There is no more satisfying internet rabbit hole than old hockey fights, and after trawling hockeyfights.com as part of my research on old guys who fought this morning, I found it difficult to stop. So, I wanted to share my findings with all of you.
More than anyone else, the guy whose brawling career stood out to me was Chris Chelios, one of the very few players in NHL history who lasted longer than Zdeno Chara has, retiring at age 48. And, of those guys, Chelios was the one who by far dropped the gloves the most often.
What’s especially notable about Chelios’s fight card, aside from its length, is the number of all-time greats on it, including at least a couple of dudes who were never notorious brawlers (which is kind of a shady move in my book). Steve Yzerman’s final career fight, in 1995, came against Chelios, who tried to land some rights to the back of Stevie’s head as the two did their best impression of conjoined twins. “You son of a bitch!” I would have yelled if I was alive when this happened. “Go pick on Keith Primeau instead of the Captain!”
And Teemu Selanne, who recorded history says only dropped the gloves twice in his career, did so for the first time against Chelios while a member of the old Winnipeg Jets. There’s plenty of drama in this brief exchange, as, in the middle of a big dust-up, the future 600-goal scorer kind of randomly took a shot at a resting Chelios. A fellow Chicago player restrained Selanne as a result, but Chelios did not let his attacker have the last word, as he quickly returned into the picture to surprise Teemu with a gift of his own.
Another all-time great scorer, Luc Robitaille came to blows with Chelios twice in one game in 2001, when Robitaille was on the Kings and Chelios was on the Red Wings. Since his career began in ’86, Luc had only fought on four occasions, and he wouldn’t do so again before his retirement.
If this is beginning to feel like a pattern, you’re right. Little spitfire Theo Fleury, who’s only credited with three career fights, caught the wrath of the much-taller Chelios in a frickin’ preseason game, where for whatever reason the Wings defenseman crunched the Ranger into the boards and then caused a big two-team pileup by continuing the assault on the ice.
Playing in the era that he did, Chelios also often crossed paths with guys who were both accomplished scorers and brawlers, not the least of whom was yet another future Wings teammate in Brendan Shanahan. (I wonder how many awkward apologies this guy had to make in Detroit.)
Mark Recchi, too, joined a slugfest with Cheli back in ’96, which led to some apparent chicanery from Vincent Damphousse, who infuriated the game’s announcers by throwing a punch and then turtling.
And then Chris Pronger! That’s certainly a guy I’d never like to fight, and Chelios himself may even have some regrets here, as he barely holds his own as a wrestler against the bigger man and then clearly loses the punching portion of the scrap.
To start winding things down, here’s Chelios taking offense at a hit by “Little Ball of Hate” Pat Verbeek, who’s sporting one of those sick turn-of-the-millennium Dallas Stars sweaters. Cheli even nails Verbeek’s face with a punch while multiple officials stand between them.
Finally, though I don’t believe it is technically a fight, a round-up of this kind would be incomplete if it didn’t include Ron Hextall charging like a bull out of his crease at Chelios during a Conference Final game, as payback for an elbow to the head Cheli gave to a Flyer earlier in the series.
Before writing this, I had it in my head that I remember both hating this dude in Chicago and then slowly growing to appreciate and, hell, even like him in Detroit (I saw him at his namesake restaurant once and he gave me a signed card). But I guess I was only three years old when he changed teams, so that might be some creative brainwork. Regardless, the historical evidence pretty clearly demonstrates that Chelios was an asshole. But he was a damn good hockey player, too, and now some two, three decades later I’m fondly watching videos of him being an asshole at the expense of some of his truly transcendent peers. So I guess he wins.