… I can remember hearing the news at 2 AM on the morning of July 24th that Probert had signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks a few hours earlier on the previous day. As a Hawks loyalist it was pure jubilee. The MAN was going to Chicago and I could actually purchase a jersey with his name and that frightening number 24 on the back!
Of course, a big part of my enthusiasm was due to what he would bring to the team. His skill set, intimidation factor and fight prowess were all premium attributes for a hockey player. But it was his departure from the hated Wings that truly generated my elation.
You know how hard it is to say that your all-time favorite enforcer plays for your team’s biggest rival?
This was the paradox that defined Probert and really explains his legend. He could literally stomp and embarrass your team’s toughest guy, Red Wing jersey and all, and you still could not help but be mesmerized and feel a sense of admiration by how great he was at his craft. No matter what team you rooted for, if you had any kind of exuberant fascination with the NHL fight game during the Age of Probert you had to admit that not only was he the best but that you loved watching the guy compete. You can bet that even members of the anti-fighting crowd would silently watch in awe when Probert went to work. He was that fun to watch…. READ ALL MY TRIBUTE TO PROBERT
They are the policemen of the ice — “fighters”, “enforcers”, “tough guys”… whatever you want to call them. They are the ones who protect their teammates and enable the more skilled to play with absolute confidence so that Stanley Cups can be won.
I find it hilarious that the ugly hot button issue this past season was how the law of the land needed to exterminate the “head shot”. The “head shot”, not fighting, puzzled the NHL bureaucrats to no end and generated ugly headlines throughout the continent.
What the NHL legislative waterheads fail to identify is that the guys we are honoring in this article are the only “law” that the NHL needs to minimize debilitating headshots.
Isn’t it odd that as the rules for fighting become more and more strict the percentage of headshots and dirty hits rises? Cheap shots were very rare when the players on the ice were allowed to keep the peace on the ice.
But enough of stating the obvious… let’s get set to honor the warriors of the ice, the blue-collar guys of the game who do whatever they have to give their team an extra edge.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
It is safe to say that everybody in the hockey world, player and fan alike, applauded loudly when this quick, brutal exchange occurred. Cooke has always been a 3 AM mosquito in your ear with his questionable hits and inability to answer the bell when an opponent issues a challenge in response to one of those hits. He inherited Sean Avery’s crown of “King Chicken Feces” after he blindsided Marc Savard earlier this season and in this instance he was expanding his kingdom while trying to pick a fight with the 18 year old rookie Evander Kane.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Carkner has been a pleasant surprise to Sens fans and fight fans alike. His fight card was very solid this year as he collected wins over heavy’s like Donald Brashear, George Parros, Andrew Peters and Frazer McLaren. He also put himself into the win column against serious competition in the likes of Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton. Though he dropped 3 of 4 in a spirited series with heavyweight contender Colton Orr his one victory over Orr was a convincing one-sided TKO. One more reference in regards to his feud with Orr is that of Carkner’s 24 bouts this season (4th in Fight majors this year) he only dropped 5. There is no shame in saying that more than half of his losses came at the hands of Orr, a brawler who will someday be the heavyweight champ. Of course, not to include Carkner as possible champion material would be foolish as he proved himself a top 5 contender this year.
“SOFT HANDS WHEN THEY’RE NOT FISTS” AWARD
Damn shame that the man is such a productive point getter. Hockey fans throughout the land would love to see this guy drop the mitt 25-30 times a season but he is just too darn valuable on the ice. Of the top 25 penalty minute leaders, Clowe was tops in points scored at 57 and was 1 goal away from 20. His win/loss record was an amazing 7-1-2 with big wins over heavyweight George Parros and fellow middleweights Tim Jackman and BJ Crombeen. Let’s hope Clowe gets a few more green light nods from his coach this upcoming season as he is a talented and exciting brawler who has a good shot at middleweight champ next season.
COMEBACK FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
This time last year McGrattan was not sure if any NHL teams would be interested in his services. From December 2008 to February 2009 he voluntarily entered the League’s Substance Abuse program and successfully moved on. After this amazing show of perseverance he underwent surgery for his shoulder, a nagging injury that had plagued him through most of his career and really stunted his maturation as a bona-fide NHL heavyweight. After all that the Calgary Flames decided to give him a shot and signed him to a one-year deal.
Questions among fight fans loomed. Would he go back to substance abuse? Would the shoulder maintain?
