Ice hockey enforcers are there to deter and respond to dirty or violent play by the opposition, often responding aggressively by fighting or checking the offender. And for that demanding, albeit unofficial role, the player has to be more than physically fit. He has to be both strong and tough.
Here’s a list of the top 7 strongest and toughest NHL players of all time:
With his 5’11” and 190lbs frame, Wendel was best known for his ferociousness and devastating checks. This Toronto Maple Leaves player was actually proud of his reputation as a brawler in the league, aptly earning himself the nickname “Captain Crunch” because of his hard hits.
It’s those hard hits that made Wendel Clark spend 1,690 minutes in the penalty box during his career, which only goes on the explain why he was a fan-favorite in Toronto.
Bob Probert was the second half of the “Bruise Brothers,” alongside Joe Kocur, playing for NHL’s Detriot Red Wings. Admittedly, the man had some problems off-ice, but once that jersey was on, Probert was one of the toughest guys in the NHL.
Probert sits fifth in the all-time Penalties In Minutes list, with 3,300 minutes in the penalty box. Impressive. He even managed to amass 398 penalty minutes in a single season, ranking six-most of all-time. Unfortunately, Bob Probert’s life tragically ended shortly after his retirement, and his brain was donated to scientific research of sports injuries’ effects on the brain.
Rob Ray was so physically dominant during confrontations that NHL had to make it against the rules to remove your jersey and pads before a fight. Namely, Ray never had his equipment latched to his pants which prevented his opponents from gripping him during fights. So, NHL enacted the “Rob Ray” rule to prevent players from co-opting Ray’s strategy and gain an unfair advantage during an altercation.
Rob Ray sits just below Bob Probert on the PIM list, with 3,207 penalty minutes. However, the beast on the ice was a kind-hearted teddy bear off-ice; Ray won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1999 for humanitarianism.
Bourque is the current record holder for most career goals, assists, and points by a defenseman in NHL, even though he retired in 2001 – the same year he finally won the Stanley Cup. Bourque was a proper grinder in that regard, as he spent the majority of his 22-year long career in search of Lord Stanley’s precious but elusive Cup.
His exceptional talent as a player led him to become one of the most honored players in the NHL’s history, winning over 22 different awards, some of them even multiple times. Bourque’s PIM record sits at 1,312 minutes over his 22-years long career, which is notably less than the PIMs of previous entries on our list.
Having played over 1600 games in his career, Scott Stevens was one of the toughest ice hockey players New Jersey Devils ever had. And he issued quite a few devastating hits in a time when checks were seemingly more vicious than today’s NHL. Those who crossed paths with Stevens were left injured or perhaps angry, lifting any doubt that Stevens played a hard, physical game.
Scott was so strong and tough that the physical aspect of his game led many to raise concussion awareness, particularly when he knocked out Eric Lindros. However, back then, Stevens’ hit was deemed legal. In today’s NHL, it would probably draw a five-minute major, game misconduct, and several other penalties.
Mark Messier is often described as the epitome of toughness in ice hockey, as he was one of the hardest-hitting players in, perhaps, the entire NHL history. He utilized his size, bulldozing strength, and cunning as a leader to define toughness in hockey. He finished his career with 700 goals and over 1,900 penalty minutes, which primarily resulted from his readiness to throw down a fight.
One of his most impressionable hits was issued to Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano; Messier broke the man as quickly as he broke in his own skates. And breaking in your skates is super-important, and you can learn how to break in yours here.
But back to the topic at hand. Messier became a media sensation; his appearance on ice warranted a win. In 1994 he led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals – the first Cup won by NY Rangers since 1940. Needless to say, very few players ever embodied toughness as Messier did.
Imagine a hockey player with Scott Stevens’ hard hits and leadership skills of Mark Messier, and you’ll get Gordie Howe – the man, the greatness, Mr. Hockey himself. He was one of the league’s most proficient players on all three counts: Scoring, Assist, and Fights.
Howe played 1,643 career games in which he scored 785 career goals, never once backing from a fight. Ranked third on the List of Top 100 NHL Players of All Time, surpassed only by Gretzky and Orr, Howe was considered as the greatest player by both men that superseded him. Truly one of the greatest hockey players to ever have lived.
Ice hockey is undeniably one of the hardest-hitting sports in the world, apart from martial arts. It’s fast, it’s aggressive, and it’s physically demanding. It incorporated the wild, physical savagery of the body, the sharpness of the civilized mind, and the greatest spirits of teamwork – qualities all top 7 strongest and toughest hockey players on our list possess.