The sport of hockey is strange creature. If you aren’t familiar with this incredible sport of ice, steel, and missing teeth, you are probably aware of its cinematic ambassador: Slap Shot. The Paul Newman classic is famous for its zany and stereotypical portrayal of hockey players. The antics those fictional characters get into though are nothing compared to the lives of these very real players listed below. Enjoy, and don’t forget to keep your head up!
5) Link Gaetz
When Link Gaetz was drafted to the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, he showed up to the draft with two black eyes. He won them in a bar fight. This would turn out to be vintage Link Gaetz.
Gaetz was drafted by the North Stars to defend their first pick, Hall of Famer Mike Modano. Enforcers, as they are known, are proud bodyguards of team talent. They lie in wait until someone on their team gets bothered or busted up, and then they ambush the culprit like a Velociraptor would a Jurassic Park employee. Link Gaetz was born to do this. The only issue was that Gaetz was also born to party. Gaetz started out strong in the NHL but was hard to control outside of the rink. He once shot out the windows out of a church while drunkenly trying to ring its bell with his pistol. He threw a TV out of a hotel window after a game because the window wouldn’t open.
In all the stories you hear about Gaetz, there is one common denominator; booze. Gaetz was traded to the San Jose Sharks after only a year of shenanigans with Minnesota. Shortly after joining the Sharks, Gaetz was involved in a terrible car wreck, which killed the driver and threw Gaetz from the passenger seat, through the windshield. The resulting injuries left his entire left side paralyzed. He would never skate on NHL ice again.
Summoning Wolverine-like will power, Gaetz somehow did manage to get himself back into minor league hockey. After the accident, he played for several teams but never was able to quite get back the rest of his game. But his enforcing skills were what teams paid him for, and those never diminished. A familiar narrative started to play out. Gaetz would land with a minor league team, establish himself on the team, do something crazy,(i.e. Shoot at church bells, or throw things out hotel windows) and would eventually be moved to another team or league shortly after. Incredibly, Gaetz was even banned for life from the CHL for an incident involving Frank LaScala. Gaetz had shanked an empty net goal late in a game that his team was leading 8-1. Furious with himself, and completely away from the play, Gaetz took out his anger on LaScala’s puny flesh. He broke LaScala's wrist ending his season. In response, the league ended his CHL career.
After that fiasco, Gaetz spiraled across the continent fighting and brawling in lower and lower leagues. He stopped taking care of his fitness and focused entirely on fighting. Gaetz ended his career as a brawler in the LNAH, which at the time was a semi-pro league in Quebec known as an enforcer graveyard. Man...That was a heavy way to end things, wasn't it?
4) Ron Hextall
I’ll be honest; Ron Hextall is why I started writing this article. A goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers, (You’ll hear more about them later) Hextall was a wall between the pipes in the mid 80’s and 90’s. As it turned out, he was also a basket case between the ears. To be fair, crazy is not out of the ordinary for goalies. Ask anyone who has played virtually any sport that includes the position, and they’ll tell you about that “Just chewed on the third rail.” look in their eyes. You have to be a little crazy to do this for a living.
Hextall set himself apart from other goalies in the sense that his crazy was not channeled through benignly goofy actions. Instead of the neurotic and superstitious goofs that hockey is accustomed to, Hextall was crazy in a “No, please, I have a family!” kind of way.
Hextall was involved in seventeen fights in his thirteen-year career. The closest goalies I could find to that number in the past fifty years had three fights. Hextall had more than 100 penalty minutes in a single season on three different occasions in his career. In the 2015-16 season, the Flyers goalie, Steve Mason, had a grand total of zero. Hextall was very particular about his personal space while in net. Much like the incredible trapdoor spider, Hextall would wait patiently until some poor soul got too close. Then he’d pounce.
The video above features Ron Hextall jumping Chris Chelios after he performed the egregious act of skating into Hextall’s end of the ice. Earlier in the series, Chelios had steamrolled one of Hextall’s teammates, leaving the man sprawled unconscious on the ice. Fast forward to game 6. The Flyers were losing and their season was pretty much in the bag. Hextall knew that his time on the ice was running out, so he took his opportunity to teach Chelios and every man, woman, and child in the arena a very important lesson. Never pretend you understand someone who wears a caged mask for a living.
Hextall was a man of principles. When he felt slighted or disrespected in any way by an opposing player or team, his first reaction was to go full-Judge Dredd. Hextall would chase players who scored on him out of his zone for celebrating too close to his crease. He would viciously axe-chop skaters who sprayed him with ice or obstructed his view of the play.
