The NHL is one of the most popular sporting leagues in North America, providing classic games every year culminating in one of the biggest Canadian events, the Stanley Cup. But, just like crashes in NASCAR, the fights of hockey can often be the main talking point. Here are five of the most serious brawls that ever happened in hockey matches (including one from the UK).
The most common type of brawl on the ice is undoubtedly the one-on-one, caused by personal animosity or some underhanded hit. But sometimes what can start as a private duel between two individuals can mushroom into something a lot bigger, and that's what happened in 2004 when Ontario's Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers met up for a spot of hockey and fisticuffs.
Donald Brashear of the Flyers and the Senators' Rob Ray started things off with a fight between themselves. The original cause of the dislike may have been when Martin Havlát of the Senators slashed Flyers forward Mark Recchi in the face, though that's not certain. Ray left the ice with a cut, yet that marked not the end of the fighting but its escalation. Seeing Brashear devoid of a dancing partner, Brian Pothier glided over to say hello. And elsewhere on the ice new partnerships of the violent variety were blossoming like wildflowers in the spring. Todd Simpson tangled with Patrick Sharp and Danny Markov, with Sharp also having a confrontation with Jason Spezza. Other fights included Handzus and Fisher, Lalime and Esche, Van Allen and Radivojevic - it would be easier to list players who did not end up fighting with one another in 2004.
It was so ridiculous that the ending of the game (bearing in mind the men were there ostensibly for hockey rather than fighting) was a four versus three affair. And you know a full mob fight is on when the goaltenders are attacking one another. This mass brawl is all the weirder when you consider that the two teams aren't even rivals with a history of aggression. Of course, those betting on the action from sites like Sports Interaction Casino also look forward to these moments.
Ice hockey fights come in a variety of flavours, from one-on-one duels on ice to full-blown line brawls. And the causes vary a lot too, with some instigated by fans, others coming from nowhere, and some coming from personal grudges. This entry from 2004 is very much a case of the latter. It's also a prime example of why fights, while perhaps superficially entertaining, are a serious matter and can have serious consequences.
The prime cause of this brawl was actually in an earlier game, when the captain of the Canucks, Markus Näslund, took a rough head shot courtesy of Steve Moore (of the Colorado Avalanche). In a later meeting in the same season, the Canucks were out for revenge because Moore had not received a suspension. Todd Bertuzzi went hunting Moore down and sucker punched him in the back of the head. This was the starting gun on a massive brawl, and Bertuzzi received a suspension for the remainder of the 2004 season through to the start of the 2005-6 season. Moore ended up with multiple fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts, and a concussion. Tragically, he received such severe injuries to his neck that he was unable to ever play hockey again.
If there is one silver lining to this rather depressing cloud it's that it helped to encourage people to call for a greater focus on safety in hockey, and gave momentum to the movement away from dumb violence that adds nothing to the game but can ruin people's lives (or even risk ending them in the worst circumstances). For the most part its best if fighting is left to the MMA octagon.
For obvious reasons, most of the entries on this list are from North America's National Hockey League, the foremost hockey competition in the Western world. But other countries play hockey too. And as any hockey fan will tell you, where hockey is played, fights are always a possibility. The United Kingdom has more of a reputation for comedy and politeness than violence, but even in good old Blighty there's something about hockey that can make physical confrontation very possible. And in 2001 there was a mass fight that even by NHL standards caught the eye.
The Nottingham Panthers were playing the Sheffield Steelers, looking to continue a strong run of recent form at home. Both sides were making underhanded moves that only served to egg one another on, and one cross-check proved the straw that broke the camel's back. A brawl erupted that involved practically everyone on both teams, the ice seeming more like the sand of the Colosseum than a hockey venue. To the cheers, jeers, and whistles of the spectators, more and more players got involved, yanking off opponents' protective headgear and throwing punches. Eventually both teams were sent to their dressing rooms, to emerge almost an hour later and, remarkably, finish the match (the Panthers won 6-4, incidentally). However, the head coaches of both sides and eight players had their evening curtailed as punishment.
There was a sting in the tail, with the Panthers and Steelers meeting once more in the play-offs. The Steelers were having money troubles and the Panthers added insult to injury by beating them once again, but this time by a dominant 5-0.
The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings have had a serious rivalry ever since 1996, when Claude Lemieux put Red Wings' Kris Draper into the boards. Draper had to have surgery to reconstruct his face, and his jaw was wired shut. And a year later, the rivalry was only getting hotter.
The Avalanche and Red Wings were leading teams in this era, which made the mutual antipathy all the more intense. The two sides met repeatedly, and in the final regular season encounter in March 1997 the fight that became known as the Brawl in Hockeytown burst out. Scenes better suited to wrestling or boxing were seen upon the ice as multiple members of both teams had the red mist descend and fists started flying. There were no fewer than nine fights, and the penalty minutes came in at a sizeable 148.
One highlight, for fans of pugilism, was between the goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy, with the pair dishing out hooks and jabs like boxers. Unsurprisingly, the Red Wings players were also keen to let Claude Lemieux know what they thought of him through the medium of violence. In the end, the Red Wings won the game 6-5 in overtime. Later that season, the team would go on to win the Stanley Cup. The two teams were regular combatants (as it were) against one another due to their success in the late 90s and early 2000s and met frequently in the Stanley Cup play-offs. But the rivalry has since simmered down due to less success meaning fewer play-off encounters after 2002, and the Red Wings subsequently moved to the Eastern Conference, reducing the regular games between the two sides. To get their action fix, many fans now use no deposit bonuses in Canada to play NHL-themed slot games.
Last but certainly not least on our list of most brutal ice hockey fights ever sees us go back to 1979 when the Bruins and Rangers encountered one another at Madison Square Garden. It was just two days before Christmas, but there was not an abundance of festive cheer at this game. The Bruins won a hard-fought 4-3 victory, but, unusually, the violence occurred after the sport was over and followed the action of a Rangers fan: John Kaptain.
Kaptain stole Stan Jonathan's stick and hit him with it, leading to more fans pitching in. The Bruins reacted, with Terry O'Reilly leading a charge into the stands. Mike Milbury had his eye on Kaptain, wrenched off the offending fan's shoe and proceeded to beat him with it. Milbury got a six game suspension and O'Reilly an eight game suspension. Kaptain, meanwhile, received a six month prison sentence.
This is a bit of a weird one because it was not really one team versus the other so much as fans having a go at the team that had beaten their preferred side. With sticks and skates, hockey fights can get extremely vicious, and while beating a fan with his own shoe is not exactly player of the year behaviour, it was, at least, better than attacking him with a skate blade.
And on that shoe-related note of violence our little list of the top five most violent hockey brawls has come to a conclusion. Happily, brawls are rather more frowned upon today than in the past, but in a high contact sport there's always the chance that punches can be thrown. Of course, as anyone who watches from the perspective of top Canadian casinos and sportsbooks, this is just another element that adds to the excitement.