Enforcer Olympics – New Jersey Devils

| Craig Jones

Amazingly, a state that ranks 10th in population has given us gifts such as Whitney Houston, The Fugees, Meryl Streep, and The Sopranos. But when I think about Jersey, it’s all about Scott Stevens’ laying down demolishing mid-ice hits, and David Puddy Supporting the team with one of my favorite Seinfeld Scenes ever. In all seriousness though, those that remember the Devils squads that won three Stanley Cups in less than a decade know how much the Jersey fans love their gladiators. As I mentioned, I loved the intensity that Scott Stevens brought to the ice every night. Did he cross the line a few times? By modern standards. Yes. Having said that, back when Stevens played, we were watching Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em VHS tapes like they were highlight reels. Let’s just chalk it up to different times, different rules. Unfortunately, Captain Crunch won’t be appearing on the Jersey Boys podium because I feel some enforcers should be medalists before him. But that’s just one man’s opinion. Make sure to let us know if you think #4 should have been on there or if any other gladiators were unfairly left off the podium.

🥉Bronze – Krzysztof Oliwa

Our Bronze medalist is none other than Krzysztof The Polish Hammer Oliwa. The Hammer may have only played four seasons in The Garden State, but he was still able to rack up 79 fights and over 700 penalty minutes with the NJ on his chest. Oliwa came from humble beginnings, and I mean HUMBLE beginnings. To put it in perspective, let’s look at The Hammer’s normal schedule as a teenager: 

4:30 A.M. – Wake up

5:07 A.M. – Catch train

6:00 A.M. – 3:30 P.M. – Work on machinery in coal mines

3:30 P.M. – Hockey practice

This is a far cry from the life of an AA or AAA prospect in North America, but that’s what Oliwa had to do. When asked about his time working in the mines, all he could say was, “My friends got hurt, they got hurt bad. They lost their fingers because somebody made a stupid mistake. They were repairing a machine and then somebody plugged it in and then cut off their fingers.” Oliwa was one of the lucky ones and did everything he could not squander his opportunity for a better life. After being encouraged to come to Canada to try out for a Junior B team in Ontario, he was immediately thrown into a foreign land without knowing any English. But Oliwa persevered and was drafted 65th overall by the Devils in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. The Hammer was a monster when he played, standing 6’5” and 235 lbs, and while he opted for a clutch-and-grab style rather than a stand-and-trade, there weren’t many opponents lining up to fight the only Polish-born player to ever raise the Stanley Cup. Pretty impressive for a coal-miner.

Krzysztof Oliwa vs P.J. Stock – December 16, 1997 – 1st period – 18:02

The Battle of Alberta, the Battle of Pennsylvania, and the old Battle of Québec have had countless scraps over the years. On that Tuesday night in Continental Airlines Arena, Oliwa and P.J. Stock looked to prove the Battle of the Hudson River should be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned rivalries. Stock wasn’t the type of fighter to cherry-pick his fights, and throwing down with a guy that outweighed him by nearly 50 pounds and was 6 inches taller than him kind of proves that point. Our Bronze medalist was looking to establish himself as a regular in his first full season with the Devils, so he had no issue obliging Stock’s advances. Oliwa started the bout strong when he channeled his nickname and tossed two hammer right hands. Stock survived the initial onslaught and responded with three quick left jabs. Oliwa tried to go for the KO when he threw two massive hooks that just missed. Honestly, Stock had an iron jaw, but if they had landed I think even he would have had a tough time skating to the box. To the displeasure of fight fans, the linesmen jumped in once the two gladiators were pinned up against the boards. Amazingly, it took only 32 games for our Bronze medalist to rack up an NHL-leading 14 fighting majors. Oliwa was determined to establish himself in the league, and he utilized the best tool at his disposal, his fists. Thanks to a late goal from the ever so handsome Sheldon Souray the Battle of the Hudson River ended with the Devils sending the Rangers home with a 4-3 loss

