Enforcer Olympics – Los Angeles Kings
Whether you call it La-La Land, the City of Angels, Tinseltown, or just the place that LITERALLY has everything (except a freshwater source), Los Angeles is one of the most amazing and popular cities in the world. Growing up as an Edmonton kid, I’m not going to lie, I have always been envious of California’s biggest city. They have gorgeous weather, beautiful people and Disneyland is a stone’s throw away. But my disdain truly stems from the fact that they stole Wayne The Great One Gretzky from us, and snatched up Marty McSorley in the same heist. Speaking of McSorley, many fans will be expecting to see him on L.A’s Enforcer Olympics podium. However, as I mentioned in previous editions, once you appear on the podium for one franchise, that’s it. I like to think of it as you can’t play for different countries in the Olympics and the Enforcer Olympics is following the same process. McSorley was the Bronze medalist for the Edmonton Oilers, Jay Miller was the Bronze medalist for the Boston Bruins, Dave Schultz was the Silver medalist for the Flyers, Stu Grimson was the Silver medalist for the Hawks, and spoiler alert, Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams will be appearing on the podium for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Therefore, we won’t be seeing these studs today, but since the Los Angeles Kings joined the league in the 1967 expansion draft, they have had some tough dudes drop-the-gloves in the Forum and STAPLES Center. The Kings transitioned from the days of purple and gold jerseys (thank god), to the slick black and grey. The fans in La-La Land witnessed history in 2012 when their squad became the first No.8 seed in all major sports to win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup. It was a magical run, and as somehow who always cheers for the underdog it was a moment I will never forget. But enough chit-chat, let’s get to why we’re here, celebrating the gladiators that have been lucky enough to call Los Angeles their home.
Bronze – Jay Wells
Jay Wells enjoyed nearly a decade in L.A. after the Kings drafted him 16th overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. The former Kingston Canadian stands third overall in all-time penalty minutes with over 1400 PIMS, and racked up over 70 fights during his time in California. Wells was a stay-at-home defensemen and only managed to light-the-lamp 34 times during his Kings tenure. However, he was able to notch the first third-period goal in the famed Miracle on Manchester when the Kings overcame a five-goal deficit and steal the game in overtime against the famed Edmonton Oilers dynasty. The Kings would eventually eliminate the Gretzky-led Oilers and our Bronze medalist played a large part in that. Wells would go on to have stints in Philadelphia, Buffalo, St. Louis, and Tampa. But other than L.A, his most memorable time was with the New York Rangers. Wells was a stalwart on the blue-line when they erased 54 years of Stanley Cup failure with a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks. After 18 seasons in the league, Wells decided to hang his skates up and pursue a route familiar to tough guys, coaching. The former first-rounder was named coach of the Brantford Golden eagles, before serving as an assistant for both the Manitoba Moose, and the Barrie Colts.
Jay Wells vs Brendan Shanahan – November 29, 1987 – 2nd period – 14:09
When Brendan Shanahan’s name is mentioned, most people immediately think of his 656 goals Me? I think of the legendary story of him being 14 years old and asking Rick Vaive for an autograph but was rudely brushed away. Flash-forward four years later, Shanahan was in the NHL and fought and beat Vaive the first time they played against each other. Unfortunately for Shanahan, our Bronze medalist was a better fighter than Vaive, and had no problem proving it on that Sunday night in the Great Western Forum. This was an evenly matched scrap with both fighters standing over 6 feet and 200 lbs. Fortunately for fight fans, they didn’t waste any time trading right hooks. Wells had an uncanny ability to utilize the grapple to get his opponent’s helmet off, which always gave him an instant advantage. Shanahan fell victim to this trick, and it exposed him to a big left hand from the Ontario native. Surprisingly, the Devils looked like they were trying to jump in and end the scrap, but Shanahan is also an Ontario native and had zero intention of backing down. In the end, Wells gave him no option when he landed one more right hand that sent Shanahan to the ice. Our Bronze medalist can be seen skating to the dressing room with a gash above his right eye, but I think the judges scorecards would still give the W to Wells. The game ended 2-2 and thankfully both teams eventually retired those hideous jerseys.
Jay Wells vs Nevin Markwart – October 15, 1987 – 3rd period – 19:55
It’s only fitting that on the same day the NFL Player Association ordered an end to the infamous 24-day players strike, Jay Wells channeled his inner RRRRRAAAAIIIIIIDDDDEEEEERRR, and robbed Nevin Markwart of his pride. For that night at least. The Kings defenseman needed only one big uppercut and a couple of late bombs to buckle Markwart. This fight started after Markwart put our Bronze medalist in a vulnerable position when he tripped him near the boards. That kind of play is never taken lightly, especially in the 80s. Is that why Wells felt the need to feed him a couple of extra punches when he was down? Maybe. Only Wells knows the answer to that question. The Bruins left La-La Land with a 3-2 win that Thursday night, but with a goal and a TKO, our enforcer-turned-coach did his damndest to get his team the win. It’s especially true considering he only tallied two more goals in his next 59 games that year. Wells was traded to the City of Brotherly Love for Doug Crossman before the 1988-89 season, officially marking the end of our Bronze medalist’s time in sunny California.
