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With this season’s Stanley Cup making three championships in the past nine seasons, the New Jersey Devils have bumped the Sopranos off the top of the heap as the hottest thing going in Jersey. These chalice-toting titans’ forechecks from hell and what’s arguably the league’s most intimidating defense have proven a potent combination.
Take Scott Stevens’s signature blue-line bashings—clean hits that you know have the old-schoolers out there jumping out of their chairs. Ask Paul Kariya how it feels—and Eric Lindros before that. Now that’s old-time hockey. Until next season, see you in the Sin Bin!
The top 10 fights of the 2002-03 season, in chronological order:
October 14 Darcy Hordichuk (PHO) vs. Jody Shelley (CLB) They shed mitts as the puck hits ice, and square off in their best John L. Sullivan poses. They wade right in with piston-like right hands, both ringing the bell early on. Hordichuk switches southpaw for a flurry, yet Shelley’s consistent right-hand crosses just won’t stop.
October 24 Bill Guerin (DAL) vs. Jerome Iginla (CAL) Who says all-star scorers can’t scrap? Guerin and Iginla both throw and trade major-league haymakers with the rights, spinning in a lazy circle as they go. A head-turning right cross from Iginla sways the fight, and his stiff left hand sends Guerin ducking for cover.
October 30 P.J. Stock (BOS) vs. Stephen Peat (WAS) You can’t rush a good thing, as Stock and Peat prove true: They shed gloves and grab on for a ride, trying to avoid eating the fight’s first big shot. Peat smiles wryly as he works on getting his hands free. After a couple of Stock’s rabbit punches, Peat orders his left hand to start hammering on Stock’s melon. But Stock’s right uppercut punches the button. It ends mutually, with both fighters grinning from ear to ear.
November 7 Francis Lessard (ATL) vs. Ryan VandenBussche (CHI) Talk about David and Goliath! VandenBussche gives up about a foot to Lessard, but he’s the first one to throw down and let fly. Lessard gets in a few early lefts, but the Vandy Man gets his hammer out and lands some crisp righty crosses. A monster left hand over the top from VandenBussche staggers Lessard, knocking off his brain bucket and nearly toppling the giant.
December 10 Stephane Quintal (MON) vs. P.J. Stock (BOS) They both pull the cord at the same time, Quintal firing rights and the smaller-but-sturdy Stock returning in kind with the left, both snipers catching chin galore. Then they switch up and fire clean shots from the opposite sides, finally squaring off in a corner, exhausted from the show and nodding “Good fight!” toward each other as the zebras move in.
December 11 Jeff Odgers (ATL) vs. Darcy Hordichuk (PHO) Teacher (Odgers) taught student (Hordichuk) some tricks of the trade while they were teammates a year ago in Atlanta, and this is a pop quiz. Still in the face-off circle, they exchange right hands galore at a frantic pace, Odgers coming under and Hordichuk taking the high road to the target. Hordichuk gets a slight edge down the stretch and spins Odgers down to the ice to end it.
January 2 Todd Fedoruk (PHI) vs. Kip Brennan (LA) No time-wasting here. Fedoruk gets in his left, and Brennan responds with some stiff rights, grabbing the early edge. Then it’s bombs away with the right hands from both. A big-time left from Fedoruk puts Brennan on wobbly sticks, but he gets back up. Finally, a crackling left cross to the chops buckles Brennan down to his knees and crowns Fedoruk king for a day.
February 11 Jesse Boulerice (CAR) vs. Aaron Downey (DAL) Knuckles raised and brandished like six-shooters, they circle at center ice before Boulerice makes a rookie mistake by lunging in with a wild right. Downey doesn’t miss a beat and lands a left hook cleanly, flush across the chin, crumpling Boulerice to the ice like a wet noodle. That’s how you get a concussion, baby.
February 24 Gordie Dwyer (MON) vs. Stephen Peat (WAS) Peat launches crunching right-hand scuds, but Dwyer comes back with a pair of crisp left hooks to the jaw. Peat recovers nicely with lefty haymakers of his own, and they trade away at the blue line with both hands. Both titans land two or three more bombs in a final flurry.
April 12 Eric Cairns (NYI) vs. Chris Neil (OTT) They grab on in front of the Ottawa bench, just out of the referee’s reach. In close, Cairns gets his helmet ripped from his head, and each fighter eats a couple of short shots. Around they go in a circle, Neil switching from right to left and surprising Cairns with a couple to the mug. The Islander tough guy gets back on track and hammers in a couple more haymaker rights to end the show and take a close decision.