Any hockey fan knows that the game has seen drastic changes over the years. Long gone are the days when entire benches emptied onto the ice when something happened that the players didn’t like. Now if a player leaves the bench, he gets an automatic suspension and the rules are pretty strict. There is still fighting of course, but it’s more of the one on one variety. We will never again see the types of brawls that happened back in the 70s and 80s. Though as you are about to learn, there are a few that came close during the 90s and early 2000s that were well deserving of their spot on this list. This includes one from 2010 that involved over 800 minutes being handed out and enough players being ejected that the game had to be canceled!
Today, every once in a while there is a semi-brawl and everyone calls it a "brawl" simply because they don’t remember what a true donnybrook really is. We will look back and remind everyone just what exactly a bench-clearing brawl in hockey really is. Here are ten of the worst brawls to ever take place on the ice (or in the stands!). To make the list all the more intriguing, we've tracked down footage of all of the brawls present. It's one thing to read about it, but it's a whole new experience to get to look back and see how the game of hockey looked a few decades ago.
10 Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens 5/14/87
In Game 6 of the 1987 Conference Finals, the Philadelphia Flyers were playing in Montreal against the Canadiens. Montreal liked to end its pregame warm up by sliding a puck into their opponent's empty net after they left the ice. But on this day, the Flyers told them not to do it. Montreal didn’t listen and the end result was a nice brawl before the game even got underway. Most of the players had already left the ice and had to come back out from the locker room to take part. A lot of them weren’t even wearing their game jerseys.
After the Flyers had left the ice to prepare for the game, Claude Lemieux and Shane Corson came flying off of the Montreal bench and quickly deposited the puck into their opponent’s empty net. Ed Hospodar wasn’t playing that night for Philadelphia so he stayed on the runway to the rink to make sure nothing went into their net. When Corson and Lemieux hit the ice so did Hospodar. He couldn’t stop the puck from going into the net but he did beat the hell out of Lemieux.
9 Avangard vs Vitiaz (2010)
There have been brawls in hockey since the game first started. There was an era that was much worse than others and the NHL has pretty much ended them from happening anymore. But brawls aren’t limited to only North America. This one in 2010 took place in a KHL game in Russia between Avangard and Vitiaz. The melee got started just four minutes into the game and the game actually ended up having to be canceled because there weren’t enough players left to play it. That’s how many players were ejected!
During the brawl several players left the penalty box to rejoin the action and there were players all over the ice mixing it up. When all was said and done there was a total of 810 penalty minutes handed out. That was the most ever handed out in the history of the sport on any level.
8 Calgary Cowboys vs Quebec Nordiques April 11, 1976
During the WHA playoffs in 1976, the Calgary Cowboys were matched up against the Quebec Nordiques. During the game Calgary’s Rick Jodzio cross checked Marc Tardiff right in the head. The hit was hard enough to knock him out completely. Back in those days, that’s all it took for the benches to empty. Order was finally restored about twenty minutes later after the police had to come out onto the ice to help calm things down.
During the entire brawl, Tardiff was laying on the ice unconscious. Jodzio was arrested, tried and convicted for assault because of his actions. As you'll find out, this is one of the two WHA brawls on this list.
7 Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues April 12, 1991
The Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues have had a heated rivalry for more years than we can count. Playing in the same division will do that to teams. It all got underway with just a regular fight between Detroit’s Jim Cummins and Kelly Chase. The fight lasted about a minute but once it was over tough guy Bob Probert of Detroit started to fight with someone else and then things got out of hand.
Probert was attacked by a second Blues player and then just moments later a couple of St. Louis players double teamed another Red Wings player. Red Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae had enough and joined the fight and the brawl was on.
6 Boston Bruins vs St. Louis Blues September 21, 1969
This preseason game took place in Ottawa between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues and saw one of the most horrendous acts to ever take place on the ice.
Stick swinging incidents in those days weren’t all that uncommon, but this incident went above and beyond brutal. Boston defenseman Ted Green got into a fight with Wayne Maki. During the incident, Maki swung his stick and hit Green in the head with a full power blow. Green ended up with brain damage and a fractured skull. He did return to the ice eventually and was one of the first players ever to wear a version of a helmet. The incident itself was one of the major factors in the NHL making helmets mandatory for its players, but it took almost ten years to get it done.
Green wasn’t innocent in the incident by any means. He swung his stick at Maki first and barely missed his head. So the outcome could have been reversed. After the game both players were arrested on assault charges and Green needed five hours of surgery to save his life. Both players were eventually found not guilty in an Ottawa court.
As you can imagine both benches emptied and a brawl ensued.
Green was out for over a year and Maki died in 1974 at the age of 29 from a brain tumor.
5 Ottawa Senators at Philadelphia Flyers March 5, 2004
This game between the Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers saw 21 fighting majors given out along with 20 game misconducts. The 419 penalty minutes that were dished out broke the NHL record, as did the 213 penalty minutes that were given to the Flyers.
The first two periods of the game were just a normal hockey game. It wasn’t until there was less than two minutes to play in the game that everything got started. Philadelphia’s Donald Brashear started a fight with Ottawa’s Rob Ray and beat him pretty good. Ray was bloodied at the end of the fight. On his way to the penalty box, Brashear was attacked by a pair of Senators players and the brawl was on! The teams continued to battle for the final moments of the game and at one point there were fights after four consecutive face-offs.
