I have covered this topic before in past offseasons but it is always a popular topic among Flyers fans and I've gotten a couple of requests from newer readers to do it: Ranking the best enforcers in team history. So I'm revisiting the topic with a slight twist. Here are the 10 best and
5 worst, or at least the ones who were less effective in that role than hoped.
1. Dave Brown
: Few policemen in Flyers – or NHL – history understood and executed their role better than Brown during his two stints in orange and black. Brown took the safety of his teammates seriously on the ice. As gentlemanly and soft-spoken as he was off the ice, Brown was a terror on the ice. He wasn't just big and strong. He threw left-handed bombs, had good balance, could take a punch, could switch hands when necessary and was relentless once he got the upper hand.
2. Behn Wilson
: Wilson wasn't an enforcer per se. He was an offensive defenseman who fought a lot, but people sometimes forget that Wilson could do more than just fight. In his early years, the sixth overall pick of the 1978 draft was touted as a future franchise defenseman. As discussed in yesterday's blog, Wilson proved to be erratic in his own end of the ice, but he could skate well and had offensive talent. However, his lasting impression was as a fighter. Wilson loved to go toe-to-toe and rarely lost decisively. Some folks consider him the best.
3. Glen Cochrane
: Cochrane was never a "Time, Place, Score" type of player when it came to dropping the gloves. He had the reputation-- not entirely undeserved-- of having a few screws loose, and he usually won his fights. Mark Howe, who formed a successful pairing with Cochrane for two seasons before his even more successful pairing with Brad McCrimmon, has often credited Cochrane with saving him a lot of wear and tear from opposing players taking runs at him.
The unlikely pairing worked. In his first season paired with Cochrane, Howe scored 20 goals and 67 points to go along with an outstanding +47 rating. He won his first Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers best defenseman and was a finalist for both the Norris Trophy (won by Washington defenseman Rod Langway) and the Masterton Trophy for his dedication to the game. Howe was also an NHL First-Team All Star at defense. Cochrane, meanwhile, posted a +42 rating to go along with his 237 penalty minutes.
4. Paul Holmgren
: The Flyers' current GM and former head coach was a lot like a righthanded-fighting version of Dave Brown-- big, strong, and tough as nails. Something that people forget about Homer, though, is that he made himself into a fine NHL player, too, before injuries derailed his career. As a member of the Rat Patrol line with Kenny Linseman and rookie Brian Propp, Holmgren scored 30 goals and averaged over a point-per-game in the 1980 playoffs despite playing through injury.
5. Dave Schultz:
The Hammer was the Flyers' most (in)famous fighter, but not their best in terms of pure fighting skill. Rather, he was a bit of a showman and a player who didn't mind-- even welcomed-- the hostility of other teams' fans. Schultz worked himself into a froth before and during games, and his method of fighting could be nothing short of ruthless. He'd have made for a great heel pro wrestler.
Fred Shero and Bobby Clarke both said that Schultz helped give the Broad Street Bullies the courage to play the same way on the road they did at home. Schultz had some notable losses on his fight card -- among them to Clark Gillies and Larry Robinson -- but he also struck an intimidating presence that legitimately had many in the NHL afraid of him and his team. Schultz won many of his fights by getting a quick jump on his opponent and overwhelming him with a flurry of punches.
Schultz taped his hands (before the practice was outlawed), and was known to pull hair and even headbutt during fights.
If you've ever seen the video of Schultz pulverizing the Rangers Dale Rolfe in the seventh game of the 1974 Stanley Cup Semifinals, it was not a punch but a headbutt from Schultz (who also had a fistful of Rolfe's hair) that caused Rolfe to bleed profusely while his Rangers teammates just stood around and watched it. No one came to Rolfe's defense, and the rest of the game and series was all Flyers.
6. Rick Tocchet
: Tocchet eventually made himself into a high-scoring power forward in the NHL but never forgot his roots as a fighter. The same trait that made Tocchet so effective in close to the net also drove him to be a fearsome fighter: He approached most every scrap as though his opponent were trying to take away his livelihood and Tocchet's career depended on it.
Pound-for-pound, Tocchet was as strong and as fearsome a forward as I've ever seen. He was absolutely fearless. When he was a young player, Tocchet could be rather reckless and didn't always pick his spots very well, which sometimes hurt his team with ill-timed extra penalties. As he got older, he became much craftier in knowing when to engage and when to wait to settle the score.
: The Chief lasted over 1,000 games in the NHL not only because he was a good fighter, but because he understood his role perfectly. Berube was always willing to defend any of his teammate-- from first-liners to short-term callups.
Berube never moaned if he was scratched or only received a few shifts. He simply showed up that much earlier and worked that much later then next day at practice. Berube didn't even really care if he lost a fight, because he would go in a heartbeat with the same player again, and often fared much better in the return bout. Berube wasn't as big as a player like Holmgren or Brown, but he had very quick hands and good balance.
