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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

The end of the enforcers

The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s turned the intimidation factor that was always present in hockey into a formula for a winning hockey club. The Broad Street Bullies boasted some of the toughest players in NHL history, primary among them Dave 'The Hammer' Schultz. Through the 1980s and early 1990s hockey continued to embrace its violent roots, but by the mid 1990s a desire to highlight the skill aspects of the game, and market hockey to non-traditional markets, saw changes undertaken that lead to the end of the enforcer era. In 1992 the instigator rule was introduced, whereby a player who started a fight could be penalized an extra two minutes.

The death of the enforcer can be traced through the 1990s into the 2000s simply by looking at penalty minute leaders for the decade. In the 1990s, 65 players racked up 1000 penalty minutes or more; in the 2000s, only 11 players broke that barrier. Chris Neil, who lead the 2000s with 1473 penalty minutes, would have placed 25th in the 1990s.

Two players featured in this week's post (Gino Odjick and Marty McSorley) were key members of the last class of enforcers. With that in mind, let's look at the players who boast the top 10 penalty minutes from the 1990s:

  1. Tie Domi (Toronto, New York Rangers & Winnipeg): 2614 penalty minutes in 626 games (4.1 PIMs/game).

  2. Rob Ray (Buffalo): 2588 penalty minutes in 687 games (3.7 PIMs/game).

  3. Gino Odjick (Vancouver, New York Islanders & Philadelphia): 2391 penalty minutes in 539 games (4.4 PIMs/game).

  4. Craig Berube (Philadelphia, Toronto, Calgary & Washington): 2158 penalty minutes in 712 games (3 PIMs/game).

  5. Bob Probert (Detroit & Chicago): 2089 penalty minutes in 585 games (3.6 PIMs/game).

  6. Mike Peluso (Chicago, Ottawa, New Jersey, St. Louis & Calgary): 1936 penalty minutes in 456 games (4.2 PIMs/game).

  7. Lyle Odelein (Montreal, New Jersey & Phoenix): 1852 penalty minutes in 713 games (2.6 PIMs/game).

  8. Jeff Odgers (San Jose, Boston & Colorado): 1832 penalty minutes in 619 games (3 PIMs/game).

  9. Marty McSorley (Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, San Jose and Boston): 1823 penalty minutes in 573 games (3.2 PIMs/game).

  10. Stu Grimson (Chicago, Anaheim, Detroit, Hartford & Carolina): 1780 penalty minutes in 623 games (2.9 PIMs/game).

195- Gino Odjick

A right winger, Odjick was drafted 86th overall by Vancouver in the 1990 draft. He would turn pro for the 1990-91 season, playing 17 games in the IHL (7 goals, 102 penalty minutes) and 45 games with the Canucks, scoring 7 goals and racking up 296 penalty minutes, good for fourth in the league.

Odjick, nicknamed the Algonquin Assassin in a nod to his Indigenous heritage, quickly became the full-time enforcer for the Canucks, protecting star Pavel Bure. In his second and third seasons he would record 300 or more penalty minutes each season, along with four goals per season. 1993-94 was a career season, scoring 16 goals and 29 points, benefitting from playing time alongside the Russian Rocket. The Canucks would make the finals, with Odjick appearing in 10 playoff games.

He would miss a significant number of games in the 94-95 and 95-96 season, returning to play 70 games in 96-97, leading the league with 371 penalty minutes. In March 1998 he would be traded to the New York Islanders for Jason Strudwick, playing 72 games with the Isles. Odjick would then be moved to Philadelphia for Mikael Andersson and a draft pick, scoring eight goals and 19 points between the two clubs.

Odjick would play 30 games over two seasons with the Flyers before being traded to Montreal in exchange for fellow enforcer PJ Stock. He would play 49 games for the Habs between 2000-02, and would miss the 2002-03 season due to a concussion. Odjick would retire in 2003-04 after refusing a conditioning assignment to the AHL.

In a 12 season career Odjick would play in 605 games, scoring 64 goals and 137 points. His 2567 penalty minutes rank 17th all-time, including finishing in the top five in the league in penalty minutes in four seasons. Throughout his career Odjick wore the # 29 in honour of his father, Joe, a residential school survivor (29 was the registration number his father was given).

In 2014 he was diagnosed with AL Amyloidosis a rare and often terminal blood disorder, After undergoing experimental treatment, Odjick is currently in recovery.

YouTube clip: going nuts in Game 6 of Western Conference Quarter-Finals game against St. Louis. Vancouver was down 8-2, heading to Game 7, which the Canucks would win. Odjick had 39 penalty minutes that game. As bonus clip, here is Odjick scoring on a penalty shot against Mike Vernon, on his one career attempt.

