In today’s society, fist fighting is generally frowned upon, and in most cases, a criminal act. But in the ruggedly high-impact sport of hockey, where 200-pound men tote around oblong weapons six feet in length as they glide across a giant sheet of ice at upwards of 30 mph, it’s not uncommon for two or three or four guys to square off in a bareknuckle throwdown at center ice in front of thousands of cheering fans like a modern day battle in a frozen Roman coliseum.
Fighting is just simply a part of the game. While technically a penalized act, a hockey fight – for the most part – bears more implications than just a couple of angry dudes with a score to settle. For some players, fighting is in their job description. Whether it’s a deep-seated rift between a pair of teams with a long history of mutual hatred or a team’s enforcer attempting to ignite a spark of inspiration under his team’s lackluster effort, a well-timed fight has the potential to change the course of a game, a series or even an entire season.
Once a fight is over and the discarded equipment is cleared from the ice-rink-turned-yard-sale, the “perpetrators” are awarded a trivial five-minute penalty before play resumes without any further consequence. Oftentimes, a scuffle devolves into more of a grab-and-hold hugfest before the opponents fall down and are sent off to their respective sin bins. But every once in a while, fists will fly in a knuckle-busting bloodbath so brutal it goes down in hockey history forever.
As we prepare to embark on another NHL season no doubt replete with feisty on-ice fisticuffs, let’s take a look at the league’s 15 most vicious fights of all time.
15 Tie Domi vs. Donald Brashear - 4/11/2003
In an epic David vs. Goliath matchup on ice, two of the league’s all-time greatest fighters squared off for the 10th bout between them during a 2003 first-round playoff game in Philadelphia. With Domi’s Toronto Maple Leafs trailing 4-1 midway through the third period and in grave danger of falling to 1-1 in the series, the Flyers’ notorious tough guy jumped at the chance to face down his all-too-familiar foe when Domi presented the challenge. Like all good hockey scraps, the 5-foot-10 Domi and the 6-foot-3 Brashear dropped the mitts at center ice, sized each other up, and unleashed a frenzy of bare-knuckled bombs meant solely for the other’s mortal destruction. In a back-and-forth fight, the smaller Domi ended up getting the better of Brashear, though both managed to land several punishing blows in a ferocious knock-down, drag-out battle of the titans.
14 Stephen Peat vs. P.J. Stock - 1/5/2002
In one of the most infamous hockey fights this century, Stephen Peat and P.J. Stock gifted the hockey world with an absolutely ruthless display of savagery in Boston early in 2002. With the visiting Washington Capitals having just been scored on for the sixth time barely even halfway through the contest, emotions began to run high on both benches. Looking to fire up his down-on-their-luck teammates, Capitals enforcer Peat jumped on the ice looking for a fight and lined up for a faceoff across from the Bruins’ then scrappy fan-favorite P.J. Stock. Well-known for his lengthy career fight card, the more-than-willing Stock obliged Peat’s advances and the two dropped their gloves for the epic scrap that ensued. Though a bit of a miss-match size wise, the pair traded punch-for-punch for a full 30 seconds, relentlessly bashing the other’s face with rapid-fire fists from hell and zero regard for their own wellbeing. Though they were still standing by the time the linesmen stepped in, both sported open cuts from the shared thrashing.
13 Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood - 4/1/1998
Hell hath no fury like Patrick Roy, just ask Chris Osgood. In one of the dirtiest, nastiest and downright spiteful rivalries in recent memory, the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Redwings harbored more disdain for one another in the late 1990s than they did for any other team in the league 10 times over. Stemming from a series of ugly incidents between the Western Conference powers, it all came to a head on April 1, 1998 in a sequel to a massive scuffle the teams shared a year prior. As a line brawl broke out near the Avalanche bench, Roy’s tempter got the better of him, as he shed his helmet and gloves and inserted himself into the mayhem. Though he initially found no suitable dance partner, Osgood soon took exception to Roy’s advances on his teammates and vacated his crease at the other end the ice, sparking the rarest of all hockey brawls: a goalie fight. Ignoring the referee’s objections, the pair met at center ice and proceeded to engage in one of hockey’s all-time greatest goaltender fights.
12 Bob Probert vs. Craig Coxe - 11/19/1987
I’m not 100 percent positive about this, but I’m pretty sure the inventor of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots probably got his inspiration for the game by watching the two times Bob Probert and Craig Coxe dropped the gloves with each other in a hockey game. While the first time, in 1985, could easily have made this list, the second time, on Nov. 11, 1987, somehow topped it in what can only be described as a mutual bashing of the brains. Putting up their dukes old-school style, both heavyweights got after it with reckless abandon, taking turns landing hammering blow after hammering blow until their faces were smashed to a couple of unrecognizably bloody pulps. At the end, a doubled over Coxe bore the brunt of two brutal – if not somewhat late – uppercuts square in the nose, ending the brief but incredible saga of Probert vs. Craig.