He stayed clean and healthy and had his best season as an enforcer since his rookie year of 05-06. McGrattan collected decisive victories over legit tough guys like Darcy Hordichuk, David Koci, George Parros, last year’s rookie of the year Steve Macintyre and 2010 rookie of the year nominee Fraser McLaren. He also defeated Wade Belak, 2009 heavyweight champ, twice and Cam Janssen, 2009 Light-Heavyweight champ. His record of 9-2-3 was good enough to give him a heavyweight top 3 finish and after a very convincing 2009-2010 campaign for the once shaky McGrattan and you can be sure that he will be back gunning for the heavyweight crown.
MOST EXCITING FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
The kid is a tremendous throwback who would have done fine in any era. Need some facts?
Fact one: Check out Big Colton’s 09-10 fight card! Laraque, Godard, Brashear, MacIntyre, McGrattan, Shelly, Hordichuk, Janssen, Carkner and Thornton: a who’s who of heavyweight competition and a true testament to the fact that Orr is willing to drop with anybody, anytime.
Fact two: His open, kill’em all blitzkrieg style of throwing blows leaves him vulnerable to getting punched himself but it does not matter him, he knows he has the biggest right hand in the league and he is intent on imposing his fury on any opponent no matter what. He is certainly the most exciting pugilist in the game today.
MIDDLEWEIGHT FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Simply put, a classic Western Canada battle. Prust’s 25 fighting majors ranks him 2nd in the league and Rypien is arguably the top pound for pound fighter in the league. These two guys are both superb warriors and are always willing to take a few lumps for a team morale boost.
We laid the formula out real simple when we named Arron Asham last year’s Middie champion. If Rypien could stay healthy there is no reason why he couldn’t be this year’s champ. Well folks, Ripper played a healthy 69 games in the 09’-10’ campaign and was the unanimous choice for Middleweight champion of the year. He went 12-3-1 this season and he was able to avenge 2 of his 3 losses in return bouts. Though the majority of Rypien’s fight card consists of Middleweight adversaries, thus his Middie classification, the 5’11, 184 pound center does not think twice about stepping up a weight class or two when the bell rings. This season he collected convincing victories over 6’7 Hall Gill, 6’4 Zach Stortini and light-heavyweight contenders Cam Janssen and Chris Neil. He has the fastest hands in the league and for my money he is the best pound for pound fighter on the scene today.
LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT OF THE YEAR
You can’t ask for a much better scrap than this one. There were heavy bombs, swift combos and more importantly sturdy chins. Pride was a huge factor in this one as well. Neither of these guys wanted to let their teammates down and that kind of self-sacrifice is rare these days in the world of professional sports.
This is the second year in a row that Janssen claims the light-heavyweight strap. The guy plays with heart and guts and the NHL would be a better place if every player had those two attributes at the top of their skill set in the same that Bam Bam does.
HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Watching these two monsters go at it wearing those two sweaters definitely takes me back to the 80’s and the prime era of the Battle of Alberta. It devastated me when Big Mac was picked up on waivers by the lowly Florida Panthers which effectively pearl harbored any notion of these two developing a great rivalry. Both will be testing the free agent market this Summer so lets hope they end up in the same division to re-establish the potential for an epic feud.
The dude is intimidating when he takes a shift, like a Great White patrolling the ocean for his next meal. Sure, he only fought nine times, but all that means is that there are fewer and fewer individuals who are willing to go with the man dubbed “The Boogey Man”. Of his seven victories (he went 7-0-2), the two that really separates Boogaard from the pack and gives him this year’s heavyweight crown is his victory over last year’s champion Wade Belak and his victory over Brian McGrattan. The key in the McGrattan victory is had Boogaard not dropped Gratts with a vicious, knee-buckling right hook and Gratts had found a way to maybe draw not necessarily win the crown would have gone to Gratts. Also, and I love relaying this, he and his brother Aaron hold a summer camp for kids which teaches young recruits the ins and outs of the fight game. Seriously, fighting on skates is an art form and if done the wrong way it could lead to serious injury if not death. I don’t know how you see it… but the “Boogey Man” is for the kids!
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
It may not be an NHL fight but an AHL brawl, but this is what a hockey fight is all about: mutual respect, aggression and sportsmanship. Notice at the end that they both express admiration towards one another? These two are good friends off the ice and they both understand that doing what they do is part of the job and it is never personal.