9 of the Most Brutal Ice Hockey Brawls Ever
Outlawed in most team sports, fighting is certainly part of the reason why ice hockey is so thrilling to watch. When a fight breaks out, the crowd goes wild. Immortalised on camera, some of these mighty melees date back as far as the 1970s and will live long in the memory.
We’ve put together a list of the 9 best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) ice hockey fights of all time. Not for the faint-hearted. You have been warned...
1. Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers (1979)
It may have been over 40 years ago, but it still ranks as one of the most infamous ice hockey brawls ever.
After some cheap plays, a riled Rangers fan leant over the glass and struck Bruins player Stan Jonathan with his match programme, drawing blood.
Things escalated quickly, with the protective Bruins players leaping over the glass and into the stands. Bruins defenseman Mike Milbury proceeded to force a fan’s shoe off and beat him with it.
And yes fans of Waynes World 2, he actually beat him with his own shoe.
With as many as 18 Bruins players fighting in the stands with fans, this was certainly one memorable match. Not without its consequences though – lawsuits, suspensions and fines followed. As did the introduction of higher glass dividers at stadiums.
2. Nottingham Panthers vs Sheffield Steelers (2001)
Closer to home for team Puck Stop, our local Steelers began the millennium with one of the most infamous, violent ice hockey brawls in UK history. After numerous underhand shots from both teams, a cheap cross-check proved to be the final straw.
A line brawl erupted, followed by a mass bench clearing.The officials sent both teams to their dressing rooms to cool off for almost an hour before play could resume. Both head coaches and 8 of the players were also treated to an early shower. Classic British hockey rivalry at its finest.
3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Phoenix Coyotes (2012)
This one made the history books not just because of the crime, but because of the punishment.
In a playoff run to the Western Conference final in 2012, Coyote’s Raffi Torres floored Marian Hossa and left him reeling on the ice. After a few minutes, Hossa was stretchered off and taken to hospital with a concussion, missing the remainder of the playoffs.
Torres was given a 25-game ban, one of the longest in history at that time. For each game he missed, he had to forfeit over $20,000 in salary. Torres claimed that he later received death threats from angered Blackhawks fans.
Three years later Torres went one further and landed himself a 41-game suspension for an illegal head check on Anaheim’s Silfverberg.
4. Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens (1987)
The fight that broke out before the puck even dropped.
Post-warm-up, just as the players were heading back to their locker rooms, Canadiens forward Lemieux riled up Flyers fans by shooting into their empty net. Not the most egregious of crimes, but a chaotic fight erupted between both teams moments later. With no referee to hand the brutal brawl lasted over ten minutes.
This was such a monumental fight that it actually instigated a change in NHL legislation – with significant fines being introduced in an attempt to stop bench-clearing brawls.
5. Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues (2014)
Already a very physical season of hockey for these two teams, few were surprised when this game bubbled over.
Seabrook of the Blackhawks hit Blues Captain David Backes so hard it knocked him clean out. Naturally, his Blues teammates lept to his defence.
Dazed and confused, Backes tried to get up, greeted by the sound of a Blackhawks player's now-famous taunt "Wakey-wakey Backes, wakey-wakey!"
Seabrook’s hit cost him a 3-game suspension and ended the game for Backes.
6. Binghamton Senators vs Philadelphia Phantoms (2003)
With line-ups featuring bruisers like Vandermeer, Brookbank, McGratton, Stock and Emery, these matchups were always likely to have fireworks.
Over the course of this pre-Christmas encounter, the teams combined for a not-very-festive 317 penalty infraction minutes.
With an early tilt between Brookbank and Vandermeer in the first period, the game got off to a fiery start. With less than four minutes remaining on the clock and the score 4-1 in favour of Binghampton, tempers flared as the TV broadcast went to commercial.
As the coverage resumed, it looked like a night at the Royal Rumble. What happened next may as well have been from off the turnbuckle too, as Neil Little flew in with some seasons greetings of his own. Goodwill to all men it was not.
7. Canada vs Russia (1987)
Over 30 years ago, one of the most infamous moments in international hockey history occurred when Canada and the USSR met at the 1987 World Juniors in Piestany, former Czechoslovakia.
With Canada dominating the game at 4-2 the game suddenly descended into chaos. A series of fights broke out at a stoppage in play. The benches soon cleared for an all-out junior jostle.
Arena officials panicked and actually turned off the house lights in an attempt to control the chaos. A blackout punchout ensued.
The game was abandoned and declared a ‘no contest’. The IIHF held emergency meetings and both teams were ejected from the tournament with Canada missing out on what was shaping up to be a gold medal. The players and coaches involved were given 18 month and 3 year bans respectively.
8. Detroit Red Wings vs Colorado Avalanche (1996)
These two powerhouse NHL Western Conference teams of the '90s were rivals on the ice because of both success and bad blood.
In the 1996 NHL playoffs, the two teams fought an intensely close series. One pivotal moment was Claude Lemieux’s hit on Kris Draper, resulting in serious facial injuries.
While Draper spent the summer recovering, Lemieux and his Avalanche teammates went on to clinch the cup. The sequel follows at number 9.
9. Detroit Red Wings vs Colorado Avalanche (1997)
The following season saw the playoffs looming and the fuse was lit for round deux. After a few initial scraps, the major talking point occurred in the first period.
"...if you look now, there's a bunch of blood on the ice."
Following a tussle between Red Wing centre Igor Larionov and Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg, Wings enforcer Darren McCarty seized his opportunity to avenge his teammate. He escaped the grasp of a linesman, then hit Lemieux with a blindside right hook. McCarty landed a few blows as Lemieux turtled for self-preservation.
Avalanche goaltender, Patrick Roy, skated out of his net to defend his teammate but was intercepted by Red Wing forward Brendan Shanahan, who hit Roy with a vicious clothesline that sent him sprawling to the deck.
While they tangled, Wings goalie Mike Vernon went out to centre ice to try and grab Foote off of Shanahan. Roy spotted him and got Vernon's attention by pulling him off his teammate. This escalated into a fight when Vernon and Roy dropped their masks, gloves and blockers.
So why is fighting allowed in ice hockey?
Ice hockey is the only professional team sport where fighting carries only a small penalty, and is largely tolerated by officials. Referees send players to the sin bin and suspensions are handed out but generally, careers don't end and reputations aren't tarnished. In 2017, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman even called fighting a way to "prevent other injuries" alluding to pent-up aggression and match pressure. So while hockey fights divide opinion, they've always been a part of the game we love and don't look to be going anywhere.
Did we miss any? Have you got a dusty VHS in the attic featuring a forgotten brawl from '93? Let us know on Twitter.