Thursday, March 12, 2009
Talk about limiting and even eliminating fighting is everywhere nowadays and I am not about to get into just how stupid I see it (very, very stupid). Instead, I wanted to take a look at a half dozen of the top tough guys in Ranger history. These are guys who made sure that the other team stayed in line - no, Aaron Voros didn't make the cut. I know you are shocked. It wouldn't be right to rank them, as one could hardly compare Ching Johnson to Tie Domi as they played in two entirely different eras and had different roles.
There are some players well worthy of consideration that I omitted, I know - feel free to make their cases in the comments. I admittedly leaned upon the stellar writing of hockey historian Joe Pelletier for Johnson. Every Ranger fan should spend some time reading his profiles of Ranger legends - it is a wonderful history lesson about all of the guys that the franchise has undeservedly forgotten about (and some they haven't). It was a little surprising that Joe didn't have Lou Fontinato but Leapin' Louie made my list:
*Ching Johnson - Ching played defense in the early days of the Blueshirts and by all accounts was the best defensive defenseman in team history. Partnered first with Taffy Abel and then Earl Seibert, they gave the Rangers a shutdown pairing that has been unseen in the Garden henceforth and rarely rivaled around the NHL. Ching's real name was Ivan, and he earned his nickname "Ivan the Terrible" by being the toughest sonofabitch on the block (50th and 8th). He was the backbone of two Stanley Cup winners and assuredly would have won the Norris Trophy if it existed back then (the first was awarded in 1954). The closest players in recent history to compare to him that I can imagine would be a Scott Stevens or Zdeno Chara.
*Lou Fontinato - He may have looked like a frail old man a few weeks ago at Bathgate/Howell night but Fontinato was a big time tough guy. He fought everyone from Gordie Howe to Rocket Richard to Frank Mahovlich and apparently even the fans (2:05 mark).
*Nick Fotiu - Mr. X from the Blue Seats, who is admittedly older than dirt calls Fotiu a no talent clown (among other things) but there is no denying that he was one of the most popular Rangers. The fans loved him and he loved the fans - when it comes down to it, every player could learn something from that. The first ever New York born-and-bred Ranger, Nicky kicked some serious ass and even had legendary goon Dave "The Hammer" Schultz scared to fight him. While I don't think his number should go in the rafters, I still think the team should honour him (among others).
*Tie Domi - Domi's battles with Bob Probert, the arguable best fighter in NHL history, were legendary and deservedly so. Domi had cement for a skull and took his share of beatings but he won a few despite having a size disadvantage most of the time.
*Joey Kocur - Here is a quick disclaimer: Joey is one of my five favourite players of all time so this has just a little bit of hero worship. Kocur's poor knuckles were completely abused as he beat the living hell out of any and all comers. While guys like Adam Graves and Mark Messier were certainly capable of defending themselves, Kocur rode shotgun to make sure they didn't have to. He dressed for 20 games in '94 and earned his first Cup ring. You just didn't mess with him.
*Colton Orr - Ridiculous pick? Perhaps right now, but we'll see. Orr already has a career high in points and is two minutes off his high in penalty minutes. He went from a one dimensional punching bag who with a decent right hand to one of the most dangerous and exciting heavyweights in the NHL. And he learned how to skate too, playing a big role on the shut-down fourth line. Don't let the -14 fool you, most of the goals against haven't been his fault and, let's face it, neither he nor Blair Betts are goal scorers so there are few pluses to offset the opposition's tallies. Another summer like the last one and we may be talking full fledged grinder or even power forward (gotta work on that shot).
Other considerations - Ted Irvine, Phil Watson, Ed "The Turtle" Hospodar, George McPhee, Chris Nilan, Troy Mallette, Kris King, Rudy Poeschek, Darren Langdon, Matt Barnaby.