Enforcer Olympics – Buffalo Sabres
While there may be some special fanbases out there, Buffalo is just something special. Whether it’s the Sabres, Bills, Bisons, or Bandits, they are always loud, proud, and rowdy as hell. No more so than when one of their boys dropped-the-gloves and started throwing hands. That’s why this edition of the Enforcer Olympics is going to be a spicy one. However, before we get started, we need to address the elephant in the room. This season was rough. That may be an understatement to die-hard Buffalo fans, but let’s be real, heartbreaking is nothing new to them. Fortunately for fight fans, what they lack in Stanley Cups, they make up for in heavyweights. And I know that’s why you’re here, so without further ado, here are the medalists for the Buffalo Sabres Enforcer Olympics.
Bronze – John Scott
There’s a lot of people that would kill to have a resume like Big John (myself included.) Our Bronze medalist is a Michigan Tech alumnus, 7-year NHL veteran, All-Star MVP, writer, actor, and a podcast stud to boot. Not to mention the 6’8”, 260 lbs giant tossed absolute hammers. Yet somehow Scott’s best quality is that he does everything with a smile. The proud father of five racked up nearly 200 penalty minutes and over a dozen fights during his two-year stint in beautiful Buffalo. And while there may be Sabres fighters with more fights and PIMS than Scott, his intimidating presence made it a lot easier for the stars to work their magic. The former Michigan Tech Huskie knew his role wasn’t to light-the-lamp, it was to protect his teammates, give his team a jolt, and chirp Randy Carlyle whenever necessary. But in all seriousness, the Dropping The Gloves host continues to be a fan-favorite because his podcast is the same as his play, honest. If you don’t believe me and aren’t afraid of a little reading, check out the heartfelt articles he penned for the Players Tribune
John Scott vs George Parros – February 28, 2013 – 1st period – 2:47
John Scott’s massive frame and dominant presence meant he didn’t have many recurring dance partners. George Parros battled with Scott 3 times, which was plenty for both of them. Whenever these two heavyweights locked up, fans knew they were in for a show. Scott was in his debut season with the Sabres and Parros was in his lone season in Florida. Both were looking to make an impression on their clubs, and what better way than a couple of heavyweights standing toe-to-toe. The scrap started with Scott landing a right hook and six unanswered jersey jabs. Parros responded with a nice body shot and hook combo. The gladiators then proceeded to do a little grappling before they decided to do the ol’ you-punch-I-punch dance. The judges might say Scott won or maybe that Parros did, but in my humble opinion, it was the fans. They got to enjoy a solid scrap, an exciting shootout, and because it’s Florida, good weather in February. Lucky bastards.
John Scott vs Deryk Engelland – February 05, 2014 – 1st period – 12:17
Considering how calm he stayed during this fight, It definitely wouldn’t surprise me if Big John was a meditation master. This scrap started after the two heavyweights had a brief little chat and then the dance was on. Scott utilized his patent jersey jabs to keep Engelland on the defense. But Engelland was no slouch, which is why even after eating a couple of big uppercuts, he was able to respond with a few hooks of his own. The linesmen looked like they were going to end the fight when our Bronze medalist was able to get Engelland against the boards. Luckily for us, they didn’t. Scott smiled when he landed two right jabs and somehow kept smiling when Engelland landed a flurry of right-hooks. You know who else was smiling? The bald fella that was sitting front-row having the best time ever pointing and waving at the two warriors as they battled it out. But the party didn’t last long. The Pens rattled off five straight goals after the scrap and handed the fans at the First Niagara Center another loss during an already difficult season.
Silver – Larry Playfair
This pick may come as a surprise to some, but for those that watched Larry Playfair throw down, it definitely won’t be. The Sabres drafted our Silver Medalist in the first round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft and they weren’t disappointed. Over a thousand PIMS, 60 plus fights, and one hell of a right hand made Playfair an instant fan favorite. Unfortunately, due to chronic back problems, the British Columbia native was forced to retire and hang ‘em up after a decade in the NHL. Playfair played and fought during arguably one of the toughest eras in hockey, which to me, makes his achievements even more impressive. Yes, the Sabres could invite a long list of enforcers to take their spot on the Enforcer Olympic podium, but these are my selections and Playfair was a no-brainer. Besides his aforementioned accolades, Playfair embodied Buffalo with his rugged, silent, and intimidating presence on every shift during every game. The Queen City loves its enforcers and real fight fans love Larry Playfair.
Larry Playfair vs Paul Holmgren – February 27, 1980 – 1st period – 8:35
Paul Holmgren may have struck fear in most opponents, but Larry Playfair wasn’t your average bear. Our Silver medalist had one of my favorite attributes in a fighter, he never looked panicked and never let the linesmen jump in. If they wanted the fight to end early, they were going to have to earn it. And after a flurry of right hands that dropped Holmgren to his knees, the zebras jumped in to end it. Well, Mayfair wasn’t done. At the 16 second mark, Playfair took a quick breather while he casually unbuckled his lid and then proceeded to throw a huge overhand left hook over the top of the linesmen. I don’t know about you, but you’d have to pay me a pretty hefty sum of money if you wanted me to put my body between two gladiators throwing haymakers. But back then that was just par for the course. The 1979-80 Sabres team was special and even though they fell short to a dominant Islanders squad in the Conference Finals, the fans knew that no matter the result, Mayfair and company would always give them a reason to cheer. Just ask Paul Holmgren if the reason his ears were ringing was from the punches, the fans, or a special Buffalo combination of both. I think you can guess the answer.
