in the National Hockey League had a designated goon on their roster to take care of business in these situations. Officially labeled the "enforcer," often times these players were not very skilled at much else besides answering the bell when called upon to keep the peace. In the modern NHL, these players have slowly but surely been phased out, replaced by more skilled tough guys who can actually play the game of hockey as well as throw it down in times of need.
These ten fighters are the most intimidating bunch going in the NHL today. In an era when concussions are a large concern, hockey still allows this bare knuckled brutality to continue, yet these players will wholeheartedly drop the gloves for their teams without that concern weighing on them. Place your prop bets on these guys prevailing the next time they drop the gloves, because they rarely lose.
10 Zdeno Chara - Boston Bruins
At 6-foot-8, add a few inches for the skate blades, and this giant on the ice is not only a formidable force in the corner boards, but head to head when the proverbial fight bell rings. Besides his sheer size, Chara is known for his slap shot, which has shattered records during the NHL’s annual skills competition during the All-Star weekend. At 108.8 miles per hour, Chara’s slap shot took the hardest shot crown at the 2012 All-Star Game weekend.
The Bruins defenseman fits the mold for what one would describe as the model defenseman. That is if a mad scientist genetically crafted the perfect defenseman and added 5 inches. Those who dare take on Chara either in a corner scrum or head to head better have their affairs in order. He takes tenth spot because, although he should be feared, his roll on the ice prevents him from dropping the gloves on a regular basis.
9 George Parros - Unrestricted Free Agent
Not only does George Parros look the part of an old school hockey player, he plays like one too. The mustache has become as formidable as the man himself. Parros looks meaner with his unkempt, raven facial hair acting as a menacing trademark. The legend of the ‘stache has grown larger than his already sizable fighting prowess.
Beyond the gimmicky image, Parros found out early on in his professional career that his place was that of an enforcer. While playing for the Reading Royals of the ECHL, Parros received boxing lessons. This training helped Parros at the NHL level, recording a Gordie Howe Hat Trick the same night he scored his first career goal on October 20, 2005 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.
While Parros is currently an unrestricted free agent, any team that feels they need some extra muscle on their fourth line would do well to pick him up.
8 Zac Rinaldo - Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers have a reputation for being a tough, if not pugilistic, team. The notorious Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s loom large as the standard for hockey toughness in Philadelphia’s franchise history. Zac Rinaldo is the latest in a long line of instigators to don the orange and black. Although he is on the smaller side for what one would expect a fighter to be, Rinaldo is a bulldog when the gloves are dropped. In the 2010-11 season for the AHL affiliate, Adriondack Phantoms, Rinaldo racked up more suspensions (4) than goals (3). Since them, he has been the resident fighter for the Flyers for the last four seasons, stirring the pot and sticking up for his teammates like a good enforcer should.
7 Brandon Prust - Montreal Canadiens
Originally drafted by the Calgary Flames, the London, Ontario native has carried his tough guy playing style on to separate stops with the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. Prust was one of only seven players in the 2010-11 season to tally at least ten goals and participate in at least ten fights, making this enforcer into much more than a hired goon. As a Ranger, Prust was awarded with the 2011 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, given to the player that “goes above and beyond the call of duty.” This reputation followed Prsut to Montreal, where he won the Jacques-Beauchamp trophy as the Canadiens’ unsung hero. Prust is a player that won’t back down from anyone and can contribute offensively to boot.
6 Chris Neil - Ottawa Senators
Chris Neil is the alternate captain for the Ottawa Senators, but his leadership extends beyond that symbolic ‘A’ on his jersey. For fifteen years, the right winger has been the resident enforcer for the Senators. In a role that usually has quite a bit of turnover due to their seeming expendability, Neil has become a fixture with this organization as he brings much more than boxing skills to the team. It was in 2007 when Neil was asked to take on the role of enforcer full-time, resulting in his offensive production to take a backseat to his peacekeeping duties. It is no coincidence that the 2005-06 season was Neil’s best scoring season, tallying 16 goals and 17 assists.
5 Jared Boll - Columbus Blue Jackets
Jared Boll is the true definition of an enforcer. The alternate captain for the Columbus Blue Jackets is asked to do nothing much else than lay out big hits and put up his dukes. The 6-foot-2, 218 pound defenseman is a frequent occupant of the penalty box, almost never falling below 100 penalty minutes in a season and as much as 226 penalty minutes in 2007-08. Check out his fight with Detroit’s Jordin Tootoo to get a better idea of Boll’s fighting prowess. Tootoo, an elite fighter in his own right, was the one worse for wear in this clash of the titans.
4 Jordin Tootoo - New Jersey Devils
Besides making history as the first Inuk player in the NHL, Tootoo has earned the notorious reputation as one of the best fighters in the league. Currently with the New Jersey Devils, the right winger has two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks (a goal, a fight, and an assist in one game), to his credit. Tootoo has been suspended by the league office on numerous occasions. Chief among them was an incident where Tootoo charged into Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller in 2011, resulting in a two game suspension. In 2013, Columbus Blue Jackets player Derek Dorsett accused Tootoo of throwing a “sucker punch” at him, adding to Tootoo's already infamous reputation as one of the roughest players in the league.
3 Dan Carcillo - Chicago Blackhawks
No list of fighters would be complete without “Car Bomb.” As a Flyer in 2010, Carcillo made no bones about the fact that he wanted to be in the first fight in Winter Classic history. Carcillo made it a reality when he went toe to toe with Boston’s Shawn Thornton.
However, Carcillo’s career has not all been about intimidation. The enforcer has had a few clutch offensive moments in his career. For example, on April 4, 2008, Carcillo claimed his first career hat trick while he was a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. This feat came the same year Carcillo led the league in penalty minutes with 324. Carcillo tallied the winning goal in overtime of game three as a Flyer against the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs.
2 Shawn Thornton - Florida Panthers
As previously mentioned, Thornton fulfilled Dan Carcillo’s request to be involved in the first fight in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. However, the winger’s fighting history extends far beyond an outdoor hockey fight. Thornton is notable for taking on opposing teams' toughest man in his career, Donald Brashear and Georges Laraque to name a few. Thornton is a physical player who is credited with turning around the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals for the Boston Bruins by infusing physicality into the Bruins’ play, leading to their Stanley Cup title. However, Thornton’s toughness was a double-edged sword in 2013 when he punched Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik from behind, rendering Orpik unconscious. Thornton was suspended fifteen games for the incident.
1 Colton Orr - Toronto Maple Leafs
To say Orr’s career has been colorful would be an understatement. Early indications of a lightning rod for drawing the ire of referees came in 2004-05 when Orr recorded 536 penalty minutes compared to a measly twelve points for the Providence Bruins. Orr made his presence known to fans and the league office alike after delivering a hit to the face of Alex Ovechkin during a 2006 game, earning Orr a five-game suspension. Orr was dealt from the New York Rangers to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where in 2009 he tangled with George Parros and suffered a concussion. However, Orr got a chance for revenge in 2013, fighting Parros again. This time, Orr was victorious at the cost of Parros suffering a concussion after falling headfirst to the ice during this rematch.