As you saw with Chelios, Hextall wasn’t afraid to also take on the role of enforcer for the Flyers. If you went after any of his teammates, you would have done well to stay away from Ron Hextall. Hextall was also the average fan’s biggest advocate for the solar eclipse of hockey, the goalie fight. Here’s a clip of him reveling in victory by skating the length of the ice to torture Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Felix “The Cat” Potvin.
That’s a lot of fury from a guy who knows he’s trying to beat up the closest thing to a knight that modern sports have to offer. And speaking of knights, Hextall is fastened into around fifty pounds worth of equipment. Try strapping skates and fifty pounds worth of crap to Floyd Mayweather's arms and body, we'll see if he can keep pace with Hextall. There has to be a little extra fire in the soul to keep swinging like that. Ron Hextall is a moving example of what willpower, heart, and a laser-like focus on utterly destroying your enemies can lead to.
He is truly my hero.
3) Eddie Shore
You might remember this name from the movie Slapshot. “Play old time hockey, like Eddie Shore.”
Well, he earned that tiny bit of your brain he infested, but not for classic old time hockey. Eddie Shore was not your friend. You didn’t invite Eddie shore to your house, or your kid’s birthday. You want to know why? It’s because Eddie shore was a raging, pulsating hemorrhoid of a man.
Fun Fact: Eddie Shore was very interested in his team’s sex lives. Shore repeatedly told his married teammates that they couldn’t [Insert favorite euphemism] with their wives before games. If he thought you did, he’d fight you. And then he’d probably fight your wife. His fellow teammates found him to be a bit of a dick, for not letting them use theirs. Finally, in one of those fights, his teammates (Or maybe their wives) beat him so badly that they almost tore his ear clean off his head. You might think that would have smacked some kindness into Shore but no, Eddie wouldn’t (couldn’t?) listen.
Another fun fact: Shore once broke a man’s skull and ended his career with a check from behind, because he thought it was a different guy. Shore was looking for King Clancy (This awesome name thing will continue to be a trend) for a hit earlier in the game. Instead, a completely different human being, this one named Ace Bailey, was slew-footed (The hockey term for “Sweep the leg, Johnny”) from behind by Shore, and slammed his head onto the ice. The impact sent him into a seizure-like state, and surely sent everyone in the arena not named Shore into a state of soiling themselves. Bailey later went into a coma and had to have two 1930’s era brain surgeries. He miraculously made it through them and the NHL held a benefit game for Bailey. Shore was actually allowed to play in the charity game for the guy whose life Shore had just ruined. That benefit game ended up being repeated and is now known as the NHL All-Star Game. Yay?
Shore’s mean streak and love of trying to knock people insentient wouldn’t stop when he hung up his skates. Shore bought the AHL’s Springfield Indians and promptly began terrorizing a new league full of hockey players. Shore was a tyrant, he just played in a smaller sandbox, or I guess a smaller ice box, than most tyrants. But the size of the sandbox really didn't matter to those who had to share it with Shore.
In the 50’s and 60’s Eddie Shore didn’t make much of his beatnik and hippie goalies trying to get all expressive and communist-like by lying on the ice to stop the puck. So Eddie Shore came up with a simple fix for this. He tied nooses around their necks. That way, in practice, if that little wimp tried to wonder from his net to play the puck, or put a flower in the barrel of the gun Shore undoubtedly had aimed at him, he’d start role playing Tuco from The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly.
The players weren’t the only ones in peril when Shore was around. Working for Shore was like dealing with a practical joke that didn't understand humor. Or mercy.
As an owner, Shore once fired two publicists because they very reasonably refused to help him resurface the ice after a game. He once punched a concessions vendor for backtalking him about a sales technique. Shore routinely made his players get on giant ladders (on ice mind you) to change burnt out light bulbs hanging from the ceiling of the arena. He was even so cheap that during a player trade, he demanded that the other team throw in a new goal net so that the deal would not be so "one-sided." On the plus side, Shore spearheaded the youth hockey movement in the Springfield area, bringing countless children into hell- I mean hockey. Who wants to sign up? Guys? Anybody???
2) Dave Schultz
Holy Christ, I almost left out Dave Schultz. He would have felt my disrespect in the earth’s magnetic field and used it to locate me. Then he would beat the ever-loving life out of me, like a demonic Canadian Goose.
Schultz was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, who in the 70’s landed the nickname ‘The Broad Street Bullies.’ Many hockey fans also know them as the team that tried their best to ruin hockey. The word 'Bully' is actually quite fitting. The Flyers quickly went from an expansion team to Stanley Cup champions, due mostly to the fact that they made opposing teams who were ill-equipped to handle their style of ‘bludgeon first, ask questions later’ resort to bloodsport matches instead of hockey games. Their maniacal style of play was an obvious call back to the horrors of middle school playgrounds all over North America.