As a player, he worked his tail off to squeeze everything he could out of limited natural talent. Berube was a very good forechecker who worked hard not to be a liability on the ice. When Berube scored one of his rare goals (he scored just 61 times in 1,054 games), you could see how happy Berube's teammates were for him.
8. Dan Kordic:
The hulking Kordic was bigger and more level-headed than his troubled older brother, John. He wasn't a showman or a yapper, but he meant business. Dan was always a tough fighter but after cracking the Flyers roster straight out of junior hockey, it soon became clear couldn't hack it as an NHL defenseman. For the next few years, he went down minor leagues and re-emerged several years later as a passable fourth line winger and underrated heavyweight.
During his second NHL stint with the Flyers, Kordic split fighting duties with linemates Scott Daniels (who was a willing combatant but lost far more often than he won) and Dan Lacroix (who was more of a pest than a fighter). He lasted two seasons before injuries the addition of Sandy McCarthy and the Flyers return of Craig Berube spelled the end.
9. Donald Brashear:
I know some folks won't like this selection, or will think Brash should have been much higher. Brashear struck an intimidating image on the ice. But he was also sometimes been guilty of fighting by his own agenda, rather than the team's needs in a given game. Some of his critics considered him more of a grappler than a fighter. There were times Brashear ran at smaller non-combative players and then wouldn't drop the gloves if challenged by an opposing enforcer. There were also times when Brashear seemed to fancy himself a skill player, even though he's never scored more than 11 goals in an NHL season (he was a 38 goal, point-per-game player in the AHL).
But it's also true that there weren't a lot of people around the NHL who could tangle successfully with Donald Brashear when he got a burr under his saddles. Physically he was a monster and was one of the strongest players I've ever seen. He was also solid enough as a hockey player to skate in a third line role and dress for the majority of the playoffs.
10. Dave Hoyda:
I went with Hoyda over some more obvious names -- such as Jack McIlhargey, Sandy McCarthy, Gino Odjick or Dan Carcillo -- because he may have been one of the most underrated pound-for-pound fighters of his day. From a fighting standpoint alone, Hoyda's name deserves to be thrown out for discussion. He was was more of a straight-up enforcer than the likes of Bob Kelly, Mel Bridgman and Moose Dupont-- all of whom were considerably better NHL players than Hoyda.
Hoyda was less of a showman than someone like Schultz,McIlhargey or, more recently, Carcillo. His fights didn't make as many clips that have survived into the Youtube age. But when Hoyda fought, he usually won, except against the supreme heavyweights. He was also willing to engage anyone.
1. Roman Vopat:
The big Czech tried to be an enforcer because it was his only chance of having an NHL career after it became clear that he didn't have the skill level to be a regular. He gave it an honest effort, but was just not very good at it (at least when matched against other NHL teams' top tough guys). There have been other Flyers players who have been worse fighters than Vopat-- Scott Hartnell and Gary Dornhoefer come to mind -- but they were players who played in the top 9 in the lineup and were not there specifically to fight. Vopat is still an active player in Europe.
2. Scott Daniels:
Daniels tried hard to make a positive impact on his club and was a very willing scrapper, but he hardly won a fight during his one season (1996-97) in Philadelphia. Although he was a little bigger than Dan Lacroix, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Daniels was the pound-for-pound weakest fighter of the three members of the "Dan Line."
3. Jeff Chychrun
: Another guy who made an effort but had a poor win-loss record. The former second-round pick was also not very good as an NHL defenseman. The fact that the Flyers used him as a regular starter for 2 1/2 seasons was just one of the many questionable decisions that manifested into a five-year stretch of missing the playoffs.
4. Randy Holt
: Over the years, the Flyers have had several once-feared enforcers who made their names elsewhere but were pretty much washed up by the time they got to Philly. Apart from Holt, there was the likes of Nick Fotiu and Gino Odjick (who barely fought at all during his brief time in Philly). I picked Holt because he was not only finished as an NHL fighter by the time he got to Philly, he was also virtually unusable as a defenseman. Earlier in his career, Holt was one of the Flyers tough guys' most hated rivals but it did not translate into him become a valuable ally once he got here.
5. Daryl Stanley:
In the mid-1980s, Stanley was once pictured on a hot-selling "Bruise Brothers" t-shirt along with Flyers teammate Dave Brown. The only problem was that while Brown was one of the NHL's best fighters, Stanley was nowhere close to being the second-best (or third- or even fourth-best) scrapper on the Flyers nor was he much of a hockey player. He was eventually replaced in the team's "fighting spare defenseman" role by Ed "Boxcar" Hospodar.
Former Flyers forward Ian Laperriere, now the organization's Director of Player Development, will be participating in the Ironman Mont-Tremblant: North American Championship on August 18. Apart from competing in the triatholon, Lappy is raising funds for a variety of charitable causes: the IRONMAN Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and Go4theGoal Foundation- Tunes4Teens. Laperriere has set a $10,000 fundraising goal. For more information or to make a donation, click here
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