It’s no surprise that National Hockey League enforcers are a dying breed. Tightened rules for dropping the gloves and hits to the head, along with stricter punishments for “dangerous” plays are becoming enough of a deterrent to put fear into anyone considering taking a cheap shot at Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, or Connor McDavid.
Tough guys like Brian McGrattan, Colton Orr, Tom Sestito, and Paul Bissonnette, who were in the NHL as recent as last season, are having to claw their way back to a roster spot. While some traditional enforcers are hanging on (think Cody McLeod, who notched just 12 points last season, or Tom Wilson with his four goals), most are being replaced by guys who can be counted on to score at least ten goals while adding an element of toughness.
There will soon be a new generation of hockey fans who may never watch a pure enforcer at his finest. They won’t know the fury in Dave Semenko’s eyes for looking at Wayne Gretzky sideways. They won’t witness the wrath of Tiger Williams for doing, well, anything. They’ll never be entertained by an epic Chris Nilan-Stu Grimson tilt.
These feisty players are often fan favorites during their tenure, but just as often fade from our thoughts after retirement. What does an enforcer do after his NHL days are behind him?
There are, unfortunately, a growing number of tough guys who have left us too soon: Bob Probert, Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Todd Ewen, to name a few. We dedicate this list in their honor, and to all the fallen enforcers no longer with us.
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15 Scott Parker
Scott “The Sheriff” Parker didn’t have a lengthy NHL career but an important one—just ask Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Alex Tanguay, whom he protected en-route to Colorado’s 2001 Stanley Cup championship. Parker is possibly best known for his moment of insanity when he attempted to climb over the glass to beat the daylights out of Nashville’s Brendan Witt. Parker is now living a quieter life in Castle Rock, Colorado, where he runs a barbershop with his wife.
14 Willi Plett
It’s pretty safe to say that Willi Plett will be the only Paraguayan national to reach 2,500 penalty minutes in the NHL. Plett spent 13 seasons patrolling the right wing for the Flames, North Stars, and Bruins, and is best remembered for his vicious two-handed slash to the head of Red Wings goalie, Greg Stefan. Plett took an interesting transition from hockey life, opening Willi Plett’s Sports Park in Atlanta, which included a mini-golf course, driving range, batting cages, and a restaurant. Today he helps his son operate a landscaping company.
13 Chris Nilan
Boston native Chris Nilan rightly earned his moniker, “Knuckles,” racking up over 3,000 penalty minutes in fewer than 700 NHL games. Nilan is best known for his time with Montreal, where stood up for Habs stars Mats Naslund, Guy Lafleur, and Bob Gainey. After the NHL, he spent time in the insurance industry and returned to hockey in a coaching capacity. Before long, though, Nilan became addicted to painkillers, and then drugs, and nearly died in a car crash. Now recovered, he hosts “Off the Cuff” on TSN Radio and speaks to youth about the dangers of addiction.
12 Joey Kocur
Serving with Bob Probert as the Detroit Red Wings’ dreaded “Bruise Brothers” duo, Joey Kocur collected over 2,500 penalty minutes over his career with more than 200 fights. Kocur was an enforcer in every sense, punishing opponents with his powerful right hook. Today he serves as president of the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association, where he plays old-timer matches and raises funds for charity.
11 Gino Odjick
Gino Odjick was a fan favorite wherever he played, especially in Vancouver where his career began and in Montreal, a three-hour drive from his hometown. As a Canuck, Gino guarded Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, and Cliff Ronning all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. After retiring, Odjick spent more time speaking with First Nations youth across Canada and became manager of the Musqueam Golf & Learning Academy in Vancouver. In 2014, he was diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, a rare heart disease, which he continues to battle today.
10 Dave Semenko
The addition of Dave Semenko to the Oilers for the purpose of protecting their burgeoning superstars ushered in the era of NHL enforcers. Even with the all-stars of Gretzky, Messier, and Jari Kurri on the team, Semenko earned a cult following among fans, who affectionately dubbed him “Cement Head.” A pure fighter, Semenko even squared off against Muhammad Ali in a fundraising bout. Up until this summer, he was part of the Oilers pro scouting staff, but was let go as part of management's house clearing.
