Fighting is as big of a part of hockey as any other element of the game, and in many ways has placed hockey on the North American sporting landscape.
There's an old joke that goes "I went to a fight the other day and I was shocked when out of nowhere a hockey game broke out!"
While it's true that this isn't always the case, hockey is known for incidents of players dropping the gloves and settling things with their fists.
The history of hockey is full of memorable bouts between both players and teams. Some of these forays have even created rivalries between teams that have withstood the test of decades.
Hockey has also become a spectacle for both casual and avid fans alike due to lessened punishments on fighting compared to other professional sports, resulting in many more instances of punches being exchanged.
Here is a look at 20 standout fights from the last 20 years of NHL hockey.
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Date: April 27, 2009
Perhaps one of the most underrated fights of the past decade was this shocking playoff bout between "the two most dominant centers in the NHL" in Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks (I'm guessing Bryan Hayward had forgotten about Sidney Crosby at the time...).
While this definitely epitomizes the rivalry that has besieged the Northern and Southern California clubs, this fight was particularly memorable in that 1.) it is an extremely rare occurrence for either of these guys to drop the gloves at all and 2.) it was right off the opening faceoff in a playoff game in 2009.
It's pretty clear that Thornton got the better of Getzlaf, but this was a brilliant move by Getzlaf because it got the packed house at Honda Center rocking early, and the Ducks were able to feed off the energy created by the scrap to take down the President's Trophy-winning Sharks by a score of 4-1 to win the series 4-2.
If the rivalry between these clubs wasn't one of the biggest in the NHL before, this fight combined with this playoff series and the Ducks' Stanley Cup championship in 2007 (while the Sharks still agonizingly wait for their first) definitely solidified it.
One thing's for sure... these two teams definitely hate each other now.
Date: November 2, 2005
A classic brawl from the 2005-06 season saw Chicago heavyweight Jim Vandermeer square off with division-rival Aaron Downey of the St. Louis Blues.
This was a big fight because not only was it coming right out of the painful NHL lockout, but it showed that the NHL was back and just as rough-and-tumble as ever as guys were still unafraid to throw punches at each other.
And oh boy you want to talk two heavyweights.
Vandermeer has gained a reputation as a solid third-pair defenseman, but also an equally solid guy with his fists, and he proves it in this battle.
Neither fighter played a lot of defense as both were able to land some huge blows to the other in what is easily one of the longest mono-a-mono fights on this list.
Perhaps one of the most humorous parts of this fight comes at the 0:46 mark of the video when Downey slaps away the linesman who gave half a though at butting in and breaking the two heavyweights apart.
Date: April 9, 2011
The most recent video on this list definitely epitomizes another big Californian rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.
The teams are separated by no more than an hour's drive, and have a long history of ugly contests between the two of them despite the fact that up until this most recent season the two teams had never been in the playoffs in the same year (they're still yet to have a series between the two of them).
The final game of the regular season saw this scrap come at the end of a very frustrating night for the Kings.
With the Ducks victory as well as some help from around the rest of the Western Conference, the Ducks would jump the Kings in the standings to steal the fourth and final home-ice advantage slot right out from under them, and knock the Kings all the way back to sixth place. The Ducks hadn't been ahead of the Kings in the standings the entire season.
With tensions boiling over, Kings' defenseman Jack Johnson let fly a vicious cross-check to the back of Teemu Selanne, sparking a massive brawl between both lines on the ice.
The fight saw Sheldon Brookbank land two beautiful punches to the face of Kyle Clifford, cutting him open, and even a very rare fight for Selanne, as he scrapped with Brad Richardson resulting in just the second fighting major of his career (the first coming in the early 1990's while he was with the former Winnipeg Jets).
Date: February 4, 1994
In a battle between two of the undisputed heavyweights of the 1990's and two of the best fighters in NHL history, Marty McSorley and Bob Probert renewed their rivalry on this fateful February night at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Probert was known as one of the best power forwards in NHL history, and he really knew how to throw a punch. Standing 6'3", he usually had a reach advantage over most opponents, which he then used heavily in his favor.
