Surly NHL Players, Past & Present: Avery, Hextall, Hunter, Smith, Williams, Etc.

Roman UschakCorrespondent INovember 28, 2011

Surly NHL Players, Past & Present: Avery, Hextall, Hunter, Smith, Williams, Etc.

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    Alex Ovechkin and new Caps head coach, Dale Hunter
    Alex Ovechkin and new Caps head coach, Dale HunterPablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    Hockey is a tough game, no question about it. It combines determination, work ethic, and yes, pain—and not always in equal measure.

    Despite the physical and mental toll it takes on players, hockey players, especially at the NHL level, are pretty good-natured, for the most part.

    But not all of them, either on or off the ice.

Ed Belfour

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    Steve Mitchell/Associated Press

    He was just inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but Eddie the Eagle could surely be a surly sort at times.

    Goaltenders as a rule are a different breed, and can be very particular about their routine and even their equipment. Belfour didn't like anyone touching his pads before a game, not even own players; and his backup goaltenders weren't always his favorite teammates, either.

    He won a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, but also got arrested a year later in the Lone Star State, and then again almost seven years later in Miami Beach. He scuffled with police both times, with alcohol allegedly playing a role in both incidents. Belfour, who closed out his playing career in Sweden in 2007-08, hasn't had anymore brushes with the law since then, at least not publicly.

    A 484-game winner in the NHL who also posted 76 shutouts, he has also been a big supporter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, whose logo was depicted on his trademark Eagle masks at all his stops, including Chicago, San Jose, Dallas, Toronto and Florida.

Billy Smith

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    Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

    With all the worries about players running goaltenders these days, it makes one long for the days of "Battling" Billy. I remember when he once got a double-minor for slashing against Washington—in the final 17 seconds of a game.

    Smith didn't like anyone impinging on his crease, and he wasn't one to give a simple love tap to the back of an opposing player's leg to request that he move. No, No. 31 was more comfortable sending his stick boomeranging over the top of his net at someone's head.

    Smith, who won 305 career games, also backstopped the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups, a feat that isn't likely to be repeated this century. He always left the ice rather than shake hands with opponents at the end of a playoff series, and his acceptance speech for the 1983 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP was a classic.

    Smith's jersey number now hangs in the rafters at Nassau Coliseum.

Darcy Tucker

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    Colorado Avalanche right winger Darcy Tucker, front, struggles to shoot the puck as San Jose Sharks defenseman Kent Huskins covers in the third period of Game 4 of the teams' NHL Western Conference first-round playoff series in Denver on Tuesday, April 20
    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Tucker played nearly 950 NHL games, pretty much all the same way—hell-bent for the net, and to heck with anyone who got in the way. He was a two-time 50-goal scorer in juniors with Kamloops (WHL), and posted five NHL seasons of 20 or more goals.

    He felt he was just playing hard when he ran over a goalie or took an opponent out; but when it happened to him, let's just say he wasn't as reciprocating in his feelings. His running feud with Michael Peca in the 2002 playoffs ultimately left Peca with a ruptured knee.

    Yet lest you think he was all mean, Tucker also watched out for his teammate (and future brother-in-law) Shayne Corson, when the latter was dealing with panic attacks.

    Tucker finished his career in 2010 with 275 goals and 1,410 penalty minutes in 947 career NHL regular-season games with Montreal, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Colorado.

Claude Lemieux

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    CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/Associated Press

    In his prime, Lemieux was a grinding winger who could both score goals and agitate the opposition like few others, with both his stick and his words. After helping Montreal to a Stanley Cup in his rookie season, he relocated to New Jersey in 1990, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy five years later after he scored 13 goals for the Cup-winning Devils.

    His hit-from-behind on Detroit's Kris Draper during Colorado's run to the 1996 Cup was the catalyst for some bad blood—and some great hockey—between the Red Wings and Avalanche for years to come.

    Lemieux didn't really lose any of his surliness when he returned to New Jersey in 2000, and helped the Devils win their second Cup, the fourth of his own career. Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher could be heard screaming, "He's (expletive) headbutting me!" in Lemieux's direction during the Finals that spring—while Lemieux looked on in seeming disbelief.

Ron Hextall

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Who can forget the way Hextall used to bang his goalposts repeatedly with his stick and glove?

    Or how he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie in 1987 after helping the Flyers extend Edmonton to a seventh game in the Finals?

    Or how he went after Montreal's Chris Chelios in the waning moments of the 1989 Wales Conference Finals like a madman, shedding pieces of his own equipment as he also received a match penalty for attempt to injure?

    Yeah, me neither.

    Hextall also racked up 344 wins and 25 shutouts in 701 NHL regular-season and playoff games combined with the Flyers, Nordiques and Islanders—along with two goals, 36 assists, and 819 penalty minutes. 

    His son, Brett, totaled 81 points and 242 penalty minutes in three seasons as a forward at the University of North Dakota, and is now with Portland (AHL).

Chris Chelios

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Piling up 2,891 penalty minutes in 1,651 career regular-season games isn't easy—but Chelios did it. He also tallied 185 goals and 948 points in 26 NHL campaigns, so he wasn't just out there causing trouble.

    He did with Montreal in the 1989 Wales Conference Finals, however, when he elbowed Philadelphia's Brian Propp in the opener, and put him out for the next contest. Five games later, Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall went ballistic—and after Chelios, with intent to cause bodily harm—as the Habs eliminated Philly in six games.

    Chelios was a tough customer; but he was also an NCAA champion, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a four-time Olympian, and a seven-time NHL All-Star. He is also known for his charitable and entrepreneurial efforts, and now spends time watching his sons, Dean and Jake, play hockey for Michigan State.