11 The St. Patrick’s Day Massacre - 3/17/1991
You don’t throw around the word “massacre” all willy-nilly without good reason. But when bitter division rivals St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks met in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day in the midst of an intense race for the President’s Cup late in the 1990-91 season, tensions erupted in a brawl for the ages now infamously known as the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre. After a hard hit by Chicago’s Jeremy Roenick on the Blues’ Harold Snepsts, Glen Featherston shoved Roenick as payback, triggering a chain reaction as players came together in a massive melee deep in the Blues’ zone. St. Louis tough guy Scott Stevens took part in no less than three scuffles in the mayhem, including a nasty main event at center ice against the Blackahawks’ Dave Manson. After all was said and done, six players on each team were ejected and a total of 278 penalty minutes were handed out. Plus, the NHL fined each team $10,000 for good measure.
10 Matt Johnson vs. Andrew Peters - 12/13/2003
Before this fight, the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Johnson had been in the league for eight seasons, was in his final playing year and had obviously learned a thing or two about fighting in the NHL. Entering the game, he had 122 NHL fights to his name. Contrast that with Andrew Peters, a rookie with the Buffalo Sabres who had played in just 17 regular season games and participated in a mere 12 NHL fights, and you have a recipe for a vicious beat down. To the delight of the Minnesota crowd, the two squared off at center ice in their first meeting for what looked like an intriguing heavyweight matchup. Little did Johnson know it would soon end badly for him. Toe-to-toe, they were sizing each other up when Johnson quickly locked in with a powerful left fist full of Peters’ jersey, and in one swift motion, delivered a punishing right hook. After a couple of left jabs, a wildly out matched Peters absorbed two more huge blows to the face from Johnson, falling down each time, before a third massive haymaker connected with Peters’ jaw and dropped the 245-pounder to the ice for good before he knew he had even been hit.
9 Nick Kypreos vs. Ryan Vandenbussche - 9/15/1997
For the squeamish, avert your eyes. This 1997 preseason fight between Toronto Maple Leaf Nick Kypreos and New York Ranger Ryan Vandenbussche was so vicious that the outcome turned into a career-ender. Fighting (literally) for roster spots with their big league clubs, both Kypreos and Vandenbussche dropped the gloves to prove their worth as enforcers. The veteran Kypreos had 82 previous NHL fights to his name and had the upper hand for much of the brief scuffle with Vandenbussche. But when the rookie Ranger reared back and landed a howitzer of a punch with his left fist to his challenger’s jaw, Kypreos went out like a light, collapsing head-first onto the ice surface, where he lay motionless in an expanding pool of his own blood. Kypreos’ eight-year NHL career ended then and there, and he never played another game of pro hockey again.
8 Gordie Howe vs. Lou Fontinato - 2/1/1959
Lou Fontinato found out the hard way in 1959 that Gordie Howe wasn’t just a flashy goal scorer. Legend has it, Fontinato, a formidable fighter in his own right, took a run at Howe in the first period of an Original Six matchup that wound up sending him to the hospital, badly broken and bleeding from the whoopin’ dished out by Howe. Holding him at bay with his left hand, Howe didn’t much appreciate the unwelcome ambush and saw fit to rearrange Fontinato’s face by squaring up and relentlessly whaling away with his right. For his troubles, Fontinato earned a smashed-up nose, a dislocated jaw and what was probably a devastating blow to his dignity. Conversely, Howe’s hellacious haymakers left him with a dislocated finger on his punching hand and a solidified reputation as someone you probably didn’t want to mess with.
7 Buffalo Sabres vs. Toronto Maple Leafs - 9/22/2013
A brutal knockout of Buffalo Sabres forward Corey Tropp at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jamie Devane sparked a dirty line brawl that devolved into an all-out donnybrook complete with a rage-filled goalie fight in this 2013 preseason matchup between Atlantic Division foes. Tropp’s teammate and resident Buffalo tough guy tried to mix it up with Toronto star Phil Kessel on the ensuing faceoff, but Kessel responded with a series of golf swings with his stick and all hell broke loose. Gloves and sticks littered the ice as players on both teams paired off with one another to settle the score in a center-ice slugfest. Capping it off, the goalies came together in easily the best fight of the whole ordeal, before a whopping 211 penalty minutes, nine misconduct infractions and two game misconducts were handed down by the officials.