However, McSorley was also one of the bravest and smartest fighters in NHL history, and had one of the toughest faces in the game.
The result saw McSorley bleeding and Probert worn and tired, but the two of them managed to find a way to stay on their feet and throwing punches for one of the longest fights in NHL history.
Both sides landed some huge blows and both of them lost more than a handful of equipment, but it was a slug-fest that was everything it cracked up to be: one of the best fights in not only the last 20 years, but in NHL history.
Date: October 27, 2007
Another one of the most seasoned fighters currently punching his way to a living in the NHL is Boston's Shawn Thornton, who engaged Riley Cote in this memorable tilt early in the 2007 season.
There's a number of storied fights between these two longstanding franchises, and this is certainly one to add to those history books.
And this one had everything.
Almost immediately both players landed punch after punch to the other guy's face, only to then wrestle and punch some more and neither of them seemed phased at all by the beating they were taking.
Thornton got the upper hand when he managed to punch Cote's helmet off, but it was still a very evenly matched bout, and I really can't think of who came out the better.
Oh, I know... we all did. Because we all got to watch it.
Date: March 29, 1996
As you go through this list, you'll notice there's certain teams that just seem to have a reputation and a history of huge fights.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of such team.
The Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres had a lot to play for late in the 1996 season. The Flyers were on their way to becoming the top-seeded team in the East, while the Sabres were trying desperately to battle their way back into the playoffs.
Eventually, tensions in a hard-nosed game boiled over at the end of the second period when known pest Matthew Barnaby was drilled from behind, supposedly being injured behind the net setting off a massive line brawl (beginning with Brad May leaping in like a flying monkey) with players from both sides quickly squaring off.
But perhaps the biggest shock came when Barnaby jumped up from his "injury" and began wailing away on Flyers' goaltender Garth Snow, who was completely taken by surprise.
This prompted Sabres goaltender Andrei Trefilov to skate the length of the ice and get involved and before you knew it there was chaos everywhere.
Rod Brind'Amour did the smart thing and pulled Barnaby away from his goaltender, pushing him into the boards and taking some shots to the back of the head to keep the renowned agitator away from the rest of the players.
However, Barnaby even proved himself to be another Energizer Bunny when it comes to fighting, not giving up for the entire course of the fight with Brind'Amour, long after most players tire out.
Want a replay of Brad May's airborne entrance? Start at the 4:03 mark of the video and prepare to laugh.
Date: March 17, 1991
A fight now known as the "St. Patrick's Day Massacre" came about in 1991 in a heated battle between two of the top teams in the Western Conference in the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks.
What started out as a stick of dynamite in a gunpowder factory quickly exploded when St. Louis' Scott Stevens threw a cheapshot crosscheck, causing everybody to quickly find a dance partner.
However the showcase fight was definitely the one between Stevens and Chicago's Dave Manson.
Manson definitely got the better of Stevens in that fight, as he landed several huge blows.
The fight was so big, it even got the rest of the players to stop their own respective fights to watch the battle, only to resume when Stevens was decked.
Fights then sprouted up for the next several minutes all over the ice as players and coaches both disagreed and exchanged words. In the players cases, many exchanged blows.
The fight goes down as one of the biggest in what has now become probably the second-biggest rivalry in the Central division, behind only that of Chicago with the Detroit Red Wings.
Date: May 17, 1993
In another classic playoff fight, the Los Angles Kings battled the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1993 Western Conference Finals.
Doug Gilmour, one of the most talented, and also one of the smallest players in the Leafs lineup came across the blueline with his head down, and Kings enforcer Marty McSorley made him pay, albeit with a significant amount of elbow.
McSorley himself then paid dearly for the hit when he had to answer to Wendel Clark, one of the premiere enforcers and best fighters in NHL history.
