It’s over. The era of the heavyweight in the NHL is done. That might be for the best given what we now know about CTE and concussions and the devastating impact they have on athletes. The safety of players lives must be taken as serious as possible.
But, the softening of the game has had a cost to the league as an entertainment product. I do think it’s important to note that with the extinction of the NHL heavyweight I think it’s also safe to say the league has also lost true rivalries. Intense dislike, even hate for opposing teams and their players and fan bases was actually a good thing for the NHL as an entertainment product. For example, in the 80’s the Leafs and Wings hated each other. They were two God awful teams but the due their intense animosity the games between them were can’t miss TV. Much like the heavyweight those rivalries seem to be gone now too.
Perhaps I am overly nostalgic, and I realize that I am glorifying fighting and face punching with this piece, but I really don’t give a fuck. Inspired by a late night twitter chat about this very topic I decided a heartfelt my send-off to Leaf warriors of the past was in order. This is simply my top 5 favorite leaf fighters of my Leaf lifetime.
Please enjoy the look back because we will never see this type of hockey again. Without further delay here they are:
#5 John Kordic – Leaf from 88-89 to 90-91– Perhaps It was an overpayment to trade speedy winger Russ Courtnall to acquire the heavyweight scrapper from Montreal (Not perhaps, Definitely) but the biggest mistake was allowing Kordic to wear the number 27. The same number as Sittler and Mahovalich. But Ballard was a crazy bastard and respecting former players was not what he did. All that aside Kordic was an excellent fighter, winning far more than he lost and striking fear into the opposition whenever he was on the ice. In the 89-90 season he earned 252 PIMS in only 55 games. Here he is starting a lawnmower on Basil McCrae’s face.
# 4 Ken Baumgartner – Leaf from 91-92 to 95-96 – AKA the “Bomber” – I must admit I was a little surprised when looking up his stats to see that he played parts of NHL season from 1987 through to 1999. I was surprised mostly because he was probably the worst skater I’ve watched wearing the Blue and White. He was, however, one of the great technical fighters, with ability to throw with both hands. He wasn’t the biggest enforcer the Leafs ever employed but as a fighter he might have been the smartest. He was the bodyguard for Glimour and Sundin when the big Swede first became a Leaf. Here he is straighten out Dean Malkoc after he tried to get physical with Mats.
And a classic with Sportsnet personality Nick Kypreos
#3 Wade Belak – Leaf from 00-01 to 07-08 – My heart still bleeds a little for Big Wade. He was big man with big personality, and true Leaf warrior who left us all way too early. He split policeman duties with Domi for the most part, but he was part of the Pat Quinn Leafs. Which means the teams were loaded with toughness. Tucker, Corson, Roberts were all really good players but also extremely tuff characters as well. During Bleaks’ time as a Leaf the nickname “Bay Street Bullies” was attached to our team. It was a wildly entertaining time to be a leaf fan. There were a bunch of Belak fights I could have linked in here bit this one is my favorite for a number of reasons… Those of you who were fans back then know why
#2 Colton Orr Leaf from 09-10 to 14-15 – He will go down as the last of the Leafs great heavyweights, Orr had an absolute cannon for a right hand. He was the type of fighter that didn’t mind taking a punch in order to land one of his bombs. He may not have won them all but the fights were going to be action packed. He and Frazier McClaren patrolled the ACC as well as any tandem in Leaf enforcer history. Who can forget Orr holding up 3 fingers after KOing the Senators Matt Carkner for the third time? Or the way he had Lucic begging for the refs to step in? But ultimately this clip is my favorite Orr moment, from my favorite regular season Leaf game of the last decade.
What a beauty!
#1 Tie Domi Leaf 94-95 to 05-06 – It’s as if Domi was born to be a leaf. He was an original Leaf draft pick and in 89 /90 actually played 2 games for the buds amassing 42 pims in those contests, I had a little chuckle to myself when reading that. He is the all time Leafs leader in Penalty minutes with 2265 minutes as a leaf. He had 365 minutes in 97-98 alone! Raised in Junction neighborhood of Toronto, it’s possible that Tie had more fights before the age of 12 then he had in NHL career. All kidding aside, As an enforcer Tie was as good as it gets. He would do anything to protect his teammates and put the other team on notice. He was the protection for Mats Sundin arguably the greatest leaf. Deciding on just one tie Domi clip was extremely difficult but here he is beating the snot out Barnaby ( man I hated that guy!)
It was a lot of fun watching these guys do their thing, but… the era is over. The Heavyweight is gone from the league. These types of players and this type of hockey won’t be coming back any time soon. I understand why, I’m not advocating for its return. I’m not even sure it helped teams win or lose all that much back then. But it was fantastically entertaining and created intense and heated rivalries between players and teams and fan bases. It stirred up passion. Our hearts would beat a little faster when we saw Probert and Domi on the ice at the same time. Everyone knew what was about to happen and crowded around the TV or got up out of their seats in anticipation. I’m nostalgic, I’m older that most bloggy twitter types so for me , it’s tough to get out of your seat to watch a zone entry or a break out pass, or strong possession play. I can admire those things and appreciate them, but it doesn’t get my blood pumping like the guys on this list did.
Here is my all time fave Leaf scrap, just because…
Go Leafs Go Forever