196 - Dave Ellett

Ellett was an undrafted defenceman signed by the Winnipeg Jets after two seasons at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He would make his NHL debut in 1984-85, scoring 11 goals and 38 points. In his first five seasons with the Jets he would score 10+ goals each season and 40+ points four times, setting career-highs for points in 1987-88 (58) and goals in 1988-89 (22).

The Jets of the 1980s were stuck in the Smythe Division with powerhouses Calgary and Edmonton, and as a result never advanced beyond the Division Finals. Early in the 1989-90 season Ellett was traded to Toronto with Paul Fenton for Ed Olcyzk and Mark Osborne. His offensive ways woudl continue, scoring 40+ points three seasons in a row and even finishing second in team scoring in 1991-92. During the Leafs' run to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, Ellett would contribute 18 points in 18 games.

After seven seasons in Toronto, Ellett was sent to New Jersey alongside Doug Gilmour in a five-player swap. He would wrap up the 1996-97 season with the Devils, and sign with Boston for the 1997-98 season. Ellett would play two seasons with the Bruins and one final season with St. Louis in 1999-2000 before retiring.

In a 16-year career Ellett played in 1129 games, scoring 153 goals and 568 points. He also played in two all-star games (1989 and 1992). Since 2017 he has been the head coach of the Phoenix Junior Coyotes, an elite under-18 team in the US.

YouTube clip: scoring the double overtime winner in Game 4 of 1990 Smythe Divison Final versus Edmonton., putting the Jets up 3 games to 1. As hinted previously, the Jets would lose the next 3 and Oilers would go on to win their fifth Cup in seven years.

197 - Don Beaupre

Beaupre was drafted 37th overall by Minnesota in 1980. He would jump to NHL as a 19-year-old, playing in 44 games and posting a 18-14-11 record, earning him a third place finish in the Calder Trophy voting.

Over the next three seasons he would play backup to Gilles Meloche, appearing in roughly 30 games per season. During the 1984 playoffs he would play in 13 of the North Stars’ 16 games as the team made the Campbell Conference Finals. By the 1985-86 season Beaupre had supplanted Meloche as the starter, winning 25 of the 52 games he appeared in, finishing fifth in Vezina Trophy voting. 1987-88 would be his final season in Minnesota, splitting starts with the infamous Kari Takko, winning 10 of 43 games as the North Stars finished last in their division for the second straight season.

November 1988 would see Beaupre traded to Washington for prospect Claudio Scremin. That season he would appear in 12 NHL games (11 with the Caps), spending most of the season in the AHL as the Caps had two veteran tenders in Pete Peeters and Clint Malarchuk. The following season both of those men would be gone, and Beaupre would be back as a starter, winning 23 games. Over his five seasons as a starter in Washington, Beaupre would win 20+ games each season, including a career-high 29 in 1991-92. The1990-91 season would be arguably his best, leading the league in shutouts with five, finishing second in goals against average (2.64), and earning both Vezina (sixth) and all-star votes (fourth).

By the mid-90s Washington had two goalie prospects in Olaf Kolzig and Jim Carey and as a result Beaupre was traded to Ottawa just prior to the start of the 1994-95 season. Over parts of two seasons with the terrible Ottawa Senators, Beaupre would win only 14 games and was traded to Toronto in early 1996 as part of a three-way trade between the Leafs, Sens and Islanders. Between 1995 and 1997 he would play in 11 games with the Leafs, recording eight losses, spending the majority of time in the minors.

In a 17 season career Beaupre played in 666 games, posting a 268-277-75 record, 3.46 goals against and .885 save percentage. He would play in two all-star games (1981 and 1992). From 2009-2013 he coached hockey at Simley High in Minnesota and was the owner of an aerial lift equipment company that was purchased by Sunbelt Rentals in 2018.

YouTube clip: Beaupre earned the first shutout in modern-day Ottawa Senators history, making 34 saves against Philadelphia on February 6, 1995.

198 - Rob Brown

Brown was selected 67th overall by Pittsburgh in the 1986 draft. A right winger, he scored 76 goals and 212 points in 63 games in his final season with Kamloops of the WHL, a single-season league record that still stands today. In 1987-88 he would make his NHL debut with the Pens, scoring 24 goals and 44 points in 51 games.

The following season would see Brown recapture his junior scoring touch, finishing with 49 goals and 115 points (good for fifth overall in the NHL) while playing on a line with Mario Lemieux. He would finish tops in the NHL with 29% shooting percentage, third in all-star team voting and play in the all-star game. The following season would see Brown score 33 goals and 80 points, falling back to Earth.

