Enforcer Olympics – Toronto Maple Leafs
Certain franchises are so entrenched in sports history that it’s difficult to imagine the sport without them. Manchester United, New York Yankees, Real Madrid, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys are amongst the upper echelon of sports franchises. But when it comes to hockey, it’s Montreal and Toronto. It’s crazy to think the Leafs made their debut more than 100 years ago. To put that in perspective, the Leafs made their debut the same year the first-ever World Encyclopedia was published, Canadian troops won the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and conscription was introduced in the United States. Toronto fans have got to enjoy their team lifting the Stanley Cup 13 times, well, senior citizens have. The Leafs may have the second most Cups in NHL history, but it’s been 54 long years since the Cup has been carried down Yonge Street. Not from a lack of effort, but the likes of Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, and Darryl Sittler all fell short in their attempts to end the dry spell. But the only reason those maestros were able to work their magic was that they always had an enforcer watching their back. While the unsung heroes are becoming far and few between, it doesn’t mean their contributions are no longer valuable. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Leafs fan that didn’t love the medalists of today’s Enforcer Olympics. So enough chit-chat, let’s start handing out some medals.
Bronze – Colton Orr
What do Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ken Norton, and Colton Orr all have in common? They all started playing their sport much later than their peers yet were still able to master their craft in the realms of their respective sport. Colton Orr didn’t start playing hockey until his dad tossed him on the outdoor rink at 11-years old and, in only 3 years, he was drafted into the WHL. I don’t know about you, but I have been trying to learn Italian for 3 years on Rosetta Stone and I’m still terrible, which – to me – makes this feat even more impressive and humbling. Orr described his first fight at 14 as nerve-racking, but also exciting because the whole crowd was cheering. It was very Canadiana. While he admits that, in hindsight, he wouldn’t let 14-year-olds fight if he was coaching now, it was a different time back then. Our Bronze medalist may not be the most recognized name on this podium, but to this day he is still one of my favorite fighters. Hence why I was pumped when the Leafs rewarded him with a 4-year $4-million contract back in 2009. It got even better when I went and watched ‘Goon: Last of the Enforcers’ and lo and behold I see the former Leaf showing off his acting chops. NHL Enforcer turned actor, not too shabby for a kid from Winnipeg.
Colton Orr vs Brian McGrattan – November 14, 2009 – 1st Period – 2:27
When you get brought in making a million dollars a year, the fans expect you to prove your worth. Well, Orr did it the only way he knew how… smashing faces. In hindsight, I would have loved if Orr turned to the crowd and channeled his inner Maximus Decimus Meridius and just yelled, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” Neither of these gladiators ever hesitated to stand-and-trade, and they did exactly that on Hockey Night in Canada. And although the two heavyweights had danced before, it was never wearing a Flames or Leafs jersey. Luckily for fight fans, neither of them had a problem christening their new jerseys with some haymakers. Orr landed a quick right hand and McGrattan responded with a right of his own. The turning point of the bout was when Orr was able to shake off his elbow pad and start teeing off unrestricted overhand rights, including two back-to-back bangers at the 20-second mark. And then, Bingo, Bango, Bongo, McGrattan was leaking like a sieve and our Bronze medalist stood victorious. These warriors deserve all the credit in the world for doing the work they do so kudos to McGrattan for staring up at the jumbotron with a smile on his face even though he left the tilt on the losing end. Even though the Leafs would go on to finish last in the Northeast Division, Orr proved his worth by showing a sold-out arena the damage he was capable of inflicting, night-in-and-night-out.
Colton Orr vs Chris Neil – January 01, 2011 – 3rd period – 12:26
New year….new beef. This was the first of many scraps between our Bronze medalist and Chris Neil. Let’s be real, these gladiators fueled the Battle of Ontario with their willingness to scrap no matter the night, score, or moment. Case and point – this battle was initiated by Orr when the Leafs had a commanding 5-1 lead. Orr started the fight strong with three big right-hands before Neil was able to come back with a few punches of his own. After a little grappling, Orr was able to get his arms loose and fire off some big hooks. But Orr took over the scrap when they got pinned against the boards. Three massive hooks right to Neil’s face left the Senators enforcer shook. In the end, the two warriors grappled for a bit and then clearly exchanged some pleasantries. Were they saying we are going to do this again? I’d feel safe in saying yes, and honestly, it was one of my favorite things about hockey. You are always held accountable for your actions, no matter your stature. It’s beautiful.
Silver – Tiger Williams
The former Leafs enforcer played 16 seasons in the NHL during the heyday of ‘old-time hockey,’ which meant fighting wasn’t optional, it was mandatory. The Saskatchewan native played in his home country for 10 seasons before making the move down south, but he will always be remembered as a proud member of ‘The Buds.’ In fact, with 3971, Williams still holds the record for all-time penalty minutes. He tallied these minutes after playing 445 fewer games than Dale Hunter, who achieved a mere 3565. But let’s be real, the enforcers of the 70s and 80s share a lot in common. They were all part of more than 1 bench-clearing brawl, they were usually the instigator and they often fought more than once in a game. Other than his badass nickname, what separated Tiger from the rest was his ability to find the back of the net. In 15 seasons in the league, Williams netted 10+ goals in every season except 4 of them, which was largely due to injury. This is exactly why he was a no-brainer medalist in the Leafs Enforcer Olympics.
