Down Goes Brown: The many hidden talents of NHL enforcers

Sean McIndoe
Dave Semenko, John Scott, and Tiger Williams. (Getty Images)
Dave Semenko, John Scott, and Tiger Williams. (Getty Images)

Even as the regular season resumes, the hockey world is still buzzing over John Scott’s all-star weekend. Voted in by fans at least partly on the assumption that he’d be embarrassed by the 3-on-3 format, Scott instead scored a pair of nifty goals and earned MVP honors in a scene straight out of a movie script.

It all made for a great feel-good story. But maybe we shouldn’t have been quite so shocked. After all, Scott’s not the first NHL tough guy to step outside of his comfort zone and deliver an impressive performance. The enforcer role may be fading from the NHL, but the guys who’ve done the job over the years have a long history of being surprisingly multi-talented.

So for this week’s top five, let’s go beyond the All-Star Game and look at some other areas where NHL tough guys unexpectedly made their presence felt.

5. In a pro wrestling ring

The hockey world has seen plenty of cross-overs with pro wrestling; former Ranger Ted Irvine’s son did pretty well for himself in the ring, and Mean Gene Okerlund’s son once suited up for the Islanders. And who could forget about this guy?

But perhaps wisely, this generation of sports entertainers have tended to stay away from hockey’s tough guys. One notable exception: the time one WCW villain decided to go after a Chicago Blackhawks owner.

While it didn’t feature many punches, legend has it that that scripted battle was nearly preceded by the real deal. The lesson, as always: Bob Probert didn’t take any nonsense from anyone.

4. In the kitchen

Picture legendary enforcer Dave “Tiger” Williams, and a few culinary terms come to mind. Knuckle sandwiches? Plenty of them. Mouthfuls of chiclets? More than a few. Putting a little bit of mustard on the hot dog? Hey, if you don’t like it, don’t let him score.

Williams was certainly a guy who could get in his opponent’s kitchen. But he was apparently pretty comfortable in his own as well, at least based on the 1987 release of Done Like Dinner, his very own cookbook. Williams was coming up on the end of his career back then, but instead of sticking a fork in him, you could stick a fork in some “Red Russian Nut Puffs”, a dish he dedicated to Harold Ballard.

Here’s hoping the recipes turn out better than the quote that inspired the cookbook’s title. Back in 1977, Williams had used “done like dinner” to describe the Flyers, who were trailing his Maple Leafs 2-0 in their best of seven playoff series. The Flyers came back to win four straight, and the Leafs were… well, you know.

3. In a recording studio

Fans have been known to react to their team’s enforcers like rock stars, so it’s no surprise that a few have picked up a guitar or a microphone at some point. The best of the bunch may be Red Wings’ tough guy Darren McCarty, who could belt out a tune when he wasn’t belting an opponent.

But with all due respect to McCarty, he’s got a long way to go to take the tough guys’ crooning crown. That still belongs to legendary Flyers’ enforcer Dave Schultz, who’s 1975 novelty classic “Penalty Box” is no doubt still firmly stuck in the head of any fan who had the misfortune to give it a listen.

2. On a movie set

The award for best big screen performance by an NHL tough guy is the most heavily contested on our list. We’ve seen appearances by Probert in The Love Guru, Jay Caufield in Sudden Death, and Georges Laraque in Goon. Guys like Tie Domi and Gino Odjick have appeared in smaller films. Heck, Marty McSorley’s list of credits is downright impressive, and Lyndon Byers isn’t far behind.

But we’re going to go off the board a bit with a mild upset pick: Basil McRae in The Mighty Ducks.

That’s some smooth work right there. The story goes that most of the scene’s lines were supposed to go to the far-more-famous Mike Modano, but McRae’s obvious talent flipped the script. That was probably one of the few calls McRae ever agreed with.

1. In a boxing ring… with the greatest of all-time

Given their job description, seeing an NHL tough guy show up in a boxing ring may be the least surprising entry on our list. But it’s one thing to climb through the ropes. It’s another altogether to do it against the most famous athlete in sports history.

That’s what happened in Edmonton back in 1983, as Oiler’s enforcer Dave Semenko stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali as part of an exhibition that was promoted by Mark Messier’s uncle. If you’d like a signed program from the match, it can be yours for just $1,500.

That’s the first round, one that ends with Ali, um, groping Semenko’s behind. The fight ended up going the full three rounds and was scored a draw, with Ali mostly keeping it playful before reportedly bloodying Semenko’s nose with a late combination. Like everyone else who ever fought Semenko, Ali left the bout and then never again tried to lay a finger on Wayne Gretzky.

So chin up, John Scott. Even if Sunday turns out to be your last action in an NHL uniform, you’ve still got plenty of career options available. A generation or two of tough guys who came before you have already blazed the trail.

Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.