To be an enforcer in hockey is one thing. To be a goon, quite another. Enforcers can fight, yes, but they can also play the game when needed. Enforcers get respect by protecting star players on their team and for being able to bend the twine once in a while. Goons, well, they are known for pugilistic skill only or for playing dirty. Not blessed with a lot of natural talent, they use their cement hands to mete out punishment to other goons, enforcers, or just plain poor schlepps who get in their way.
Before the heydays of the 70s and goonish hockey, there was “Leapin” Lou Fontinato. Lou was as fearsome as they came and it’s debatable whether he was a true goon or an enforcer. But he did lead the league in penalty minutes three of his nine seasons. Let’s call him the granddad of goons.
Today, being a goon is a wholly different than during Lou’s days in the 50s. Here is a list of the 10 worst goons of the modern era (post-1960’s expansion). These players are notable for high fight and penalty minute counts and really lousy offensive contributions.
10. Zenon Konopka
Now retired after playing for seven different NHL clubs, Konopka would qualify as the goon-du-jour. At one time he was an American Hockey League scoring machine, leading Portland in playoff scoring in 2005-06. At the NHL level, he’s been nothing but a goon, recording a measly 30 points in 346 games, while piling up 1,082 penalty minutes. Generally a pain in the ass to play against, he led the NHL in total fights in 2009-10 with 33. At 6’0″ and 210 lbs he is more of a brick than a lean, mean fighting machine. But he’s proved his worth as a goon many times over.
9. Gord Donnelly
Somewhere between Laval and Sherbrooke, Quebec, Montreal native Donnelly became one heck of a goon. Early in his junior career, the defenceman averaged just over a minute a game in penalties with Laval and Chicoutimi. A move to Sherbrooke saw his penalty minutes balloon to over four minutes per contest during his two seasons there. As an NHL regular with four different teams, he engaged in 155 fights in 580 total games. He logged over 300 penalty minutes twice and piled up a total of 2,069 minutes in 554 regular season games. He scored just 69 points, total.
8. Krzysztof Oliwa
The Polish Hammer literally nailed opponents on a regular basis, getting into 154 fights in just 410 regular season games with New Jersey, Columbus, New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Calgary. The Giant Pole (6’5″, 245 lbs.) was a feared fighter, taking on fearsome opponents like Ken Baumgartner, Stu Grimson, and Mick Vukota (all who also appear later on this list). He led the league in total fights in 1997-98 with 34, also tallying 295 of his total 1,447 penalty minutes. He didn’t even slow down late in his career, engaging in a league high 31 fights during his last full season (2003-04) with Calgary.
7. Peter Worrell
As goons go, there aren’t or weren’t many with the physically imposing stature of Quebec native Peter Worrell, who is 6’7″ and played at 250 lbs. He came as advertised out of junior, racking up an astounding 495 penalty minutes in 62 games with Hull of the QMJHL in 1996-97. At the big league level, he fought 120 times in just 391 games and sat in the box for 1,554 minutes total. At his size, Worrell had to accept most challengers, engaging fellow pugilists nine times in his first 19 games with the Florida Panthers (and 153 penalty minutes). He scored 19 goals and 46 points in parts of seven seasons.
6. Rob Ray
Ray won so many fights the NHL had to implement a new rule to curb his success. He rarely lost in his 227 regular season bouts, due to the fact that his sweater often came off quickly, leaving his opponent with nothing to grab on to. The league stipulated that any player not having his shirt tied down properly would get a game misconduct. It really didn’t matter to Ray, who racked up 3,207 penalty minutes in just 900 games, good for sixth all-time. “Rayzor,” who went toe-to-toe with legendary scrappers Tie Domi, Jeff Odgers, and Dennis Vial, is now a colour commentator for Buffalo Sabres broadcasts.
5. Ken Baumgartner
“The Bomber from Flin Flon,” naturally, had hands of stone and an equally hard head. He may be a Harvard MBA now, but Baumgartner showed a darker, more primitive side as an NHL goon. He never led the league in penalty minutes but he took on all comers to the tune of 201 career scraps, in 696 regular season and 51 post-season tilts. Right out of the hockey chute in Prince Albert, Baumgartner showed his fisticuff savvy getting into an incredible 20 fights in just 30 games in his rookie season (’87-88) with Los Angeles. He added two fights in five playoff games that year as well. The Bomber recorded 2,242 career penalty minutes, while scoring just 13 goals.
4. Kelly Chase
Just like the place he was born in, Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan, Chase was a prickly hockey player. Not a monster by any means at just 6’0″ and 200 lbs, the small town prairie boy quickly made a name for himself as a quality pugilist during his first season with St. Louis in 1989-90. In just 43 games he fought 24 times and tallied 244 penalty minutes, while contributing just one goal and four points. That would be a familiar career arc for Chase, who never scored more than four goals in a season and never scrapped it up less than 10 times. He finished his career with 17 goals and 2,017 penalty minutes in 458 games.
3. Mick Vukota
Like Chase, Vukota hailed from Saskatchewan, but was a couple inches taller and a whole lot nastier. Chase could be engaging and funny — a reason he is a broadcaster today — while Mick was surly and prone to being suspended often for overly agressive play. Vukota was also less prolific, matching Chase’s career goal total (17) but in almost 120 more games (574). He also sat in the sin bin for 2,071 minutes during his time with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Montreal Canadiens. Vukota finished his career with 182 regular season fights and three more in 23 playoff games.
2. Jody Shelley
Shelley may not have put up extremely high penalty minute totals in his 10-year career, but most of his minutes were for fighting majors. In 627 games with Columbus, San Jose, the New York Rangers, and Philadelphia, he had 1,538 PIMs and engaged in 173 fights. At five minutes a pop, that accounts for well over half his total penalty time. In 2003-04, Shelley chucked the knuckles 30 times, second only to notorious heavyweight Krzysztof Oliwa, who was his dance partner four times that season. Today Shelley is involved in more philanthropical pursuits, raising money for healthcare equipment in his hometown of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
1. Stu Grimson
No one had a more appropriate nickname, or reputation, than the “Grim Reaper.” Now a born-again Christian, lawyer, and color analyst for Nashville Predators games, Grimson established a pedigree as probably the most fearsome fighter to grace an NHL rink. He took on anyone and everyone, to the tune of 211 total regular season fights. During his belweather 1996-97 season (he fought 24 times) he exchanged blows with noted pugilists Mick Vukota, Shane Churla, Tie Domi, Rob Ray, Ken Baumgartner, Darren Langdon, and Ryan VandenBussche. Phew! Grimson finished his illustrious goon career with 2,113 penalty minutes and just 17 goals in 729 games.