The role of the enforcer may slowly but surely be nearing extinction, but the history of the job will always remain ingrained in the fabric of one of the most violent team sports in the world.
For years, the enforced gig was one that was glorified – a man literally armored up, holding his twig more so as a weapon than as a hockey stick in his ham-like fists, with the sole purpose of striking fear into opponents and, when needed, doling out the requisite punishment for those who stepped out of line.
Today, the enforcer is viewed in a much different light. Often assumed to be a tormented soul, one dealing with a laundry list of mental issues while still having to go out every night and do something he despises so that he can keep a spot in the lineup and make a living.
The deaths of noted enforcers like Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, among others, set off a chain reaction of events that have brought us to this point, where the role of the “fighter” has essentially disappeared from NHL rosters, give or take a few teams that still feel the need to keep some hired muscle on the end of their bench.
Years ago, though, these men were highly sought after. Every team had a tough guy, someone to stand up for the skilled players, someone to go on the ice and send a message, someone to start a ruckus when a game got out of hand.
Some of those men were legends of their craft – Bob Probert, Chris Nilan, Tiger Williams, Tie Domi, among many others.
Some…not so much. They were usually the punching bags for the guys listed above – so we decided to make a list of them (below).
15. Craig Berube
If you didn’t know much about Craig Berube and you heard about his past as an NHL tough guy, and then saw him during his time behind the Flyers bench, you would assume Berube was a pretty mean customer back in the day.
Perhaps – but no man who enters fisticuffs on a hockey rink and goes for a kick to start the fight is going to earn any respect from fans and pundits, let alone the men he has to square off against every night.
Overall, Berube could handle himself – but he was a bit of a wild puncher with no real strategy going into fights. When he connected, he connected hard, but when he missed…he usually ended up on the bottom of the pile.
He also didn’t know when to pack it up and head to the box, as evidenced by his role in the brawl between the Bruins and his Capitals back in 1995 – which didn’t end well for him.
14. Shawn Antoski
Shawn Antoski has some big wins on his resume, but as he approached the later stages of his career, his abilities dipped considerably. He went from being an aggressive fighter to a clutch-and-grab specialist with the ability get knocked out clean by guys like Tony Twist and Reid Simpson. It’s all fine and well to knock a guy down every once in awhile, but if you’re just to going to hold on to an opponent and go for a spin on the ice, why even bother dropping the gloves?
13. Matthew Barnaby
S**t disturber? Yes. Agitator? Yes. Great fighter? Not quite.
Matthew Barnaby got into a lot of fights over the course of his career and while he carved out a place in NHL history as a guy who was able to get under the skin of virtually any opponent, oftentimes he would get his dinner served to him in the form of a fist to the face as a result of it.
While Barnaby got a lot of credit for being able to outlast opponents, he usually resorted to the old clutch-and-grab for as long as possible and waited for his opponent to tire out before making his move.
If that didn’t work, Barnaby was usually eating a bunch of haymakers – making it much more difficult for him to yap away, as he was wont to do during most of his fights.
12. Sandy Moger
In a long line of Bruins goonery, Sandy Moger is near the bottom of the list and for good reason: he wasn’t a very good fighter.
Moger liked to get into it with his opponents, but oftentimes regretted the decision immediately afterwards. A life tip the Bruins coaching staff would have been wise to impart upon Moger back in the mid-90’s: if Vladimir Malakhov is dragging you around the ice with relative ease, maybe fighting isn’t for you.
11. Keith Magnuson
Keith Magnuson should probably be a lot lower on this last based on the video evidence, but we’ll cut him some slack since he usually took on some of the baddest men to ever lace them up in the NHL.
Why Magnuson ever thought taking on the Broad Street Bullies as many times as he did is beyond explanation, as everyone in the arena (and in the broadcast booth, if you listen to some of the clips closely) knew that he was going to get pummeled, no matter which Flyer he was facing.
His ineptitude with his fists was not limited to one set of opponents, though – the Bruins had a good time beating up on him over the years, too.
10. Ed Hospodar
Ed Hospodar was a big guy and he had no problem handling guys like Garry Howatt or anyone else who couldn’t truly overmatch him.
Watch Hospodar take on Clark Gillies, though, and you see Hospodar’s true enforcing colors shine – in the worst way possible.