6 Eric Boulton vs. John Erskine - 11/14/2010
If you’re somehow able to avert your attention from Erskine’s incredible mustache long enough to watch this fight, you’ll witness one of hockey’s greatest displays of sheer mano-a-mano fisticuffs. It’s almost as if, for a brief moment, each time they’re about to hit each other, they lock eyes mid backswing in a mutual understanding of the pain they’re about to inflict upon their face, before reaching back as far as possible, gathering every ounce of strength they can muster and delivering a five-finger death blast in the hopes of plowing their knuckles clear through the other guy’s skull. Pure, unadulterated brutality. It might as well be the eighth wonder of the world how both of these beasts of men skate away from the scrap not dead.
5 The Good Friday Massacre - 4/20/1984
There’s that massacre word again. And this time it’s worse. How, do you ask? Let’s start from the top. This playoff-game-turned-UFC-match-on-ice between provincial foes Quebec Nordiques and the Montreal Canadiens began with a crowd of angry hooligans pushing and shoving in the Quebec zone at the end of the second period. Then, as players cleared the benches to head toward their respective dressing rooms, they changed course, turning the crowd into an out-of-control mob of flying fists. Quickly escalating in intensity, all control was lost when at least a dozen of individual scraps broke out and the mob erupted into a blue and white sea of brawling buffoons. And if that weren’t enough, it all spilled over to the start of the third period with another round of the senselessly bloody conflict. Over 250 penalty minutes and more than a dozen game misconducts later, the game somehow resumed and the Canadiens closed out the series with the 5-3 Game 6 victory.
4 Bob Probert vs. Tie Domi - 12/2/1992
Both these scrappers make their second appearance on this list – and for good reason. Both were career fighters who cast fear in the hearts of teams across the league each time they stepped onto the ice. But when the stars aligned just so and they dropped the gloves to face each other, it became more of a clash of two immovable objects than anything else. This particular fight was a perfect example. Following their first bout the season prior, after which Domi simulated donning a championship belt, Probert instigated the smaller, compact brawler less than a minute into the game, and things escalated quickly. If you were keeping track at home, there were something in the neighborhood of 70 punches thrown in the span of about 60 seconds. A battle of wills was never so stunningly ruthless.
3 Aaron Downey vs. Jesse Boulerice - 2/11/2003
This is one of those shocking moments where everything goes down so quickly you have to keep watching it over and over to convince yourself it actually happened. When these two heavyweights squared off, everyone in the building – including the announcers – just knew it was about to be one entertaining throwdown. Think again. Urged by a linesman to hurry it along, Carolina’s Boulerice took initiative, throwing an enormous right haymaker in Downey’s direction without even bothering to grab jersey with his left hand. Adept like Neo from “The Matrix,” Star Downey dodged the incoming missile and countered with a lightning bolt of a left hook that connected squarely with Boulerice’s badly exposed mug, and it was lights out in an instant as he crumpled unconscious to the ice, ending the fight no sooner than it had begun. Downright vicious.
2 Ottawa Senators vs. Philadelphia Flyers - 3/5/2004
Bad blood between the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers literally out spilled onto the ice late in the 2004 regular season in what is now the statistically most brutal game in NHL history. After being eliminated from the playoffs two years straight by the same Senators team, the Flyers’ pent-up hatred for their interdivisional rival exploded off the charts after Philly forward Mark Recchi suffered a nasty high sticking incident by the Sens’ Martin Havlat which earned him a two-game ban in a Feb. 26 game. When the teams met again the following week, tempers flared so badly that a fight with just 1:45 remaining in regulation between Ottawa’s Rob Ray and Philadelphia bruiser Donald Brashear set off brawl after brawl until there were only a handful of players left on each bench to finish off the game. After the laborious task of sorting through all the many infractions, an NHL record 419 penalty minutes were doled to players on both teams.
1 Stan Jonathan vs. Pierre Bouchard - 5/21/1978
With tensions steadily rising early in this 1978 Stanley Cup Playoffs game between bitter rivals Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, it all boiled over six minutes into the contest when both teams deployed a bevy of big men to intimidate the other in the faceoff circle. All Hell broke loose when Bruin Stan Jonathan and Canadian Pierre Bouchard had a go of it near the Canadiens blue line. Toe-to-toe, the pair grabbed a hold of each other and launched into a blur of right-hand punches so fast and furious it’s almost hard to keep up. After briefly coming together, Jonathan separated himself just enough to switch over to a devastating, left-hand assault, resulting in a river of blood springing forth from Bouchard’s face that flooded the ice beneath him and covered the face of linesman John D’Amico, who had broken up the brawl. No hockey fight has yet to match the viciousness displayed in this timeless, old-school NHL brawl.