Boston Bruins: 15 Toughest Customers in Bruins History
Kenneth Mars’ character in the satirical horror movie “Young Frankenstein” said it best when he said, “A riot is an ugly thing, but I think it’s about time we had one!”
The same tends to apply to fighting in hockey. Technically speaking, fighting has nothing to do with the game, especially seeing as it never involves anyone focusing on the puck nor the combatants using their sticks or gloves.
And too often, gullible non-fans misinterpret hockey as “too violent” because they see too many brawl highlights and not enough goals, hits or saves.
All that being said, it happens. That’s just the fact of a physical game.
And as America’s oldest NHL franchise, the Boston Bruins have logged an abundant all-time share of players who do not mind diverting from the game action and stepping a little outside the boundaries of the rules to send a message to the opposition.
From the Big Bad Bruins of the early 1970s to Lunch Pail A.C. to the present, there has always been at least one regular blue-collar brawler in the home dressing room at Boston/TD Garden.
With a little help from YouTube and the Bruins’ section on hockeyfights.com, here is a compilation of the top 15 tough guys in franchise history.
15. Brent Hughes
Twice in three full seasons (1992-95) with the team, Hughes led Boston in penalty minutes.
In between, he placed third in that category behind only Jamie Huscroft and Glen Featherstone.
14. Krzysztof Oliwa
Oliwa was a Bruin only briefly, arriving for 33 appearances in 2002-03 after a midseason trade from the New York Rangers.
Yet in those 33 games, he engaged in a dozen scraps and finished third on Boston’s leaderboard with 110 penalty minutes.
13. Mike Milbury
Almost any time an opposing player got the better of Milbury on the boards or in a brawl, he took it as a threat to his personal pride.
As a result, he was quick to start or continue a fight, adamantly dissatisfied until he had lowered the other guy’s upper hand.
12. Andrei Nazarov
Out of 10 seasons as an NHL enforcer, Nazarov’s most “prolific” was in 2000-01, when he logged a combined 229 penalty minutes between Anaheim and Boston.
An even 200 of those minutes came after his trade to the Bruins, and he followed up with 164 more the following year before he was exported to Phoenix.
11. Cam Neely
Neely utilized his size and strength by every means feasible on the ice, including those moments when he briefly put aside puck pursuit to let his fists vent his displeasure on an opponent.
Of all those mentioned on this list, he remains a Bruins fan’s best all-time bet to serve up a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
10. Ted Green
If not for a preseason injury sustained in a stick-swinging incident with St. Louis enforcer Wayne Maki, Green could have instilled much more intimidation to Bruins’ opponents throughout the banner year in 1969-70 and beyond.
Although Green returned for 1970-71, he exercised more caution afterward and engaged in less frequent fisticuffs in his two remaining NHL seasons.
9. P.J. Stock
The pint-size Stock was Boston’s principal enforcer during the brief Robbie Ftorek era.
In his first season as a Bruin, he appeared in only 58 games but still finished third on the team in penalty minutes.
In 2002-03, Stock topped Boston’s charts with 160 minutes in the box, a total that was inflated by majors, misconducts and five occasions that saw him accrue double digits in the PIM column in a single night.
8. Jay Miller
The Bay State native and former University of New Hampshire Wildcat spent the latter half of the 1980s tussling with Dave Brown and John Kordic, just to name two.
7. Lyndon Byers
The Bruins’ pilot of pugilism in the late 1980s, Byers never played any more than 53 NHL games in a single regular season.
Yet he twice surpassed the 200 mark in the penalty minute column.
6. Nevin Markwart
In both 1985-86 and 1986-87, Markwart surpassed such teammates as Keith Crowder, Ken Linseman, Milbury and Jay Miller in the way of penalty time.
And in 299 total career games with the Bruins, he dropped his gloves 60 times, according to his log on Hockey Fights.
5. Shawn Thornton
The Bruins’ penalty-minute leader two years running, Thornton has a penchant for punching in the name of defending or avenging a teammate.
In addition, he has the distinction of taking part in the first outdoor fight in NHL history, having tangled with Philadelphia’s Daniel Carcillo in the 2010 Winter Classic.
4. Chris Nilan
As a Montreal Canadien and later a New York Ranger, the man known as “Knuckles” routinely tangled with the likes of Stan Jonathan and Terry O’Reilly in rivalry renewals with the Bruins.
But when the Boston native came back home at the tail end of a 13-year career, he promptly endeared himself to the fist-hungry side of the fanbase.
Nilan would accumulate 80 regular-season appearances in a Bruins’ uniform, averaging 5.79 penalty minutes per night in that span.
By the time Nilan hung up the blades and retired the ax in 1992, he was second only to Tiger Williams for the league record with 3,043 penalty minutes.
Since then, only seven other tough guys have cracked the 3,000 plateau in career PIM.
3. John Wensink
For three full seasons and a portion of another, Wensink teamed with Stan Jonathan and Terry O’Reilly to form a terrible trinity of Bruins forwards who were just as inclined to inflict a physical beating as a metaphorical one on the scoreboard.
And the fact that his Boston tenure overlapped with that of Jonathan, O’Reilly and Mike Milbury may have been the chief reason why Wensink did not log a greater number of scraps.
2. Stan Jonathan
Jonathan’s bare-knuckle tendencies built him so much confidence that he once held his own in a tussle with Montreal’s Pierre Bouchard, who was practically the Goliath to Jonathan’s David by about a five-inch, 30-pound differential.
1. Terry O’Reilly
In addition to the tracks he left through use of his pure hockey and leadership skills, O’Reilly is Boston’s all-time runaway leader with 154 career fights and 2,095 penalty minutes.
Nobody else in Bruins’ history has reached triple digits in the former category nor has anybody else cracked 2,000 in the latter.