Larry Playfair vs Terry O’Reilly – March 28, 1982 – 2nd period – 1:47
Few rivalries can match the intensity of east coast squads in the 80s NHL. They all despised each other and had no problem tossing the puck aside and opting for a fight instead. Both Playfair and Terry ‘Taz’ O’Reilly were a part of this mindset, which meant when they lined up across from one another, a scrap was inevitable. There’s a running joke amongst former enforcers that Taz was never going to win any balance beam competitions because his balance was horrendous. Playfair intended to test that theory when these two heavyweights threw down in the spring of 1982. The former Portland Winter Hawk was able to land nearly six clean uppercuts before O’Reilly lost his balance and gave the linesmen an excuse to jump in. But the Bruins enforcer wasn’t done, and neither was our Silver medalist. As the two were restrained and still wanting to scrap, Mayfair landed a devastating right hook and four more uppercuts to bring his total to 10. Sabres fans were certainly spoiled that night with a great fight, over 20 penalties and they got to enjoy a 9-5 victory over the Big Bad Bruins. That’s the kind of Sunday that any hockey fan would love to be a part of.
Gold – Rob Ray
As I mentioned countless enforcers are deserving to be standing proudly on this podium but come on, Rob Ray and fighting in Buffalo are synonymous with one another. Ray will forever be etched in Sabres folklore with over 200 fights, an uncanny ability to wait and pounce like a scorpion, and of course, Rick Jeanneret’s legendary “ANOTHER RIGHT FROM RAY” calls. Not to mention that he left nearly half his fights shirtless, and all of his opponents bloodied. Ray threw bombs, which meant he had the potential to TKO any opponent on any given night. The Ontario native holds two Sabres records that will never, and I mean NEVER be broken. 3189 penalty minutes will never be touched, and with the way the game has changed, there’s no chance in hell Buffalo will ever see a guy drop-the-gloves over 200 times in their beautiful city. They always say that things were just different in the 80s, well when it comes to Ray’s impact in Buffalo, they were certainly right. In his post-playing career, Ray has become an accomplished author, coach and serves as a color analyst for Sabres. There’s a tendency in the NHL to only retire the numbers of the stars, but if you surveyed Buffalo, there’s no doubt they would love to see #32 hanging in the rafters of the KeyBank Center. But until then, let’s celebrate the man with a Gold medal in the Enforcer Olympics.
These two legends fought over a dozen times, and every one of them was a doozy. In this scrap, the first 10 seconds were all Domi, but you could tell Ray wasn’t worried in the slightest. ‘Rayzor’ knew how much power he packed in his punches, so he just needed to be patient, let Domi punch himself out, and then pounce. That opportunity arose at about the 12-second mark when Domi tripped on Ray’s stick, which allowed our Gold medalist to capitalize with two massive right hooks. The two warriors exchanged punches for over 30 seconds and as I’ve said before, try hitting a heavy bag as hard as you can for thirty seconds, then try doing it while someone is throwing haymakers at you. Rather not? Me neither. What makes these guys so special is not only their fighting skills but the fact they were also damn good hockey players. Obviously, Ray spent more time in the penalty box than lighting-the-lamp, yet he was never a liability on the ice. He was always an asset, especially when it came to keeping Tie ‘The Bald Headed Wonder’ in check. In the end, the decision could be deemed a draw, but Ray got what he wanted, a dance with an old foe and his team the 2-1 victory.
Rob Ray vs Dennis Bonvie – November 14, 1998 – 2nd period – 6:16
Every enforcer knows that when your team is down by four goals, you have to do something to try and change the momentum. Well, someone should have told Dennis Bonvie that challenging the man nicknamed Rayzor may not have been the best idea. Credit to the Hawks’ tough guy for starting the scrap strong, but just like Domi, he was a victim to Ray’s patience. In fact, it only took two rights from Rayzor to drop Bonvie to his knees. I have a weird theory that Vince Carter’s famous ‘It’s Over’ motion after the 2000 dunk competition was borrowed from the ‘Rayzor.’ Because Ray did the famous gesture after he dropped Bonvie and the Marine Midland Arena erupted. Our Gold medalist has some of the most iconic fight highlights, which is why I suggest that any fans that were too young to watch Ray’s scraps, sit down, pour themselves a stiff drink, and dive down the Rob Ray rabbit hole. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
This concludes the Buffalo Sabres edition of the Enforcer Olympics. As always, special shoutouts to Mike Hartman, Matthew Barnaby, Andrew Peters, Brad May, and the handsome Lindy Ruff. It was tough to pick only three enforcers from such a long list of heavyweights, but that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Okay, maybe not, but I’m very lucky to be able to revisit some of the best whoever did it. Next week we are traveling to my hometown and just like Buffalo, another city known for its rabid fans, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Yup, after the Oilers got their asses handed to them by the Jets, I decided the city needed a little pick-me-up, and what better way than celebrating the glory days. Tune in next week to see if the Gold medal goes to ‘Cementhead’ Semenko, Big Georges Laraque, or maybe it’ll be the blonde mullet of McSorley proudly flowing atop the podium. Until then, take care, and stay safe.