4 “Fight Night at the Joe” March 26, 1997
Joe Louis Arena was the sight in 1997 when the Colorado Avalanche got together with the Detroit Red Wings for “Fight Night at the Joe”. The game is also known as the “Brawl in Hockeytown” and “Bloody Wednesday”. When the night’s events were over there was blood all over the ice and very few players didn’t have at least a few drops on their jerseys. Tomas Holmstrom had blood all over the back of his jersey when he left the ice after the game.
This was also the night that saw the famous battle between goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy.
Things got started early in the third period when Claude Lemieux hit Kris Draper from behind. Darren McCarty went after Lemieux and blasted him in the head. Lemieux never saw it coming. By the time the two were separated McCarty had laid a beat down on Lemieux and he even threw in a knee to the head for good measure. Patrick Roy had seen enough and he came to Lemieux’s aid and the brawl was on.
3 “Good Friday Massacre”
This game in 1984 between bitter rivals the Montreal Canadiens and the Quebec Nordiques is one that will never be forgotten. The fans that were in attendance that night at the Montreal Forum saw not one, but two bench clearing brawls.
The playoff game was nearing the end of the second period when everything got out of control. Jean Hamel took a punch to the eye that knocked him out cold. On top of that, Mario Tremblay bloodied up Peter Stasny’s face before the period had ended.
The second brawl started before the third period even began and it featured brothers Mark and Dale Hunter going at it. In that regard, it was just another night on the ice for the Hunters.
2 “The Shoe Incident”
On December 23rd, 1979 the New York Rangers hosted the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden. No game between these two long-time rivals is ever typical. But the events of that night will forever live on in hockey lore.
The Bruins held on for a 4-3 victory in the game and it ended with Phil Esposito being shut down as he broke in for the game-tying goal as the clock was about to run out. As the Bruins were celebrating their victory in the corner of the rink, a scrum broke out between the teams. A fan reached over the glass and hit Boston’s Stan Jonathan in the face with a rolled-up game program, drawing blood. The fan then grabbed Jonathan’s stick and took off. Boston legend Terry O’Reilly saw what happened and climbed over the glass and went after the fan, 30-year-old John Kaptain. The entire Bruins squad followed him up into the stands and suddenly there was something going on that nobody had ever witnessed before. An NHL hockey team was up in the stands fighting with the fans… in full uniform and with skates still on. To say it was mayhem is an understatement.
Mike Milbury went after Kaptain but Peter McNabb, a guy who never got into fights, got to him first. When Milbury arrived Kaptain kicked him and then the famous incident happened. Milbury caught his leg and ripped off Kaptain’s shoe and beat him with it. When he was done, he threw the shoe over the glass, out onto the center of the ice so he couldn’t get it back.
It took every security guard that was on duty that night at MSG to break up the brawl. After the game, the Bruins bus was rocked by over 300 Ranger fans as it was leaving the Garden. The bus needed a police escort to get away.
After the incident John Kaptain, his brother James, his father Manny and a friend named Jack Guttenplan were all charged with disorderly conduct. All of the charges were eventually dropped and no charges were ever brought against any players. There were small suspensions handed out by the NHL but nothing major. Today if a player were to do that they would be banned from the league for life. The Kaptain’s also filed a lawsuit against the Bruins but it too was eventually dropped.
Both of the Kaptain brothers have died since then. Their father is still a big hockey fan but he has never been to a game since. Not since that fateful night when his son had to walk home with only one shoe.
1 “The Brawl in the Mall”
Before the WHA merged into the NHL, the upstart league was known for its brawls. There were plenty of top-notch hockey players in the WHA as many had jumped there from the NHL. But fighting was as much a part of the WHA game as a shot on goal. On April 11th, 1975 we saw one of the longest and nastiest brawls ever. The New England Whalers played in the Hartford Civic Center and they were hosting the Minnesota Fighting Saints in a first-round playoff game. The Civic Center was a hockey arena that was built inside of a building that housed a mall. It was a regular mall with two stories that had shops and restaurants, only it had a giant hockey arena in the middle of it. Hence the legendary nickname, “The Brawl in the Mall”.
The second period featured at 32-minute bench-clearing brawl that saw players fighting on the ice, in the players' benches, as well as in the penalty boxes. The two feature bouts saw goalies Al Smith and John Garrett go at it as well as heavyweights Jack Carlson and Nick Fotiu, two of the WHA’s toughest guys back them.
It all started when, during a fight between Curt Brackenbury of Minnesota and Brad Selwood of the Whalers, Bill Butters came up behind Larry Pleau and sucker-punched him. That was all that was needed to empty the benches. Butters took a severe beating from several Whalers, at one point getting beat down by three of them at one time.
Carlson and Fotiu went at it twice during the brawl, with the second one taking place on the Fighting Saints player’s bench. Later Fotiu talked about the donnybrook and said that he wanted to kill Carlson.
“It was one wild brawl, one of the wildest I had been in or would be in no question about it. One thing though that scared me more than anything else. If I could have, during that second fight with Jack Carlson, I would have killed him. I was that mad. We had gone through the door at the Minnesota player’s bench and I was fighting him in there and I wanted to kill him, seriously."
When the dust settled a WHA record was set with 41 penalties assessed for a total of 217 penalty minutes. The most amazing part of all was that after the game the two teams actually shared a charter flight back to Minnesota for the next game in the series.
There is no footage of the game anywhere to be found but the radio call is very clear and gives a great description of what was happening.