Not many eyebrows were raised on November 16 when word spread throughout the NHL that Bob Probert was slated to start broadcasting games for the Blackhawks. But you can bet that fight fans of the league’s legion of fist wondered for a long moment if they had seen the last bare-knuckled brawl in a highlight-laden career of crunch.
Tough guys come and go, but only a vast minority last more than a handful of years—teams usually can’t afford to reserve a roster spot for a straight Neanderthal. Mr. Probert has seen them all over his 16-plus seasons—much of which time he’s been sans gloves. A total of 212 career fighting majors—is there a better poster boy for Advil? Proby currently ranks fourth all-time in the NHL with 3300 career penalty minutes, and he’s done plenty of dome-denting along the way to the sin bin. The big winger was the preeminent sultan of swat from the mid 1980s through the early 1990s, while with the Detroit Red Wings, until drug and alcohol abuse sent his career spiraling out of control. He was ultimately suspended by the NHL for the 1994-95 season, a dark move that possibly saved the troubled Probert’s life. His long, hard path to recovery ironically ended with him in a rival Blackhawk jersey a season later. Reborn, Probert played eight solid seasons in Chicago, re-establishing himself as a top gun in the fight game and becoming a veteran presence able to help the younger Blackhawk players. Although he says he will try to play again next year (he is currently on Chicago’s injured reserve list with a serious groin injury and won’t see any action this season), the truth is that Probert is 37 years old—that’s 37 long years of battling hockey goons and inner demons—and the writing may be on the wall.
Rewind to November 11, 1985, Probert’s first duel in the bigs, when a barn-burning, toe-to-toe’r with Canuck crazy Craig Coxe put Proby on the NHL map. Fast-forward to February 13, 2002, quite possibly Probert’s final NHL dance of delinquence, when he squared off against then Florida up-and-comer Brad Norton. After many a battle both fought and won in between those two dates, Proby stands tall atop muscle mountain.
More of the season’s best bouts:
October 14 Darcy Hordichuk (PHO) vs. Jody Shelley (CLB) Two of the league’s most bruising young guns get it going here, right off the draw at center ice. They square off, dance, and finally come together in a flurry of blows, both battlers leaking the scarlet on their way to the sin bin.
October 15 Darcy Hordichuk (PHO) vs. Dennis Bonvie (OTT) Hungry for a knuckle sandwich, Hordichuk challenges the feisty Bonvie, and they take turns pounding away in front of the benches, Bonvie with the right and Hordichuk with the left, each leaving a litany of lumps on the other’s dome.
October 17 Jamie Allison (CLB) vs. Reed Low (STL) Quickly becoming one of the game’s top tusslers, Low really revs it up against the southpaw Allison in this meeting of the mallets. Piston-like right hands from the St. Louis slugger earn him the nod after the smoke clears.
October 26 Jeff Odgers (ATL) vs. Sean Brown (BOS) No question Odgers is one of the toughest pound-for-pounders around, and in this do-si-do he takes on the much bigger Brown. Each does a melon tap dance with the right hand, hitting the mark repeatedly along the boards. Brownie gets a slight edge late, a bloodied nose for Odgers the telltale sign.
October 30 P.J. Stock (BOS) vs. Stephen Peat (WAS) These two had a pair of classics last year, and they pick it right back up. After grappling for a bit, they calmly get into position for 60 seconds of mayhem, rights and lefts galore from both sides, and a smile from both fighters as the linesmen break ’em up. Now that’s old-time hockey!
November 5 Stephen Peat (WAS) vs. Jody Shelley (CLB) A long square-off leads these two titans into a real main-eventer, a Pier 6 slugfest that ends with a heavy left from Peat ringing the bell on Shelley, dropping the Blue Jacket strong-arm to his knees. Peat is a legit toughie, no doubt.
November 7 Francis Lessard (ATL) vs. Ryan Vandenbussche (CHI) And here they go! Newcomer Lessard challenges veteran slugger Vandenbussche at center ice—hey, why not? Two minutes of frantic fury to follow, each getting a fair share of swats in on the other, Lessard with a reaching right and Vandenbussche with a never-say-die left hand that leads him to the home-ice win.
November 9 Donald Brashear (PHI) vs. Stephen Peat (WAS) Arguably the king of the ring, Brashear applies a two-fisted beatdown to a vigorous Peat as a reminder of who’s really on top. Peat hangs in tough for a while, but ultimately it’s the strength of Brashear—as well as a sledgehammer of a left hand—that ends this one.
November 9 Krzysztof Oliwa (NYR) vs. Grant Marshall (CLB) An end of game tilt-a-whirl that earned Oliwa a five-game suspension when all was said and done. Right off the draw, Oliwa high-sticks Marshall, who says, “I don’t think so!” The obligatory trip to knuckle junction follows, with a game Marshall standing in well against the hulking Oliwa, trading punches as the crowd goes nuts—nah, fans just hate the fighting, don’t they?
November 19 P.J. Stock (BOS) vs. Wade Belak (TOR) Another pound-for-pound pugilist, Stock soars in this marathon scrap against the massive Belak. Stock gets in close and works his magic on Belak’s beak, first rights and then lefts. Belak answers with a few haymaking right hands, but Stock’s quicker punches steal the show and earn the little guy a tough win.