What is a Hockey Enforcer & Do They Still Exist?

The hockey enforcer is a player who tries to protect their teammates by fighting with opposing players. They often engage in fisticuffs, but not always so it’s important for them to know how to fight without getting hurt or injured themselves. An ice hockey enforcer is sometimes referred to as a “policeman” and in uncomplimentary terms may also be referred to as a “goon”.

hockey enforcer

Role Of An Enforcer

The enforcer’s job is to try and respond as quickly, efficiently, and lethally as possible when someone on their team commits an illegal play. They will often drop the gloves in order for themself or another player from that match-up to engage with whoever committed said deed while also providing support by fighting anyone who enters into physical combat within range of either competitors’ weapons.

The enforcer is a player that protects their smaller and more skillful teammates from violent conduct by opponents. They may not necessarily fight back, but they can seek retribution in other ways like handing out hard body checks or committing illegal infractions such as crosschecks/slashes during games. The importance of having an enforcer on your team shouldn’t be underestimated-especially since it’s been shown how these individuals help decrease tensions between teams when working together.

hockey enforcer

The enforcer is a physically stature-driven player who usually plays on the team’s fourth line or third defensive pairing. They are one of the lowest paid members, and it’s essential for them to have fighting skills in order to engage with other players during gameplay so that they can be successful at their job.

Decline of the Enforcer

The decline of enforcers in the NHL can be attributed to a salary cap that was introduced starting with the 2005/06 season. The main reason for this change is because clubs prefer skilled players over those who specialize only in fighting abilities, so they have become rarer throughout all levels of North American professional leagues including minor hockey associations and college athletic conference’s alike. Some of the NHL’s top tough guys were not only excellent scorers, but they also had incredible hockey skills too.

These include players such as Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams, Chris Simon, Terry O’Reilly, Chris Nilan, Dave Schultz, Dale Hunter, John Ferguson and Bob Probert, who all enjoyed at least one 20-goal season in the league.

hockey enforcer

The difference between an NHL enforcer and a role player can be seen in how they are utilized. An “enforcer” typically receives more ice time than other players on the team, but it’s not his or her job to kill penalties; instead, this person will often produce offense for him or herself when given opportunities with goals or assists alike. In fact, O’Reilly once amassed 90 points in a season for the Boston Bruins in 1977/78, becoming the first player in NHL history to finish in the top-10 in scoring while serving at least 200 minutes in penalties.

Most penalized NHL players

The 10 players listed below have accumulated the most penalty minutes in NHL history.

  1. Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams – 3,971
  2. Dale Hunter – 3,565
  3. Tie Domi – 3,515
  4. Marty McSorley – 3,381
  5. Bob Probert – 3,300
  6. Rob Ray – 3,207
  7. Craig Berube – 3,149
  8. Tim Hunter – 3,146
  9. Chris Nilan – 3,043
  10. Rick Tocchet – 2, 970

Several Enforcers On One Team

The 1970s and ’80s were different times for NHL hockey. Teams featured enforcers who would protect their teammates by fighting any opponent that crossed them, which made this type of sport much more physical than today’s game with its emphasis on skillful play instead.

Fights and bench-clearing brawls were quite common and teams such as the Boston Bruins were known as the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ while the Philadelphia Flyers were nicknamed The Broad Street Bullies’.

Reduction In Fighting

Hockey has evolved over the years, but fighting is still allowed and gets you a major penalty. But fewer people are opting for fisticuffs nowadays because it’s not as popular among fans or players themselves. Hockey is a game of skill, but it’s also important to have somebody who will fight for you on the ice. This person can score goals and provide intimidation tactics when needed – which are rare these days because most NHL teams don’t employ one-dimensional enforcers anymore. The modern-day NHL is different than it used to be. Players now have a better understanding of what they need in order for them and their team to succeed, so much that leaders like Martin Brodeur can sit on the bench with an ice bag coaching while another player takes his place during game time.

Enforcers and Brain Damage

This is a significant reason we’re seeing fewer enforcers in the sport. This means that fighting can cause serious head trauma and many people have come to realize this over time, which has led them away from being involved with hockey fights as well.

In 2011, former enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all passed away with Rypien’s and Belak’s deaths being ruled as suicides while former enforcers John Kordic and Bob Probert passed away in 1992 and 2010 respectively. Todd Ewen then died in 2016 and his death was also ruled a suicide.

The degenerative brain disease CTE has been found in some former NFL players who attribute their symptoms to depression or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). These individuals may have experienced repetitive blows to the head during playing careers, which caused them mental illnesses such as dementia later on in life.

Hockey enforcers may not be a thing of the past, but their role in professional hockey has changed over time. With fighting reduced and penalties increasing for offenders who engage with opposing players on-ice or off-, fewer guys make it to this level these days.

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