Sean Avery

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Avery plays a lot like Darcy Tucker did.

    When he's running people, or running into goaltenders, or any other of a myriad of questionable acts, Avery's just playing hard. When someone goes after him, particularly in retaliation, he screams bloody murder to the officials.

    Never mind what happened between Avery and the cops in the off-season, although charges were later dropped. He also tends to fight non-fighters like the Islanders' Mike Mottau, but allows fistic regulars like New Jersey's David Clarkson to just drag him around the ice rather than drop his own gloves.

    If he just concentrated on playing hockey instead of being a sideshow, Avery would be better off. His schtick has tended to wear thin at every one of his previous NHL stops.

    Not that that's going to stop him.

Dale Hunter

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    Kevin Larkin/Associated Press

    The Capitals new head coach as of Monday, Hunter collected 3,565 penalty minutes in 1407 career NHL games as a player with Quebec, Washington and Colorado.

    He also put Pierre Turgeon out of most of the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a hit-from-behind after Turgeon was celebrating a goal at Nassau Coliseum, damaging his shoulder and maybe killing New York's hopes for a Stanley Cup. Hunter showed some remorse afterwards, even calling Turgeon to apologize; but by then, the deed had been done.

    Too bad, because Hunter could also play. He's the only NHL player ever to collect more than 3,000 penalty minutes and over 1,000 points in his career, and his No. 32 was retired by the Caps.

    He's still no angel, though, and was suspended by the OHL for abuse of officials, among other things, in his multiple front-office roles with the London Knights. He also came under fire for things he said as London's head coach, despite posting 451 wins and a Memorial Cup championship while in charge of the Knights.

    Come to think of it, his new Capitals player, Alexander Ovechkin, is pretty talented and surly himself— wonder if he ever watched Hunter while growing up.

Tie Domi

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    MILES KENNEDY/Associated Press

    He celebrated after fights like he was a heavyweight champion.

    He's third all-time with 3,515 penalty minutes with three different NHL teams.

    He once KOed fellow agitator Ulf Samuelsson with a sucker punch.

    He was nicknamed "The Albanian Assassin".

    He one fought a fan who sprawled into the penalty box when the glass gave way.

    He also ran New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer in the 2001 playoffs, elbowing him in the head and leaving him lying on the ice. Domi became emotional afterwards, not for Niedermayer, but for the fact Domi would have to explain to his young son that his father had been suspended from the rest of the postseason for his actions.

    Good thing his son, Max, is now a finesse player in major junior hockey with London (OHL), with 23 points in his first 23 games. He's also got 20 penalty minutes, though—so maybe there's some of his dad in him. 

Marty McSorley

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    Jim Gerberich/Associated Press

    Following Dave Semenko in the Oilers' early NHL years, McSorley was the guy who watched Wayne Gretzky's back. So much so that "The Great One" insisted that McSorley be included in his earth-shattering 1988 trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

    McSorley was tough, and he could play. He collected 359 points and 3,381 penalty minutes with seven different NHL clubs, and also helped the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.

    Unfortunately, his NHL career disintegrated after his stick check to the head of Donald Brashear during the 1999-2000 season left Brashear unconscious on the ice in Vancouver, and with a concussion afterwards, after Brashear refused to fight him again.

    McSorley was subsequently suspended for a year by the NHL, convicted of assault, and never played another game in the league. He finished his playing career with the Grand Rapids Griffins (IHL) in 2000-01, totalling two assists and 36 penalty minutes in 14 games.

Todd Bertuzzi

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    DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press

    Bertuzzi has been a scorer almost everywhere he's played, having racked up 289 goals and 713 points through the end of the 2010-11 season with six different teams. He's also accumulated 1,372 penalty minutes, but that's not the ugliest part of the story.

    His attack on Colorado's Steve Moore in 2004 that fractured Moore's neck and put him out of hockey is still being litigated, with a trial set for the fall of 2012. Bertuzzi sat out the final 20 games of that season on suspension, endured the lockout, and then was ultimately reinstated by the NHL.

    Although he showed remorse for the incident, Bertuzzi has been playing ever since, even though Moore never played again due to post-concussion problems.

    Bertuzzi, though, hasn't returned to the scoring prowess he once enjoyed with the Canucks. He had a career-high 46 goals and 97 points in 2002-03 with Vancouver, but has only topped 46 points twice since then.

Dave Williams

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    Toronto Maple Leafs Dave Williams puts a hand on linesman Ron Finn while trying to get at Boston Bruins Darryl Edestrand in their game at Boston, April 6, 1975. The game was interrupted often during the course of the evening with minor fights.  (AP Photo/
    Peter Bregg/Associated Press

    The Tiger himself is still the all-time NHL penalty minutes leader with 3,966 PIM in 14 campaigns. He topped 300 minutes in a season six times, and just a missed a seventh by one minute.

    He once blatantly slugged New York Islanders sniper Mike Bossy in the 1982 Stanley Cup Finals to get him off his game, but it didn't work. Bossy went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy with 17 goals that postseason as his Islanders celebrated their third straight Stanley Cup title with a sweep of William's Canucks.

    Williams himself was also a goal-scorer, believe it or not, with three 20-goal seasons to his credit. He scored a career-high 35 goals for Vancouver in 1980-81, and lit the lamp 241 times in his NHL tenure.

    I'll never forget one of those, in the 1980s against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Williams pushed Isles goaltender Kelly Hrudey into his net as a Canucks' rebound bounced into the air, and then shoveled the puck home with Hrudey down and out.

    The goal counted.

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