9 Jeff Odgers
Saskatchewan boy Jeff Odgers defied the odds by making an NHL career for himself, cracking the San Jose Sharks lineup undrafted through a tryout camp. Odgers went on to compile over 2,000 penalty minutes and more than 240 fights. After retirement, he worked as a color commentator for the Atlanta Thrashers, where he had finished his playing career, before heading back to Saskatchewan to coach his son’s junior team. Odgers still plays hockey with the Rocanville Tigers of the Triangle Hockey League, and during the day he operates his family farm.
8 Dave Brown
Dave Brown played a formidable career as an enforcer for Philadelphia and Edmonton, finishing his career in San Jose. Brown was a solid fighter who reminded Flyers fans of the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies, regularly taking on the likes of Chris Nilan, Tim Hunter, Jay Miller, and Enrico Ciccone. He was part of the bench-clearing brawl against Montreal in the playoffs of 1987 that, some say, slowly introduced the cracking down of fighting in the NHL. Brown, evidently a lifelong Flyer, now heads the team’s pro scouting team.
7 Stu Grimson
Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson was not only a top enforcer of the 1990s but also possessed one of the best nicknames of his era. With a career spent almost entirely in the Western Conference, Grimson developed rivalries with fellow enforcers Georges Laraque, Sandy McCarthy, and had a dozen tilts with Bob Probert. After hockey, he earned a law degree and worked with the NHL Players Association and with a firm in Nashville. He is now part of the Predators’ broadcast team.
6 Dale Hunter
Finishing his career second in all-time penalty minutes, while also notching over 1,000 points, many regard Dale Hunter more as a tough guy than a true enforcer. Either way, Hunter certainly had a vicious side, and is perhaps best remembered for his ugly cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon that resulted in a 21-game suspension. After his playing career, Hunter took over as head coach of the London Knights, leading them to a Memorial Cup title in 2005. He then made the step to the NHL, coaching Washington for the better part of a season before returning to the Knights soon after.
5 Donald Brashear
Donald Brashear was one of the most-feared enforcers during his time in the NHL, being named “Enforcer of the Decade” by the Hockey News. A skilled fighter, Brashear took up mixed martial arts, dropping his first opponent with a TKO in 21 seconds. He later returned to hockey, first with Rivière-du-Loup of the LNAH and then a brief stint in Sweden with Modo. He has returned to the LNAH for the 2015-16 season with a five-game trial contract with the Thetford-Mines Isothermic.
4 Tie Domi
Tie Domi was regarded as one of the toughest and most entertaining enforcers of his time. Ending his career with the third-most penalty minutes in NHL history, the five-foot-eight tough guy scrapped his way into the hearts of Jets, Rangers, and Leafs fans. Since retiring, Tie has written a memoir and follows the hockey career of his son, Max, who is now in the NHL. Tie has appeared on TV commercials for Comwave and made the news in 2014 for challenging then-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (which Ford accepted in embarrassing fashion).
3 Marty McSorley
Filling the skates of Dave Semenko is no easy task, but Mary McSorley played the role of Gretzky’s bodyguard perfectly. The two shared the ice for over a decade on both the Oilers and Kings. McSorley’s career, however, ended in notoriety when he slashed Canucks enforcer Donald Brashear on the head, leading to an assault conviction. After the NHL, he attempted to purchase the Cardiff Devils UK hockey club. With that endeavor falling through, McSorley turned to a career in television, picking up small roles on CSI: Miami and Greek before landing an analyst job with Sportsnet.
2 Georges Laraque
Georges Laraque established himself as one of the NHL’s premier heavyweight enforcers. With a six-foot-three, 275-pound frame, Laraque was highly sought by skilled clubs like Pittsburgh and Montreal to bulk up the lineup and protect their young stars. Laraque has been active since retiring from the NHL in 2010, serving as deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada for two years and championing animal rights and the work of PETA. After a five-year absence from professional hockey, Laraque came out of retirement in 2015 to lace up for a Norwegian Division-2 club.
1 Tiger Williams
There was no greater NHL tough guy than Dave “Tiger” Williams. Including the playoffs, Tiger piled up over 4,000 career penalty minutes and dropped the gloves on hundreds of occasions against admirable foes like Terry O’Reilly, Dave Schultz, Tim Hunter, and Dave Semenko. After hockey, Tiger took an unusual turn into the oil and gas industry, where he operated Pacific Rodera Energy for several years. Today he takes part in charity golf tournaments and alumni hockey matches. He presumable still receives royalties for the cookbook he co-authored, Done Like Dinner: Tiger in the Kitchen. No joke.
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