Krzysztof Oliwa vs Tie Domi – February 06, 1999 – 1st period – 2:57

It’s an unwritten rule that you can’t step up on the Enforcer Olympics podium if you haven’t thrown down with Tie Domi. And 3 minutes into the game on a rowdy Saturday night in Jersey, Oliwa accepted the challenge. Similar to scrapping with Stock, The Hammer’s height and weight advantage was astronomical, but Domi’s experience and toughness were always the ultimate equalizers. Oliwa must have been pumped at the start of this fight because he landed about six clean right hands that knocked Domi’s helmet off. He was in total control until Domi utilized his patented Ring Around The Rosy technique to land two devastating left hands that dropped our Bronze medalist to the ice. Was it the punch that dropped him? Or was it him losing his balance? I think it was a perfect storm of both. Now it’s time to do what I always do, address the elephant in the room. In North America, the Tychy native is generally remembered for his Stanley Cup victory, intimidating presence on the ice, and (for those that know) obsession with astronomy and computer programming. But Europeans became familiar with his domestic abuse charge in Poland, the allegations of fighting members of the Poland National team, and his eventual dismissal from his coaching position due to numerous complaints from players. The transition from enforcer-to-citizen is difficult. There are those that have made the transition seamlessly, and those who have encountered insurmountable obstacles as a result. We can only hope that Oliwa can overcome and atone for his mistakes because fight fans know that he left it all on the ice and teammates always appreciated his sacrifices.

🥈Silver – Ken Daneyko

Other than Scott Stevens you’d be hard-pressed to find a player more synonymous with the Devils than Ken Daneyko. New Jersey drafted the gritty defenseman 18th overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, and he never wore another NHL jersey again. Hence the “Mr.Devil” nickname bestowed on him by Jersey fans. Daneyko racked up over 100 fights and 2500 penalty minutes during a legendary 20-year career that yielded three Stanley Cup wins. If you had the opportunity to watch Daneyko play, you got to witness a defenseman that knew his role wasn’t to light-the-lamp when he recorded a record 255 consecutive regular-season games without tallying a goal. But he didn’t care, he just wanted to win. Daneyko’s bread-and-butter was his ability to hammer guys in front of the net to give Martin Brodeur the best possible sightlines. Whether you remember him for his legendary toothless smile or his honest color analysis on the Devils’ broadcast, the Edmonton-raised native is more than deserving to be our Silver medalist. This is likely why the Devils made Daneyko the second player ever to have his jersey raised to the rafters. Will we see another player suit up more than 1283 games in New Jersey? Time will tell, but even if they do, they are going to be hard-pressed to live up to the legend of Daneyko.

Ken Daneyko vs Gary Roberts – November 23, 1987 – 3rd period – 9:46

Let’s name a couple of good ways to start a fight. Knocking someone’s food out of their hands, talking on your cell phone during a movie, and getting smashed 9-2 in a hockey game. This is exactly why Gary Roberts was put in the unfortunate position to fight our Silver medalist. The Devils were getting absolutely pumped in the Saddledome, and if you can’t hurt ‘em on the scoreboard, hurt ‘em with some bombs. This was Mr. Devil’s second fight of the night and he made it a memorable one. Daneyko started with two big left hands and then showed his ambidexterity when he quickly tossed a big right hook. The two proceeded to grapple and jostle before Daneyko landed a sneaky uppercut. And after a little more hugging, the linesmen jumped in to end the 3rd-period scrap. That Monday night was far from ideal for the Devils squad, but luckily they didn’t let it deter them, and barring a Game 7 loss to the Bruins they could have faced the Oilers dynasty in the Stanley Cup final.

Ken Daneyko vs Kelly Chase – February 10, 1990 – 2nd period – 10:43

Having a substitute teacher as a kid and winning the lottery are the only things better than a scrap going down while the linesmen are busy dealing with another scrum. Daneyko was seeing red when he saw St. Louis’ Bronze medalist took a sucker punch at his teammate and immediately looked to exact his revenge. Kelly Chase could always hold his own, but Daneyko was just too powerful on that Saturday night, and the fact that his team was down 3-0 gave him that extra motivation. After the two medalists emerged from the melee, they started their dance at center ice. Chase landed a good right, but Daneyko landed two left jabs that buckled the St. Louis enforcer. But as I mentioned, no linesmen means the fight goes on. Chase got back to his feet and Daneyko fed him a quick uppercut as they jostled for position. Mr. Devil kept tossing left hands as Chase desperately tried to restrain the New Jersey legend. The fight ended after the linesmen could tell the warriors were completely exhausted. The game ended with a dominant 7-0 win, but Daneyko reminded the league that no matter what the score is, cheap shots and sucker punches will never be tolerated.