Dave “The Hammer” Schultz was the T-1000 of bullies. Schultz literally took the league by force. How forceful was he, you ask? Schultz was 2,294 penalty minutes worth of force, to be exact. That ludicrous number is Schultz’s career total for penalty minutes. To put that into perspective, an NHL game is 60 minutes. You math nerds might have crunched the numbers on this already, but that simplifies into 38 entire games worth of sitting in a penalty box; feeling shame.
Schultz also holds the NHL record for most penalty minutes (PIM) in a single season at 472. Over the course of just the 1974 season, Dave Schultz sat out almost 8 games due to his love of punching, slashing, head butting, and emotionally scarring other players. Shultz would lead the league in PIM four times in his career. He is the only player in history to reach the 400-minute mark twice. Here's a video of him earning five of those minutes against one of the toughest humans ever, Keith Magnuson.
Schultz was a walking revenge movie complete with in-prison motivation montage. Schultz is famous for his vacant, never blinking his eyes during fights, lest they miss a drop of blood leaving your unconscious body. Schultz was willing to go head to head with anyone.
After his career ended, Schultz was vocal in his disgust about his brutal style of play. He resented fighting battles for teammates who could have fought their own, and he rightly believed that his violence overshadowed the actual hockey skills he had. So if you’re reading this Mr. Schultz, I admire your career and I respect your value as a pure hockey player. But I will never look you in the eyes, lest it forces you to once again, achieve dominance by demolition.
1) Sprague Cleghorn
With a name that should have come out of a Harry Potter book, Sprague Cleghorn was destined for greatness. Well, greatness might be a stretch. Let’s go with infamy.
Cleghorn came out of the pre-NHL era. This was a time when dozens of teams from Canada and the United States would compete in regional leagues in every corner of our great frozen wastelands. These leagues would send their respective champions to battle it out with the winners of the other leagues for the Stanley Cup, which at this time was actually just a shiny bowl. This wild-west sports landscape was a gold mine for bringing out the craziest people who weren’t actually in gold mines at the time.
Players weren’t teammates in this era so much as hired guns. This brings us to our pal, Sprague Cleghorn. Starting with the Renfrew Millionaires, he quickly became known as an intimidating force on defense. But his mean streak didn’t really blossom until he started to play for the Montreal Wonderers.
Sprague (or Peg as he was hilariously known as) was paired up with his much more offensively minded brother Odie (Yes, Odie.) Peg was intent on keeping his brother as safe as possible while on the ice and turned into the first true enforcer bodyguard.
After a successful stretch playing in Montreal, the Wonderers arena burnt down. After surely being asked several times if he did it, Peg was eventually sent to the Ottawa Senators. It was here where his true crazy was to bloom like the deranged flower it was. Peg never really fit in with the Sens. He would often fight his teammates in practice and the Ottawa crowds absolutely despised him. Maybe it was because of things like the Newsy Lalonde incident, where he beat Lalonde so fiercely with his stick that Ottawa police offered to arrest Peg for the opposing team after the game.
Despite this, Peg’s toughness and surprisingly high level of actual hockey ability was just what Ottawa needed. Looking past his sociopathic fascination with human pain, the team managed to gel well enough to start making waves in the following season. Soon the Sens were back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, with Peg being a big reason why. All seemed well in the Canadian capital. Then the Ottawa Senators made their worst decision in franchise history. They got rid of Sprague.
Sprague landed back in Montreal, this time with the Canadiens, where they had finally figured out how to keep fires from starting in the dead of winter. Apparently, no one had informed the Senators that they might have to play Peg in the future. Perhaps they were hoping he’d retire, or that the league would ban him, or maybe they just assumed he was a man incapable of holding onto a grudge. None of those came to pass.
Sure enough, the most insane man in hockey came back to pay Ottawa a visit, and oh what a visit it was. Cleghorn turned into the hockey version of John Matrix from Commando. He first slashed former linemate and team captain Eddie Gerard over the eye, causing a cut that required several stitches. He then moved to Ottawa's top scorer Cy “I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed” Denneny, cutting him so badly that blood spurted all over the arena. His bloodlust not yet fulfilled, Peg went on to elbow Frank Neighbor so hard that the subsequent concussion forced him to leave the game and be taken to the hospital. Sprague accomplished this carnage in the first period of play.
Peg’s actions in this single game were so violent, that the newly formed NHL moved to ban him for life. The ban needed to be unanimous. Two teams inconceivably voted against his ban and Peg continued to be extraordinarily employed in the NHL for several more years.
In 1958 the NHL inducted Cleghorn, a man who was suspended by his own owner at one point for actions “Befitting an Animal,” into the Hall of Fame.
God, I love Hockey.