NHL | Feb 18, 2022

The Biggest Goons in NHL History

By Harry Bazley

NHL Goons

From the divers of the MLS and floppers of the NBA, comes the other end of the scale - the NHL goons. These talented skaters turned bare-knuckle boxers are some of the toughest sportsmen around.

NHL Brawl

(Credit: Mike Carlson - Getty Images)

Recruited and deployed as enforcers on the ice, often a goon's sole purpose is to earn as many penalty minutes as they can. Any NHL fan knows just how unique this part of the game is - resolving disputes with a fistfight that's completely supported by the officials, is entirely unheard of elsewhere. And in such a physical game, becoming an enforcer requires a special kind of resilience and durability. Today we're breaking down some of the best and biggest goons to ever lace-up skates.

Dave Semenko

Dave 'Cement-Head' Semenko lived up to his affectionate nickname as one of the toughest players to ever grace the NHL. He mostly earned his keep as a bodyguard for some of the league’s top players, including Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Semenko was also vital in the Edmonton Oiler team who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1984 and 1985.

The Cement-Head played in 565 games and amassed over double that in penalty minutes, with 1,175 in the box. His reputation as a fighter even went beyond the ice when he fought none-other than Muhammad Ali in an exhibition match in 1983.

Stu Grimson

Grimson is one of the most infamous to ever throw a punch on the ice. Standing at 6-foot-6 and clocking a huge 2,113 penalty minutes in his 14 seasons as an NHL pro, he deservingly earned the nickname 'The Grim Reaper'.

He scored just 39 points over 729 games in the league but racked up countless fights. The gloves came off so regularly that his exit from the NHL sadly came with a forced retirement, after suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

Tie Domi

At just 5-foot-10 & 200 pounds, Tie Domi was an unexpected enforcer. Often putting up his dukes against much bigger opponents, he had a natural disadvantage but with great resilience he won his fair share of fights. He even branched out into the crowds, once fighting a fan when playing against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Domi played for 16 seasons in the league, 12 of which were with the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with some legendary years with the New York Rangers. In that time, he spent 3,515 minutes in the penalty box - 3rd most in league history. Besides his talent throwing hooks and jabs, Domi also had some offensive skill, exceeding 10 goals in a season on three separate occasions in Toronto.

Dale Hunter

As the second-most penalised hockey player of all time, with 3,565 penalty minutes to his name, Dale Hunter was highly deserving of his nickname 'The Nuisance' or 'La Petite Peste - something he earned in his early days with the Quebec Nordiques.

Dale Hunter also packed a punch on the offensive side of the puck. He was a reliable scorer in his 19-year career, most of which was spent with the Capitals. Hunter amounted 1,020 points over 1,407 games - a very respectable record.

Watch one of his most brutal hits below:

Dave Williams

The all-time leader in penalty minutes earned (3,966), Dave 'Tiger' Williams was a menace with the skates on. His aggressive playstyle was on clear display in his 1986-87 season with the Los Angeles Kings, where he racked up a ridiculous 358 minutes in the penalty box.

Tiger's time in other equally blood-splattered jerseys, like the Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Whalers, were just as violent. Throughout his 14 season career, he hit 300 penalty minutes 6 times and between 200-300 6 more times.

An often overlooked aspect of his game - due to his time spent off the ice with a nosebleed - was his offensive prowess. Williams scored 241 goals and added 272 assists for a total of 513 points in 12 years.

Honourable Mentions

Marty McSorley

Anybody who's anyone in the NHL scene will know this name. Marty McSorley cemented himself as a goon after receiving a 23-game suspension and 18 months of probation for clubbing fellow enforcer, Donald Brashear, over the head with his stick. In a game between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, McSorley knocked out Brashear with just 3 seconds left on the clock.

Youtube won't let us post this one, so here's McSorley's infamous showdown versus Tie Domi instead:

Chris Simon

Few players more vicious than Chris Simon have stepped onto the ice. He earned his name as one of the dirtiest players in the league, as he received the second longest suspension in NHL history (30 games) after stepping on Jarkko Ruutu with his skate.

Ron Hextall

As the only goaltender to ever reach 100 penalty minutes in a career, it's clear why Ron Hextall makes this list. Most net-minders aren't seen as thugs, but if there ever was a bully in goal, it was Hextall. He found his way into countless confrontations and usually held his own with the gloves off.