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The 15 Most Fearless Players in NHL History

Brad KurtzbergContributor IFebruary 3, 2013

The 15 Most Fearless Players in NHL History

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    It's not easy to come up with a list of the 15 most fearless hockey players in NHL history.

    Let's face it, hockey players are supposed to be fearless or pretty close to it. If you're not fearless, well, the Ice Capades are on the other side of town.

    So in compiling this list, I tried to do something a little different. I looked for 15 players who showed a particular kind of fearlessness, whether it be their style of play, overcoming tough obstacles or even a play or event that just made them stand apart from their peers. Sustained fearlessness over a career can also help get a player on this list.

    So, keeping these criteria in mind, here is my list of the 15 most fearless players in hockey history.

    Feel free to comment or name some other deserving players that you feel belong on this list. Discussion, as always, is part of the fun.

15. Steve Stamkos

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    With his team's season on the line in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, Lightning sniper Steve Stamkos earned his way onto this list.

    In the second period, Boston's Johnny Boychuk took a slap shot that Stamkos blocked with his face. The Lightning trailed 1-0 at that point. Stamkos headed to the locker room, got stitched up and returned to action midway through the third period wearing a cage on his helmet.

    While Stamkos wasn't able to score the tying goal, he showed fearlessness in both blocking the shot and in returning to action so quickly to try to force overtime and keep his team's season alive.

14. Ian Laperriere

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    Ian Laperriere is one fearless hockey player. He has blocked shots with his face on more than one occasion and lost many teeth in the process.

    Perhaps the toughest one to watch came in his final NHL season while playing for the Flyers. In a game against Buffalo, Laperriere took shot to the face and lost seven teeth. Two of them were false teeth that replaced his original chompers.

    His false teeth were later used by singer Megan Fox in a music video.

    Unfortunately, the resulting concussions ended his NHL career, but nobody should doubt Laperriere's fearlessness.

13. Saku Koivu

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    Saku Koivu was a fan favorite while serving as captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

    In September, 2001, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and was expected to miss the entire 2001-02 season.

    Koivu managed to finish treatment ahead of schedule and made a heroic return to the game at the Molson Centre on April 9, 2002 to an eight-minute standing ovation from the home crowd.

    The tough little Finnish center went on to score 10 points in 12 playoff games for Montreal that season.

    For the fearlessness he showed in overcoming cancer, Saku Koivu earned a spot on this list.

12. Bryan Watson

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    Bryan "Bugsy" Watson earned his nickname by being a pest to opposing players.

    Although he stood only 5'9" and weighed just 170, Watson took on all comers regardless of the fact that nearly everybody had a size advantage on him.

    Watson played 848 career NHL games with the Canadiens, Red Wings, Seals, Penguins, Blues and Capitals before ending his career with a brief stint with the WHA's Cincinnati Stingers.

    At the time of his retirement, Watson's 2,212 career penalty minutes were the most in NHL history.

11. Andy Brown

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    Goalie Andy Brown holds a unique distinction that will almost certainly not be erased: he was the last goalie to play in an NHL game without a mask.

    Brown did this deliberately and continued to play without facial protection while with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers who he played with until 1976-77.

    He made the final maskless appearance in the NHL on April 7, 1974, in a 6-3 loss against the Atlanta Flames.

    Remember, unlike many other goalies who went without facial protection, Brown played after slapshots, curved sticks and the extended travel of expansion.

    He was tough as well, setting an NHL record for goalies (since broken) with 60 penalty minutes in a season in 1973-74.

10. Theo Fleury

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    Scouts could easily see that Theo Fleury wasn't tall, but that never stopped Fleury from playing a tough, physical style of hockey that led to great success in the NHL.

    Fleury had six seasons of at least 30 goals and 100 penalty minutes. He finished his NHL career with 455 goals and 1,840 penalty minutes in 1,084 games.

    Although he was listed at 5'6" tall, Fleury never backed down from larger opponents. He played an "intense and fearless" style that endeared himself to the fans of Calgary.

9. Tie Domi

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    There are plenty of fearless enforcers in the NHL, but few of them had as small a body or as big a heart as Tie Domi.

    Domi was generously listed at 5'10" and nearly always gave away height, weight and reach advantages to the opponents when he dropped the gloves.

    During his NHL career, he played in more than 1,000 games and got into more than 400 fights.

    One writer described Domi as "a fearless, ferocious maniac on ice."

8. Dino Ciccarelli

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    Dino Ciccarelli was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 after scoring 608 goals and 1,200 points in his NHL career.