Silver – Warren Rychel
Some players pay their dues, and then some players PAY their dues. Warren Rychel falls on the side of the latter by going undrafted and racking up over a decade in the OHL, IHL, and AHL before finally getting a full season in the NHL. Our Silver medalist played only two full seasons in La-La Land, yet he still managed to rack up over 636 penalty minutes and 60 fights. This ranks Rychel seventh all-time in fights for Los Angeles and tied with Marty McSorley for fourth in single-season penalty minutes. McSorley only played 18 games in the 1993-94 season, and Gretzky was pumped that Rychel was there to fill that enforcer void. Once he finally arrived in the league, primarily using his fists, Rychel was able to carve out nearly a decade in the NHL. However, he did have an offensive explosion in the 1993 playoffs when he tallied 13 points, including two game-winning goals on route to L.A. going to the Stanley Cup Finals. But as we all know, the Kings fell short to the Montreal Canadiens, marking the last time the Cup was raised in Canada. Similar to Wells, Rychel stayed in hockey after retirement by becoming the general manager of the Windsor Spitfires who went on to win the 2009, 2010, and 2017 Memorial Cup championships. This etched Rychel in history by becoming one of three general managers to ever assemble three Memorial Cup-winning teams. There is something special about the success of former enforcers in management and coaching roles. Maybe it’s because they spent more time on the bench than on the ice, or maybe it’s just because they know the game better than most. Either way, it’s great to see.
Warren Rychel vs Jeff Odgers – January 26, 1993 – 1st period – 14:39
Anyone that’s played a competitive sport knows that disgusting feeling of seeing one of your teammates getting dropped by a dirty hit. The only difference in hockey is that you can seek out immediate retribution, and our Silver medalist did exactly that. Jeff Odgers should have pulled up, especially against a first-rounder like Darryl Sydor, but he didn’t. This meant one thing, get ready to answer the bell. Jayson More and Jim Hiller started the party, but Rychel finished it. Odgers did his best wrestling impression to try to limit the damage because there’s no doubt he could see Rychel’s eyes lit up like light bulbs with one intent, smashing his face. Unfortunately, the camera pans away to a bleeding Sydor before flashing back to Rychel in a ground and pound position on Odgers. The Sharks enforcer should be thanking his lucky stars that our Silver medalist followed the enforcer code because he was in an extremely vulnerable position with the linesmen busy dealing with other scrums. Rychel could have rained down punches, but thankfully he didn’t. Nobody wants to see that, we’d just rather see them dance again later on in the game. Due to a game misconduct, the fans at the Great Western Forum never got to see that. But they knew Odgers would have to come to town again. In the end, the Kings got the last laugh with a 7-1 drumming of their California rivals.
Warren Rychel vs Garry Valk – February 15, 1993 – 1st period – 10:58
I’ve never experienced it, but I can imagine getting dropped in front of your opponents’ bench probably isn’t the best feeling in the world. Well, if you get a chance, ask Garry Valk because it happened to him as a roaring crowd in the Great Western Forum enjoyed every minute of it. Credit to the Edmonton native for dropping the gloves with a warrior that had tons more experience, but credit is all he ended up with. Valk started the fight well with a decent right, and then Rychel said enough of that and unloaded a flurry of right-handed bombs. The two grappled for a bit, which Valk hoped would give him a couple of seconds to establish himself. WRONG! Rychel ripped off Valk’s helmet and then landed three massive rights that sent the rookie tumbling to the ice. The fans enjoyed it, but you can tell the Kings bench loved their front row seats for the massive TKO. Thankfully, both players were able to skate to the sin bin that displayed the legendary Upper Deck ad in the background. Los Angeles went on to blank the Canucks 3-0, and even though Valk would go on to play another decade in the league, that Monday night served as a reminder not to throw down with a Silver medalist. And guess what? He never did again.
