The Most Notorious Villains in NHL History
Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports. Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something. So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nausea for the answer by any means necessary. The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you. If you are a fan of Sports History, check out the other articles I have written – “Sports History”.
I decided to take a look back at some of the most notorious players to ever have put on a pair of blades. In each case they are known for having committed an atrocity so bad, they will forever be linked to the event and never forgiven. I invite you to add other villains in the comment section below.
Without further ado, I present to you today’s Peculiar Side:
Claude Lemieux – The mere mention of the name will have every Red Wings fan literally ready to pounce. Throughout his career as a villain he was not limited to the infamous series against Detroit where he completely destroyed Kris Draper’s face, though that is certainly the one that is longest-lasting. As a member of Detroit’s “Grind Line” with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, Draper was an important part of the Red Wings teams of the mid-late 90s and early 2000s. In 1996, the Red Wings set a new record for regular season points, but were up against a strong Avalanche team led by Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Peter Forsberg in the Western Conference Finals. While two of the most talented teams in recent memory should be enough to make for interesting hockey, no one was prepared for all the hell that broke loose. In Game 6, after poking the puck forward near the teams’ benches, Draper was facing up-ice while slowly moving backwards when Claude Lemieux completely smashed him face first into the boards’ edge. It took months to repair the broken jaw, nose, cheekbone, and to recover from nerve damage and a nasty concussion. Again, Lemieux was a villain at times throughout his career, but the bitter hatred between the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and both teams’ fans was a direct result of his vicious hit on Draper.
Matt Cooke – Really, unless you’re a Habs fan (see: Zdeno Chara), can you argue that Matt Cooke ISN’T the most hated player in hockey today? Nah, I thought not. Everyone hates the guy outside of Pittsburgh. Of all the atrocities he’s committed, none can compare to his hit on Marc Savard. With one stupid decision, in a split second the star Bruins centre’s career came to a virtual end (sure he’d try a comeback, but it didn’t last long). After receiving a pass just inside the blueline, Savard released a shot. A few moments later, Cooke came across his front with a vicious shoulder to Savard’s head. He was completely unconscious laying on the ice for some time, suffering a severe concussion. When he did come-to, and was taken to hospital with a serious concussion – basically, a brain injury. Though concussions in sports have been around forever, this incident was one of the worst and highest profile incidents on record. To this day, a young man’s life was altered as a result of a disgusting hit. Matt Cooke has had his fair share of other difficulties with NHL law, but the hit on Savard was the worst of the worst.
Todd Bertuzzi: Todd Bertuzzi makes the list for a vicious attack on Steve Moore that left Moore with a broken neck and ended Moore’s career. While skating behind Moore, Bertuzzi grabbed his jersey and sucker punched him in the back of the head. Moore fell to the ice and a melee ensued with everyone from both teams jumping into the fray. The move earned Bertuzzi a suspension for the rest of the regular season and the entire 2004 NHL Playoffs. It was also set to be reviewed if the suspension would continue into the following season. However, after the 2004-05 lockout wiped out the entire season, Bertuzzi was allowed back into the NHL when things started again. The attack was due to the fact that Moore had injured Canucks captain Markus Naslund with a hit in the previous meeting between the Avalanche and the Canucks and Bertuzzi was out looking for revenge. The premeditated nature of Bertuzzi’s actions makes this hit that much worse. There have been allegations over the years that then Canucks coach Marc Crawford and then General Manager Brian Burke endorsed, condoned, or even ordered the revenge on Moore, however the courts are still dealing with those cases.
Marty McSorley: McSorley was always known as one of the biggest and toughest players in the NHL. In fact when Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, he requested that his personal bodyguard, McSorely, also be included in the deal, so that he would have the same protection on the ice. McSorley had a legendary fight with Bob Probert in 1994, an epic encounter that cemented the reputation of both men as feared pugilists. However, it was his actions on February 21, 2000 that would lead to a one-year suspension from the NHL, and him being found guilty of assault in a criminal court, and given 18 months probation. With time running out in a game between McSorley’s Boston Bruins and Brashear’s Vancouver Canucks, McSorley viciously slashed Brashear in the head. The two had fought earlier in the game with Brashear clearly coming out on top. Many thought the slash was as revenge for that fight, or that it was due to Brashear turning down McSorley’s request for a rematch. Either way, the slash was uncalled for, and landed McSorley what is the longest suspension in NHL history. He would never play another game in the NHL.