Tiger Williams vs Dave Lewis – April 23.1978 – 2nd period – 14:22
Tiger was always a ferocious fella, but his intensity was certainly augmented during this playoff bout. Although it was a bit late, the cameraman likely saved his job when he captured the battle between Tiger Williams and Dave Lewis about halfway through. And fans got to witness a great scrap the second the cameraman made the fortuitous shift. Tiger was looking to inflict some serious damage with his big right-hands and maybe Lewis assumed that his 2-inch reach advantage would keep Tiger at bay, but we all know why they say never assume… Williams was able to feed Lewis a series of uppercuts that left the linesmen no option but to jump in and end the one-sided affair. But Williams didn’t want the battle to end and even with the black & white stripes between them, he did his darndest to grab a hold of the Islanders big man. Tiger’s beatdown of Lewis fired his teammates up to take win a crucial Game 4 playoff game. The Leafs would go on to win a thrilling Game 7, and there’s no denying having a gladiator like Tiger on the ice was more of a benefit than a detriment to the team’s success.
Tiger Williams vs Behn Wilson – October 21,1978 – 2nd period – 14:22
One of the underrated rivalries in the 70s was Philly and Toronto. These two teams HATED each other. Fights and line brawls were commonplace when these squads took the ice, so seeing Behn Wilson throwing down with our Silver medalist didn’t shock a single fan in the famed Maple Leaf Gardens. In this scrap, Tiger got the jump on Wilson with a flurry of right hands. Credit to Wilson, he stayed on his feet and was able to come back with a few rights of his own. Then that’s when Tiger had to prove how tough his chin was because Wilson landed a quick body shot and then two huge right bombs. Williams didn’t even flinch, proving that to be an Enforcer Olympic medalist, you gotta be able to dish it out, but you also have to be able to take it too. Tiger was fired up because when the linesmen had them tied up, he snuck in a couple of uppercuts to a trash-talking Wilson. The best part about this fight was that it wasn’t in the playoffs or an important game, it was just the sixth game of the year. That’s the product of two teams who didn’t like each other, and fight fans got to reap the spoils of that hatred. The Leafs got the win and Williams racked up 17 penalty minutes in the process. Classic Tiger.
Gold – Tie Domi
I’ve argued with my friends that who you believe is the G.O.A.T. of any sport will always be influenced by who YOU watched the most of. Some fans will say Gretzky, Howe, or Lemieux, others will say Crosby, Ovechkin, and there’s a new generation that will say, McDavid or MacKinnon. In regards to fighting, I’m not saying Tie Domi is the G.O.A.T., but I watched him my whole life, and my lord, he always threw bombs. Maybe it’s because I’m not the biggest guy, and the bald beauty fought like he was 6’6, 250lbs. In reality, he was 5’10” and 207 lbs and rarely fought a guy smaller than him. Domi was always a man of the people, which is why fight fans shouldn’t be surprised that he even made an appearance with the late Alex Trebek on a real Canadiana episode of Jeopardy. Some people may not have liked his showmanship, but I loved every minute of it. Domi was like the Stone Cold Steve Austin of hockey, which is why he was so polarizing. The people that hated Domi, HATED him, but the people that loved him, truly LOVED him. I fall on the side of the latter, which is why I’m honored to give Tie Domi the Gold Medal in this year’s Toronto Enforcer Olympics.
Tie Domi vs Stu Grimson – February 22, 1996 – 1st period – 17:27
Was this David vs Goliath? Nope, it was just Domi vs Grimson. And while it may have looked the same, Domi’s powerful right hand was an equalizer far stronger than a slingshot. On a meaningless play, two legendary heavyweights locked up to give the Detroit fans a show. I can only imagine squaring up with someone that is 6 inches taller and nearly 30 lbs heavier. But that’s what separates the regular dudes from the gladiators because Domi didn’t bat an eye when he shook his gloves off to scrap ‘The Grim Reaper.’ The scrap started against the boards with both players trading punches. Luckily for fight fans, as soon as they were off the boards, the fun started. Domi utilized his unique fighting style of locking in a death grip on his opponent’s pads and giving jersey jabs to distract them before teeing off his roundhouse punch. BAM, BAM, BAM, our Gold medalist stunned Grimson. But the Reaper was able to use his weight and height advantage to keep the fight going. Grimson was able to land a couple of big shots, but the judges’ card would have to read Domi all day. The Wings may have got the 5-3 win, but Grimson’s face definitely took an L.
It’s safe to say that Tie Domi wasn’t a shy guy. The former Peterborough Pete never cowered when the spotlight was shone upon him, and that’s why every fanbase that got to see #28 in action loved when he was on the ice. Rob Ray usually had the upper hand on Domi and – to the disapproval of Rick Jeanneret – Domi gave it to Ray that night in Marine Midland Arena. Ironically, Ray’s secret weapon had always been his uncanny ability to get half-naked and leave his opponents with nothing to hold on to. Well, on that Wednesday night it left him vulnerable to our Gold medalist’s massive left hand. Honestly, the only reason Ray was still standing was because of his iron chin, a lot of other enforcers would have dropped if Domi was able to land that many clean punches. Ray was able to answer back with a couple of rights, but this fight was Domi dominance from start to finish. Amazingly, these two warriors fought 13 times in their careers. Imagine if we got to watch Tyson and Holyfield 13 times? Ali and Frazier 13 times? Sheeeeesh folks, we are some spoiled fight fans. If you haven’t seen all of those fights after you read this, please dive down that rabbit hole, you won’t be disappointed.
This concludes the Toronto Maple Leafs Enforcer Olympics. As always, honorable mentions to Wendel Clark, Bob McGill, Wade Belak, Todd Gill, Ken Baumgartner, and Darcy Tucker. But as I said, this is my list and yours may be identical, or completely different. That’s the fun though. So please let me know if I missed anyone or to who you’d be handing out the medals. My apologies for taking a few weeks off, life gets hectic for all of us, and I’m no different. Next time we’re going to Disneyland!!! Well, kind of. Anaheim Ducks are up. Tune in to find out who Coach Bombay picks.