When there’s a video readily available entitled “Clark Gillies Breaks Ed Hospodar’s Face” on the Internet, it’s bound to be brought up on a list like this.
9. Gary Nylund
Watch Gary Nylund get laid out by Bob Probert on YouTube and it’ll all make sense to you.
Nylund was a tough customer, but there’s more to dropping the gloves that hanging on and ripping your opponent’s jersey off his back. Probert taught Nylund that lesson the hard way.
Nylund got similar treatment from guys like Chris Nilan and others – but when he could, he would simply hang on and wait for the refs to come break it up.
8. Tom Kostopoulos
Bless his lion heart. Tom Kostopoulos would take on an enraged elephant in hand to hand combat if it meant defending a teammate.
Unfortunately for Tom the Bomb, the bombs were usually being landed on his jaw – and it usually didn’t end well. While he always gave a valiant effort, Kostopoulos was never truly able to strike fear into anyone thanks to his inability to take on the true enforcers of his time, and it didn’t help that he was often tossed around like a rag doll by even the least likely of opponents.
7. Paul Baxter
Paul Baxter wasn’t horrible, but he wasn’t very good, either. He lost more times than he’d win, but when he did win he had a tendency of getting in an extra cheap shot or two for good measure, be it in or out of an actual fight. That didn’t go over will around the league and he finally got a taste of his own medicine when Rick Tocchet knocked him to the ground, where Baxter was writhing in pain before Tocchet came back for a second helping of Baxter, cracking him with a hook to the ribs while Baxter was still down.
6. Kelly Buchberger
You could tell Kelly Buchberger had a big set of stones, because he wasn’t afraid to fight anyone, but you might wonder if he had much going on between the ears, because often times he made you scratch your head.
Buchberger fancied himself a bit of a heavyweight fighter, but watch a few of his YouTube clips and you’ll be thinking otherwise. Over the course of his career he was repeatedly pounded by the more reputed fighters of the era – and yet he kept coming back for more. Bad idea, Kelly – bad idea.
5. Joe Paterson
Hair grabbing. Wrestling. Latching on for dear life. You name it, Joe Paterson was good at it.
Fighting? Not so much.
Watch a few of his clips and you’ll see why. He’d land a haymaker every once in awhile and his size helped him out in most situations, but for the most part it looked like Paterson didn’t want to break his fist in any altercation he got into. His punches were short, lacked gusto and he generally used his energy to avoid take-downs and the punches being thrown at him.
4. Nick Kypreos
We’ll give this much to Kyper – he fought his own battles and he backed down from nobody. Unfortunately, the man just wasn’t cut out for the job.
Kypreos got into plenty of battles and he entered them willingly and voraciously – but that early aggressiveness would often wear him out and open the door for his opponent to lay a beating on him. Unless Kypreos got his kill-shot in early, he never stood a chance – culminating in his final, most devastating loss to Ryan Vandenbussche that ultimately ended his NHL career.
3. Don Jackson
Watch some Don Jackson fight tapes – it’ll make you question a couple of things.
First off, why did Don Jackson ever bother dropping the gloves and second, why on Earth did commentators continuously tout him as one of the best?
Stan Jonathan cranked him. Jim Peplinski beat him pretty good. Scott Stevens buried him. Craig Coxe knocked him on his rear-end! Jay Miller did the same.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fight where Jackson overpowered, let alone beat, his opponent.
2. Torrie Robertson
Watch a couple of Torrie Robertson fight videos on YouTube and you’ll get the jist of why he’s ranked this high pretty quickly.
Robertson had a bit of a “style,” like most fighters do, but his wasn’t overly impressive – a ton of grappling, a lot of latching on and way too much hugging. This usually took up the majority of the bout until his opponent (or the officials) got fed up of it or the guy he was fighting was able to get loose and clock him a few times.
Tough guy? Yes. Good tough guy? No.
1. Jay Caufield
Back in 1989, Jay Caufield got into it with Chris Nilan during a game between Caufield’s Penguins and Nilan’s Rangers – meaning Nilan was near the end of his brilliant tough guy career. The fight kind of sums up Jay Caufield’s NHL fighting career.
Called out by many – including the color commentator calling the game that night – as nothing more than a grapple-and-wrestle fighter, Caufield solidified himself as one of the worst of all-time, repeatedly being used as a punching bag by much smaller fighters, such as Nilan, among others.
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