Bobby Clarke: The Captain of the Broad Street Bullies was at the centre of many incidents during his Hall of Fame NHL career. However his most infamous act came in international competition during game 6 of the 1972 Canada vs Russia Summit Series. Clarke laid a vicious slash to the ankle of Soviet star Valeri Kharmalov, breaking his ankle. The injury took the Soviet’s best player out for game 7, and even though he played game 8 he was largely ineffective. The slash remains controversial today with some calling it the type of play that needed to be done to win the series, and others calling it vicious, uncalled for, and a dirty and deliberate intent to injure. The late John Ferguson, an assistant coach on Team Canada 72 stated, “I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, ‘I think he needs a tap on the ankle.’ I didn’t think twice about it. It was Us versus Them. And Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it. And I sure wasn’t going to ask Henderson.” While Paul Henderson called the incident “The low point of the series”, however he would later retract said criticism. Clarke for his part, stands behind his actions saying that Kharmalov had initiated the dirty stick work between the two that had gone on all series.
Dino Ciccarelli: Ciccarelli is the only NHL player to be sent to jail over his actions in an on-ice incident. His 1988 attack on Luke Richardson was so vicious that he was charged and convicted of assault, and given one day in jail, in addition to a $1000 fine. The fact he was already on probation for an off-ice indecent exposure incident at the time of the on-ice incident certainly didn’t help him in court. In the incident Ciccarelli gave Richardson a vicious two-hand slash to the head. He then attempted two, two-handed tomahawk chops to Richardson’s head with his stick but grazed him on the first, and misses on the second. In many ways, Ciccarelli and Richardson are both fortunate that more damage was not done. The NHL suspended Cicarelli for 10 games for the incident.
Dale Hunter: Dale Hunter is one of the few players in NHL History to have over 1000 career points, and 1000 career penalty minutes. He was known for being a tough, skilled agitator throughout his career, mostly spent with the Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals. While Hunter earned a reputation for being a player who opponents hated, there is one incident in particular that stands out for its villany. In the 1993 Playoffs, the Washington Capitals faced a 3-2 deficit in their first round series with the New York Islanders. The Islanders star scorer was Pierre Turgeon, and when his late goal gave the Islanders a two-goal lead in game 6 and wrapped-up the series, Hunter snapped. Turgeon was celebrating the goal with his arms raised, when Hunter checked him into the boards from behind, leading to a serious shoulder injury and limiting Turgeon for the rest of the Islanders playoffs. The play occurred well after the whistle on a play that essentially ended the Capitals season. For his role in the assault, Hunter was given what was then one of the longest suspensions in NHL history, at 21 games the following season (or 1/4 of what was then an 84 game schedule).
Zdeno Chara: We’ll put this one down as “controversial”. When Zdeno Chara checked Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into the stanchion at the benches in the Bell Centre in 2011, there is no doubt that Pacioretty suffered horrific injuries. After being stretchered off the ice, a broken neck and a severe concussion were the diagnoses. The controversy comes surrounding whether Chara intended to push Pacioretty into the stanchion or not. Chara and the Bruins contended that it was a hockey play, while Montreal players were aghast at the incident, and remembered previous confrontations between the two players including a Bruins announcer calling for revenge on Pacioretty just over a month earlier.
The NHL eventually sided with Chara’s version of events deciding that no supplemental discipline was necessary. With the then head of the NHL’s discipline department, Colin Campbell, being the father of the Bruins Gregory Campbell, many felt that something was amiss, while other fans believed it to be an unfortunate action, but not worthy of suspension. The biggest outcry was of course in Montreal, leading to protests, campaigns boycotting NHL sponsors, an open letter from Montreal owner Geoff Molson to the NHL, and even a police investigation. Still booed every time he touches the puck in Montreal, this one feels somewhat unresolved.
Ulf Samuelsson- The Bruins and Penguins met in the 1991 Wales Conference Final, leading to Pittsburgh matching their top defensive defenceman Ulf Samuelsson against Boston’s top scorer Cam Neely, while the Penguins high-powered offensive stars were freed by coach Bob Johnson to do offensive damage. Samuelsson would spend the series in Neely’s face, and a vicious knee shot in game 3 would injure the Bruins power forward. A further hit in game 6 would do more damage and lead to a downward spiral in Neely’s career as he was plagued by bad knees and forced to retire early as a result. The Bruins forward continues to blame Samuelsson for the cheap shots, and the premature end to his career, making Samuelsson enemy #1 in Boston.
Dis-honorable Mentions (other incidents that earned long suspensions): Jesse Boulerice, Stevie Downie, Tom Lysiak, Brad May, Eddie Shore, Maurice Richard, Wilf Paiement, Dave Brown, Wayne Maki, Ted Green, Tony Granato, Gord Dwyer, Chris Simon, Ron Hextall, Tie Domi, Alexei Perezhogin (AHL),
Dis-Honorable Mentions (career): Most of these guys are hated throughout hockey, but it is difficult to find one incident or attrocity that raises ire like those listed above. Their career work though, stands on its own and makes them hated in hockey circles.
Sean Avery, Chris Pronger, Jarkko Ruutu, Darius Kasparitis, Bryan Marchment, Ken Linseman, Raffi Torres,
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