The resulting battle saw Clark land some strong blows, but lose his balance and ability to fight when McSorley's jersey came up over his head. In the end, McSorley clearly got the better end of the bout.
This was no doubt a devastating blow to the Leafs, who saw Gilmour get hit and then their enforcer get beat by the guy who hit him.
Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of things to come as the Kings went on to win the series and claim their first and only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But who's to say those at the old Maple Leaf Gardens that night didn't get their money's worth? I mean come on, just look at the lady in the stands at right around the 1:50 mark of the video... doesn't she look like she's having the time of her life? Who's to say fighting in hockey isn't entertaining?
Date: April 10, 1996
There's an old saying in hockey fighting that goes "You have to take one to throw one."
This fight had an awful lot of taking them, throwing them, and connecting with said punches to the face of the other guy.
In what looks like a real-life version of Rock-em Sock-em Robots, Rob Ray of the Buffalo Sabres and Dennis Vial of the Ottawa Senators threw down the gloves in a tension-filled game late in the 1995-96 season.
The fight concluded when Rob Ray threw one final haymaker into the face of Vial, knocking him down flat and cutting him right across the cheek.
The knockout punch has gone down as one of the biggest fight victories in Sabres history, and easily makes this list as one of the best fights of the last 20 years.
Date: December 8, 2001
Without question the longest video you'll see in this slideshow comes from yet another line brawl involving the Anaheim Ducks, another team with a pretty gnarly history when it comes to fighting.
For those of you who have been following my "Fight of the Day" series that I occasionally post on Bleacher Report, my most recent edition covered this epic brawl that saw the Calgary Flames and the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Calgary Flames take close to a half-hour to finish the final two minutes of regulation time.
If you want to read the entire description of the fallout, click here.
If you've got some time on your hands and want to see one of the nastiest games of the last 20 years and all the fights it created... check out this video. It's one you really don't want to miss.
Date: November 10, 1996
One of the great goalie fights of all time came at the end of a tense and in many ways ugly battle between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers in 1996.
Almost immediately after the final horn sounded, Philadelphia's Daniel Lacroix skated in front of Toronto goaltender Felix Potvin, which he took exception to.
Potvin slashed Lacroix, causing Lacroix to draw the ire of four Maple Leafs, including Wendel Clark, who proceeded to punish him severely (for something that in all honesty looked fairly harmless).
The real highlight came when Philadelphia's Ron Hextall left his crease,skating the length of the ice and solidifying his reputation of having a fiery temperament and willingness to fight.
The two goaltenders engaged behind the Toronto net and threw some brilliant punches at each other in very rapid fire fashion.
The fight gave Hextall, also known for his exceedingly high number of penalty minutes as a goaltender, his first disciplinary stats of the season.
Date: January 5, 2002
Boston Bruins' enforcer PJ Stock may have been outsized in this fight, but his opponent, Stephen Peat of the Washington Capitals, was clearly the one outmatched.
The two tough guys had a long time to talk about the fight that they were about to engage in, and oh boy did it ever become a beauty that would start off our top ten of the last two decades.
Almost immediately, Stock showed that style of quick, powerful punches that earned him a reputation as a fan favorite and "cult hero" in Boston (as Darren Pang puts it), and just as quickly Peat began to feel the pain.
Just watch the deadly accuracy that Stock has when he punches, connecting nearly all of them to Peat's face.
Both players began letting some massive blows fly, and while Stock did get tagged and cut under the eye in the fight, he clearly got the better of the fight, sending the Boston crowd into a frenzy.
Date: February 4, 1997
Oh hey, these two teams involved in a massive line brawl again? Who would have thought?
Making their second appearance on this list together, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres really don't get along very well, and February 4, 1997 is another example of that.
It looked like it was going to be contained quickly when the two lines met in a scrum near the Philadelphia blueline, but when Scott Daniels emerged from the pile and started throwing even more punches, everything went out of control again.