    The way that he did it is why the Sarnia, Ontario, native is on our list. Ciccarelli wasn't a fast skater and didn't possess the hardest shot. Ciccarelli got his goals the hard way, by standing in front of opposing creases and getting hacked by defensemen and goalies alike as he tried to get a tip in or a rebound.

    Former teammate Kris Draper described Ciccarelli as "absolutely fearless." Draper continued:

    Back then, everyone said it was a bigger man's game, but a guy like Dino would take on anybody. He'd be the first guy in the corner and battle with whoever it was to get the puck, first guy to get to the front of the net to set up shop. He wasn't going to be deterred no matter what the size of the guy was.

7. Willie O'Ree

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    Willie O'Ree was a hockey pioneer. It's never easy to be first and O'Ree overcame several obstacles to become the first Black player in NHL history.

    O'Ree was the Jackie Robinson of the NHL. He made his NHL debut on January 18, 1958, in a game between the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens.

    Although he only played 45 career NHL games, O'Ree earned his place in hockey history.

    Today, he serves as an ambassador to the game and encourages minority involvement in the game.

6. Bob Baun

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    On April 23, 1964, Bob Baun earned his spot on this list.

    While Baun was already considered one of the hardest hitters of his day, the Maple Leafs' defenseman proved his fearlessness when he returned to the ice in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final after breaking a bone in his leg in the third period.

    Baun returned to the ice for overtime and scored the game winner. The Leafs went on to win the series in seven games.

    "Boomer" was known for his defense and scored only 37 career goals in 964 career games. But the one goal he scored on a broken leg earned him hockey immortality.

5. Peter Stastny

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    Peter Stastny showed a different kind of fearlessness before he ever even set foot on NHL ice.

    In 1980, Stastny risked his health and life and the safety of his extended family by defecting from Communist Czechoslovakia to Canada to play hockey in the NHL.

    Later, Stastny's two brothers, Marian and Anton, joined him and the three played together for the Quebec Nordiques.

    On the ice, Stastny continued to shine. He finished his career with 1,239 points in 977 NHL games and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.

4. Mario Lemieux

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    Mario Lemieux was one of the best hockey players ever in the NHL. He didn't play a very physical style, but Lemieux earned his place on this list by the fearlessness he showed at overcoming cancer.

    Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and had to undergo radiation treatments at the height of his career in 1992-93.

    Lemieux returned to the lineup the day he ended his radiation treatments later that season in a game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and probably became the only Penguins player to get a standing ovation from Philadelphia hockey fans.

    He went on to win the scoring championship of the league that season.

    Lemieux returned and played in parts of eight more seasons for the Penguins. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.

3. Eddie Shore

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    How fearless was Eddie Shore?

    His NHL statistics include 978 stitches, four broken noses and five broken jaws according to one writer's count.

    The Bruins' legendary defenseman once was faced with the possible amputation of one ear after injuring it in practice. He finally found a doctor willing to sew the ear back on. Shore refused an anesthetic and used a mirror to watch the doctor sew the ear back on.

    Shore had little fear on the ice, either. Instead, he instilled it in opposing players.

    He finished his NHL career with more than 1,000 penalty minutes and won two Stanley Cups with the Bruins.

2. Bobby Orr

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    Bobby Orr's style of play was fearless. He was always the target of opposing players and he took a lot of hits that unquestionably shortened his hockey career.

    "It was the way I played," Orr once said. "I liked to carry the puck and if you do that, you're going to get hit. I wish I'd played longer, but I don't regret it."

    Orr absorbed hit after hit during his 657 game NHL career. He managed to accumulate 915 points during that time and 953 penalty minutes.

    Despite his superstar status, Orr never backed down from a fight or a challenge. Five times during his career, he topped 100 penalty minutes in a season.

    In the end, his knees couldn't hold up but Orr was fearless enough to play that way despite what it did to his health.

1. Gordie Howe

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    Gordie Howe's nickname is Mr. Hockey and he truly has been the face of the game for generations.

    Howe never backed down and almost always dished out a lot more punishment than he took.

    Howe was a top scorer but also a player who loved to send a message to opposing players who tried to skate down his wing.

    As one writer said of Howe, he was "a classy competitor, an industrious worker, a fearless leader, and proud to represent himself, his organization and the city he played for."

    Howe retired as the NHL's all-time leader in games played, goals and points.

    Gordie retired in 1971 but returned to hockey two years later in the WHA to play on a line with his sons Mark and Marty.

    He returned to the NHL after the Whalers were added in 1979 and played well past the age of 50 before retiring in 1980.

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