🥇Gold – Mike Peluso

It should come as no surprise that Mike Peluso is our New Jersey Enforcer Olympics Gold medalist. Hell, if you just based this on looks he should win, because if a beautiful head of hair and a shit-eating-grin after every fight isn’t a Gold medalist, I don’t know what is. Peluso managed to rack up over 60 fights and 600 penalty minutes during only 3.5 seasons with the Devils. Not to mention that he became one of only four players in NHL history to tally over 400 points before he arrived in New Jersey. Peluso not only carved out his place in Devils history with his fists but alongside Randy McKay and Bobby Holik, AKA the “Crash Line”, the trio served as one of the deadliest fourth lines in NHL history and helped New Jersey win their first Stanley Cup in 1995.

Mike Peluso vs Darren Langdon – March 08, 1995 – 1st period – 12:04

Ahh the 90s, the days when guys threw technique out the door and just stared in each other’s eyes and tossed bombs. During the 1st period of the aforementioned Battle of the Hudson River, Mike Peluso and Darren Langdon got the fans at MSG out of their seats. Peluso started the party when he landed seven massive left hooks to the Rangers winger’s head. Langdon was only able to survive the onslaught by tying up the arms of our Gold medalist. Then, it was stand-and-trade time. Both warriors went blow-for-blow with lefts that got the crowd absolutely roaring. Langdon was rattled and took his frustration out when he tossed a couple of punches while Peluso was down on the ice. Not the fight etiquette you like to see, but I can imagine getting your ass kicked at home wouldn’t result in the best decision-making. The game ended with the three massive fights and the Rangers getting the 6-4 W. Peluso endeared himself to fans with this scrap, and whether this was a catalyst in their eventual Stanley Cup run is debatable, but I can imagine it was reassuring to know that they had one of the toughest enforcers in the league.

Mike Peluso vs Kevin Kaminski – April 12, 1995 – 2nd period – 2:48

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Kevin Kaminski for teaching us all a great life lesson – DO NOT TRY AND KNEE MIKE PELUSO…EVER. Peluso is 55 years old and after the beat down he laid on Kaminski I still wouldn’t try it. The cameras didn’t catch the attempted Brian Marchment special, but the announcers made it clear that’s the reason Peluso dropped the gloves at US Airways Arena. Our Gold medalist was so dominant that it only took one left, followed by a pause to pick his spot, and then another devastating left that immediately TKOed the Capitals centerman. Thankfully the linesmen took pity on Kaminski and didn’t bother assessing him a fighting penalty because this wasn’t a fight, it was a beatdown. Peluso and the Devils were a dominant squad during the 1994-95 season, and even though New Jersey entered the playoffs as the fifth seed, they rolled over Boston, Pittsburgh, Philly, Detroit and only lost 4 games in the process. Unfortunately, Peluso’s career was cut short with a spinal cord injury in 1997, because he was electrifying to watch and made sure fans didn’t need to see a goal to get them out of their seats.  

In the end, the Devils have several players that could have stepped up on the Enforcer Olympics podium. Scott Stevens may not have been the best fighter, but who’s going to knock a guy for using his shoulders more than his fists. It was difficult to leave Randy McKay off the podium because he was a monster alongside Peluso on the “Crash Line.” Jim McKenzie, Cam Janssen, David Clarkson, Joe Cirella, and Bobby Holik all proudly donned the NJ and backed their teammates every night. As always, this is my list and with any subjective topic, there will be some differing opinions. Let us know yours! Next week We’re going, going, back, back, to Cali, Cali. Who will be on the Los Angeles Kings’ podium? Will they be rocking the black and grey, or those hideous yellow and purple jerseys? Tune in next week to find out!

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