Gold – Raitis Ivanāns
Several warriors are deserving to be on this podium, but this is my list. I am old enough to remember Raitis Ivanāns throwing down against the likes of Derek Boogaard, George Parros, Brian McGrattan, Milan Lucic, Georges Laraque, and the list goes on. The 6’4”, 240 lbs Latvian monster never cherry-picked his opponents, well, he kind of did. He only picked the biggest guy on the ice, so I guess you could say he reverse-cherry picked his fights. Riga is now one of the party capitals of the world because of its beautiful beaches and amazing exchange rate, but when Ivanāns was born in the late 70s, it was a far different story. The Soviet state was far from ideal, so the Latvian monster seized the opportunity to join the Flint Generals in 1997. After nearly a decade battling in the UHL, CHL, ECHL, and AHL, our Gold medalist made his debut in 2005 by accumulating 9 penalty minutes in 4 games. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of scrapping another Eastern European monster, Zdeno Chara, and due to a late punch when he was down, his punishment was a broken orbital bone. But Ivanāns wasn’t deterred. He joined the Kings in 2006 and played four seasons in beautiful California, leading the team in penalty minutes every single season. Our Gold medalist now calls Boone County, Illinois his home and serves as a Real Estate investor and youth hockey coach. I can only imagine having Ivanāns as my coach, and if any of his players are reading this, I suggest going to watch some of your coach’s fight videos because when he dropped the gloves, he was an absolute monster. Let’s celebrate our Gold medalist the only way we know how, breaking down some epic battles with some of the best gladiators to have ever played the game.
Raitis Ivanāns vs Zack Stortini – February 14, 2009 – 1st period – 16:20
As I mentioned earlier, I’m an Edmonton boy, and I picked this fight because I remember saying “Ahhhh, Stortini don’t do it! We’re winning and you’re going to get rocked!” No crystal ball was needed to predict the ending to this scrap. Ivanāns was a monster, and while Stortini had the heart of a lion, your team was up two. This means it’s not the time to fight a giant. The two got chatting at the faceoff and then the party started. Our Gold medalist went for the grab and was somehow able to land a good punch while simultaneously grabbing Stortini’s jersey. The Oilers big man fired off a couple of body shots and looked like he was going to be a threat when he was able to shake off his elbow pad. But that’s when Ivanāns capitalized with a huge overhand right. The fight looked like it was going to be over when Stortini went down to his knees, and to be blunt, it would have been in his best interest if it had been. The Riga native let Stortini get to his feet and unloaded a right so powerful that it literally knocked Stortini’s helmet clean-off. This massive punch was followed up with a couple more jabs until the linesmen intervened when Stortini got jerseyed and was in a vulnerable position. This beatdown rallied the Kings for Dustin Brown to tie the game up late in the third. The Oilers won in a shootout, but this fight helped the Kings steal a valuable point. And in the end, the job of an enforcer is to protect and rally his teammates, and there’s no denying our Gold medalist did exactly that on Valentine’s Day in the STAPLES Center.
Raitis Ivanāns vs George Parros – October 14, 2008 – 1st period – 1:48
Nothing beats two gladiators getting the fans out of their seats less than two minutes into the game. Parros and Ivanāns scrapped six times in their careers and every single one of them was barnburners. This one didn’t break away from tradition. The two started the bout with a little grappling until Ivanāns landed a sneaky little uppercut. After that, it was on. Parros responded with two good right hooks, while our Gold medalist opted for a body-punch-body combo. Then at about the 30-second mark, Ivanāns landed a massive right jab directly to Parros’ beautiful mustache. Both players were able to shake off their elbow pads and toss overhand rights, but it looked like Ivanāns was the only one able to connect. He followed that right up with three rights to Parros’ kidneys before tossing one last overhand right that sent Parros down with Ivanāns landing on top of him. This was the third game of the season, and both enforcers looked to set the tone for the battle of California. Mission accomplished. The Kings got the 6-3 win, and our Gold medalist got a little redemption against his fiercest rival. But the most important thing was Parros’ duster was able to come out unscathed. Phew!
This concludes this week’s edition of the Los Angeles Enforcer Olympics. Just a reminder, this is my list, and leaving the aforementioned notable names off the podium wasn’t easy, but in the Olympics, judges have to make difficult decisions. I did exactly that. Now it’s your turn. Let us know who you would have had standing on the podium. Should Marty McSorley, Stu Grimson, Dave Schultz, and Jay Miller be able to be on several podiums? Or should Ian Laperriere, Kyle Clifford, Dave Taylor, Matt Johnson have their spot? That’s up to you judges, and we can’t wait to hear from you. La-La Land gets to enjoy beautiful weather, an unreal nightlife, and some incredible warriors dropping their gloves for our entertainment. I hope everyone enjoyed this celebration. Tune in next week when we head to one of the most storied franchises in the NHL that also boasts one of the most tortured fan bases in the recent future. Yup, you guessed it. The Toronto Maple Leafs. Will Tiger Williams be there? Eddie Shack? The bald beauty Tie Domi? Join us next week to find out!