This would start a pattern of things slowing down and appearing to finally break up, only to unleash again and start all over.
Eventually Philadelphia goaltender Garth Snow went out to help his teammates, prompting Dominik Hasek to leave his crease as well and engage in yet another great goalie fight.
There's certainly no love lost for either of these teams even now, as the Philadelphia Flyers got the better of the Northern New Yorkers in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, winning in seven games.
Date: November 2, 1991
Forgive the heavily Boston Bruins-biased commentators in this video. Trust me I think they're just as ridiculous as you do.
A frustrating night for the Detroit Red Wings went south quickly when a cheapshot by Bob Probert resulted in absolute hell breaking loose quicker than you can say "Oh crap here it goes..."
Pretty soon everybody got together from both teams, goaltenders included, and brawls were emerging everywhere.
Arguably the biggest things to come from this fight were Jeff Lazaro's scrap with Vladimir Konstantinov, and Bob Probert's re-stirring the pot by returning to the ice to challenge Stephane Quintal.
And then to add to the classlessness of the entire foray, the ever-passionate Boston fans above the tunnel to the visiting locker room began attacking the Red Wings players as they eventually left the ice for the locker room.
Put aside the biased commentators, both teams set hockey back 10 years that night, and boy was it one to remember.
Date: March 5, 2004
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you an NHL record holder.
The night of March 5, 2004 will live on in infamy until it is topped by another game, which I don't think is going to happen anytime soon.
This epic brawl began with a fight between heavyweights Rob Ray of the Ottawa Senators (heard his name much on this list?) and Donald Brashear of the Philadelphia Flyers, one which left Ray bloody across the face.
Only moments after that fight ended, absolutely everybody found a dance partner, making it a complete line brawl with every single player on the ice, including goaltenders Patrick Lalime and Robert Esche fighting for a long period of time.
The poor officials had absolutely no chance at stopping anybody on their own and eventually managed to get play cleaned up and sorted after an extended period.
Much like the epic brawl between Anaheim and Calgary earlier on this list, right off the next faceoff they were at it again with a second-straight line brawl.
The very next whistle? Same thing, with the most notable fight coming between Mike Fisher and Michal Handzus.
Just a few minutes after that things exploded again with a fourth-straight group of guys going at it.
Five straight instances of fighting and we even saw Jason Spezza drop the mitts and go for it.
Overall, the fight-loaded contest set an NHL record for penalty minutes in a single game with a whopping 419.
Date: November 11, 1997
Unfortunately right here my slideshow is going to get a little bit confusing, but hopefully you can forgive my lack of chronological order to get the full story of this one.
There are teams that dislike each other, there are teams that hate each other, there are teams who can't stand the sight of even the other's logo, and then there are the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche.
In the mid-late 1990's these two teams were the dominant powerhouses in the Western Conference and absolutely hated each other.
Most specifically the most hated player in the Avalanche lineup was the high-scoring pest Claude Lemeiux, who became Undesirable No. 1 in the Detroit locker room for an infamous hit on Kris Draper that resulted in a serious injury (and yes, that's a Harry Potter joke for all you book worms out there).
After a contest that resulted in one of the most memorable fights in NHL history (see slide #20), Lemeiux was determined to redeem himself after a shameful turtle showing and what better way to do it than to challenge tough guy Darren McCarty to a rematch at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
And while he didn't get the better of the seasoned fighter in this bout, he definitely held his own and landed a few great blows to McCarty's face.
For the rest of the dramatic story behind this great rivalry, keep reading.
Date: Nov. 26, 2008
Normally people wouldn't think twice of a matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes, two of the least successful franchises in the NHL, and thus, two of the least storied.
However, in 2008 each franchise boasted one of the best fighters in the NHL in Derek Dorsett (Columbus) and Daniel Carcillo (Phoenix). And when they dropped the gloves to square off, it sent shockwaves through the league, lighting up highlight reels around the world.
