Fighting in competitive ice hockey has long been an established and accepted part of the sport, with records of brawls out on the ice stretching as far back as the late 1800’s.
Aside from being a notoriously physical sport filled with body-checking, tripping and pushing, emotions run higher than usual in the NHL. This is rather alarmingly highlighted by the fact that there were 56 games in total during the 2020-21 season, in which there were 369 fights.
While the number of brawls has slowly been falling as shown in the table below, fighting is part of the league’s DNA and unlike substantial fines dished out in sports and leagues such as the NFL and MLB, players largely escape with nothing but a minor warning.
The Most Memorable Brawls in NHL History
4. Chicago Blackhawks vs Phoenix Coyotes (2012)
While this wasn’t as violent an ordeal as some on this list, the fracas between the Blackhawks and the Coyotes in 2012 will be remembered largely for the punishment.
Coyote’s Raffi Torres steamrolled Marian Hossa, leaving the latter lifeless on the ice. He would miss the remainder of the play-offs with a serious concussion, but the aftermath saw one of the heftiest fines ever imposed by the league.
Not only did Torres receive numerous death threats from angry Blackhawks fans, he was handed a 25-game ban, one of the longest in history at that time. In addition had to forfeit over $20,000 in salary for every game missed.
This pales in comparison to his later 41-game ban for head-checking Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg three years later, although longer bans were starting to become a regular occurrence by that stage.
3. Philadelphia Flyers vs Ottawa Senators – 2004
Coming in at number four we have one of the most infamous scraps in recent memory.
As is so often the case, a centre ice dispute spirals into an all-out assault across the rink, and this fight is no different. The result of this event set a new league record for penalty minutes; a total of 419 minutes were assessed.
While a previous meeting between the two had set the tone for a cagey affair after Ottawa’s Martin Havlat swung his stick at Mark Recchi’s head, this would surpass that by some measure.
With little under two minutes before the conclusion, Donald Brashear of the Flyers and Rob Ray of the Senators engaged in a fight, before Brashear was lured into another scrap. This resulted in every player including goaltenders launching into hand-to-hand comeback, and both of the next two face-offs saw further fights ensue.
The final few seconds of hockey ended up being played out four on three, and there were a total of 12 individual fights among the chaos.
2. Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens – 1987
Bizarrely, this next fight broke out before the game had even started.
35 years have passed, but this remains one of the most iconic scenes in NHL history. The Flyers and the Canadiens had just finished their pre-game warm-up and were headed to the dressing room. To give a little bit of context as to what happened next, it must first be said that the Canadiens were warned by the Flyers not to shoot into the empty nets during warm-ups.
In step Claude Lemieux, who in typically rebellious fashion, fired off a rasping shot just before heading off the ice, much to the dismay of the Philadelphians. No officials were on hand to put a stop to the chaos, which lasted for over 10 minutes.
It was indeed a significant moment in setting a precedent for NHL legislation, with significantly harsher penalties to be handed out to players leaving the bench to brawl, effectively ending bench-clearing fights from taking place.
1. Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers – 1979
And so we arrive at number one with the oldest brawl on this list, but it will certainly live long in the memory of ice hockey fans.
Just two days away from Christmas in 1979, fans were treated to one of the most infamous moments in NHL history. However, one Rangers fan was not so lucky, bringing it upon himself to inflict revenge on Bruins’ Al Second after bundling into Rangers’ Ulf Nilsson after the whistle.
Leaning over the glass, he managed to swindle a stick from the gloves of an opposing player and proceed to hit him from the stands. Absolute pandemoniac would follow as Bruins players launched themselves into the stand to batter the fan, with Mike Milbury even prying a fan’s shoe off to beat him with it.
As you can imagine, a flurry of fines and suspensions followed along with taller glass dividers.