Unfortunately for Brown he would be traded to Hartford in December 1990 for Scott Young, leaving the Pens just as their Cup-winning days would be starting. He would score 24 goals and 58 points between the two franchises that season. Just over a calendar year later Brown would be traded to Chicago for Steve Konroyd, with the 1991-92 season being the last time he would score 20+ goals in the NHL.

In 1992-93 Brown would play only 25 games in the NHL, then sign with Dallas in 1993 and Los Angeles in 1994. During these two seasons he would play only three NHL games, but tear up the IHL in 1993-94, scoring 155 points with Kalamazoo, the second highest single-season total in IHL history. Throughout the mid-90s Brown would terrorize the IHL, putting up seasons of 52 goals and 143 points, then 37 goals and 117 points, winning three scoring titles and one league MVP.

Brown's scoring exploits in the minors would earn him a second chance in the NHL with the Pens in 1997-98, scoring 40 points in his first season back. He would last two more seasons with the Pens before returning to IHL in 2000. From 2000 to 2003 he would score at a point-per-game pace with the Chicago Wolves, winning a Calder Cup in 2002 when the franchise shifted to the AHL.

Over 11 NHL seasons Brown played in 543 games, scoring 190 goals and 438 points. He ranks 10th all-time in shooting percentage with a 19.4% rating. In retirement he has worked as an instructor with various youth sports academies and has also done colour commentary for Edmonton Oilers TV broadcasts.

YouTube clip: scoring against Hextall in playoffs, and then smartly running away from fight with the cantankerous tender.

199 - Marty McSorley

Primarily a defenceman, but occasionally playing as a forward, McSorley was signed by Pittsburgh as a free agent in July 1982 after playing with Belleville in the OHL. He would make NHL debut in 1982-83, scoring two goals and nine points, racking up 224 penalty minutes. The following season he would play mostly in the AHL, seeing 15 games with the Pens.

Prior to the start of the 1985-86 season McSorley would be traded to Edmonton as part of a three player package for goalie Gilles Meloche. Over the next three seasons McSorley would earn his keep as a bodyguard to the Oilers’ stars, and would be rewarded with two Stanley Cup championships (1987 & 88). In the summer of 1988 McSorley would be traded alongside Wayne Gretzky to LA to continue his role as the Great One’s protector.

In McSorley’s four years in LA he would score 10+ goals three times (including a career-high 15 goals and 41 points in 1992-93) and record 300+ penalty minutes three times, including a league high 399 in 1992-93 (the fifth highest total for a single NHL season). In 1990-91 he would lead the league in plus/minus with a +48 rating, proving again he was more than a goon.

McSorley’s second most infamous moment would come in the dying moments of Game 2 of the 1993 Cup Finals. With the Kings leading by one, Habs coach Jacques Demers would call for a stick measurement on McSorley. McSorley’s stick was indeed illegally curved, resulting in a minor penalty; the Habs would score to tie the game, and win in overtime, eventually winning the series in five games.

During the 1993 off-season McSorley would be traded back to Pittsburgh in exchange for Shawn McEachern. He would play 47 games with the Pens before being traded back to Los Angeles, again for McEachern, but this time Jim Paek would be joining him in exchange for Tomas Sandstrom.

McSorley would play the lockout shortened 94-95 season with the Kings, and then bounce around the league, seeing time with the New York Rangers, San Jose, Edmonton and ultimately ending up in Boston for the 1999-00 season. February 21, 2000 would be the most infamous day of McSorley’s career, and ultimately his final NHL game as he would slash/high-stick Vancouver enforcer Donald Brashear in the head. McSorley would be suspended for the balance of the regular season and playoffs, but the ruling essentially ended his career. He was also convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 18 months probation. McSorley did attempt to play in the United Kingdom for a team coached by his brother Chris, but the IIHF upheld the NHL’s suspension.

In 17 NHL seasons McSorley played in 961 games, scoring 108 goals and 359 points. He ranks fourth all-time in penalty minutes with 3381. From 2002-04 he was coach of Springfield in the AHL, and has since kept busy in the show business world, appearing in several movies and TV shows while also doing colour commentary and analysis for NHL broadcasts.

YouTube clip: decking Doug Gilmour with a questionable hit and then fighting Wendel Clark during the Campbell Conference Finals in 1993. For a bonus, fast forward to the last 30 seconds of the video to watch Pat Burns trying to fight Kings coach Barry Melrose.

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