As the commentators said, "They're not heavyweights, but this is a heavyweight battle," and oh boy was it ever.
Both players landed some absolutely killer blows to the other, with the momentum of the fight swinging back and forth as rapidly as a pirate ship ride at an amusement park.
To add to it, both players refused to give up or go down, making it one heck of a long fight as well.
Both players have since made a huge name for themselves, striking fear into the hearts of anyone who has to fight them.
And it's easy to see why when they can throw down bouts like this beauty.
Date: April 1, 1998
Another goalie known for his hotheaded flair and undeniably amazing talent for stopping pucks, Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche was not afraid to leave his crease and join in an altercation, earning himself a reputation that made him loved in Colorado, and hated throughout much of the rest of the NHL.
Roy was never shy to stir the pot, particularly when the Detroit Red Wings were in the picture, and this is just another example of that.
After a scrum along the boards in an almost ridiculously calm way draws Patrick Roy away from his crease, he's joined by recently retired Chris Osgood at center ice and after a few seconds of a staredown, the two of them decide to have a go at each other.
The result was one of the best goalie fights in league history, with punches being thrown and connecting all over the place.
Osgood took most of the damage, but ultimately he was able to overpower Roy and tackle him along the boards in front of the Red Wings bench, creating another highlight fight in the long-standing rivalry between the Avalanche and the Red Wings.
Okay, so I guess this is technically two fights, but they correlate into one of the most dramatic events to occur in the NHL in the 1990's and even the entire league's history for that matter.
Part 1- Date: February 9, 1992 (Video at left)
There's no secret that when two heavyweight fighters are set to go head to head there's a buzz of excitement around both the fans and in the locker room.
That's what was created when the Detroit Red Wings met the New York Rangers on Manhattan Island in 1992.
At the time, Domi, a much younger, smaller, and less seasoned fighter held his own against the feared Probert and even managed to land a punch that cut Probert above the eye.
While I can't say he won the fight cleanly, Domi chose to celebrate by motioning that he was wearing a championship belt, much the same way they do in professional wrestling.
This then resulted in a full out line brawl as everyone found a dance partner after that and made the situation even more crazy.
This turned into a media circus quickly as the days ticked off till the two of them would skate on the same ice again.
Part 2- Date: December 2, 1992 (Video found here)
The media circus came around again midway through the next season as Domi and Probert were set to meet again, also in New York.
The NHL Commissioner's warnings fell on deaf ears in Probert's case as just minutes into the game, he immediately challenged Domi, who after some pestering, finally gave in to a rematch.
The fight was even more heavily lopsided toward Probert this time around, who was able to land several punches to Domi's jaw, including a stretch of around six in a row as Domi tired toward the end.
The fight ended with Probert completely decking Domi and this resulted in a lot of smack talk from the Red Wings, particularly from captain Steve Yzerman who proceeded to insult/attack Domi by imitating his "belt" celebration, figuratively giving it back to Probert.
Probert and Domi would meet many more times throughout their careers, sparking one of the best tough-guy rivalries in the entire NHL, regardless of what team they played for.
Date: March 26, 1997
Here it is, the mother of all fights of the last 20 years, and the story as to what started the massive rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche.
If you've been reading my "NHL Fight of the Day" series, you'll remember this was the fight I covered in the premiere edition of the column.
You can find that more detailed summary of the fight by clicking here.
However, what I can say is that fights like this are unparalleled and there will never be anything like it again in NHL history.
Here you can see Claude Lemeiux's infamous "turtle" incident where rather than fighting for himself like he was capable of doing, he simply covered his head and took the beating, which still left him cut up and dripping blood. You can see just how much of it was left on the ice in front of the Red Wings bench.
Because of the drama surrounding it, the rivalry it created, and the sheer magnitude of the carnage it created, this epic brawl earns the title of the best fight of the last 20 years.
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