The Goalie Fight: A Best-Of Retrospective

The rarest of hockey rares came crashing into the National Hockey League’s Sunday night preseason match up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres: the goalie fight. This was one for the ages, one of the best goalie scraps hockey fans had seen in more than a decade, with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller taking on Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier.

What is it about the goalie fight that is so enticing that it grabs headlines with such ferocity? Despite sharing the weekend with the Emmy Awards, NFL football, a UFC event and the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, the search term “goalie fight” was still sitting comfortably in Yahoo’s “Trending Now” Top 10, two days later on Tuesday morning.

Is it the rarity of such brawls that draws us in? They do not occur with great frequency, generally not even once per season. Goalie fights typically only happen during a line brawl, in which all skaters on the ice are engaging in fisticuffs. With the trend of discouraging fighting in the NHL to protect players under league commissioner Gary Bettman, often maligned by fight fans, the line brawl itself is a rare thing, so naturally the goalie fight, the infrequent byproduct, is rarer still as a result.

Sunday’s scrap quickly jumped into the top five NHL goalie fights in history, as rated by the fans at Hockeyfights.com, some folks who can claim to know a thing or two about the subject. It’s easy for a sports news outlet to compile a “best of” list and throw it out there for the world to see. Instead, take a look at the best of goalie fights, as decided by those who passionately love the spectacle.

#1 Felix Potvin vs. Ron Hextall (rated 8.7 out of 10)
This is a classic match up, going down when the Toronto Maple Leafs visited the Philadelphia Flyers on November 10, 1996. A line brawl erupted at the end of the third period and the fiery Hextall immediately started striding down the ice, looking for a piece of the unassuming Potvin.

#2 Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood (8.6 out of 10)

Another battle between two great goalies from the 90s and bitter team rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. On April 1, 1998, more than halfway through the third period, a scrum erupted on the boards near the player benches. With only a few guys actually pairing off, there wasn’t much going on until Roy decided he wanted to help break up the fight. In doing so, he left his crease, a big no-no. Shooting a look down the ice at his fellow netminder, he put the ball squarely in Osgood’s court (yeah, the metaphor doesn’t work with hockey terms). This was the result.

#3 Patrick Roy vs. Mike Vernon (8.5 out of 10)
Another battle for Roy, actually alluded to by the announcers talking about the fight with Osgood. Another scrap between The Red Wings and Avalanche (read: “bitter team rivals”), this one went down toward the end of the first period, with Colorado visiting the Motor City on March 26, 1997. Skill players Petr Forsberg and Igor Larionov get into it and it’s not long before tough guy Darren McCarty jumps fellow enforcer Claude Lemieux. Soon after we see Roy flying into view from the left side of the screen and Vernon is not far behind him.

#4 Dan Cloutier vs. Tommy Salo (8.3 out of 10)
This one came out of a crosstown match up between the New York Islanders and the visiting New York Rangers from Nassau Coliseum on April 4, 1998. During a prolonged line brawl, Salo decided he was going to help sort things out. Big mistake, as Cloutier raced in and laid a one-sided beating on him.

#5 Ryan Miller vs. Jonathan Bernier (7.2 out of 10)
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, goaltenders Miller and Bernier squared off during the third period line brawl that erupted when Buffalo tough guy John Scott went after Toroto’s decidedly smaller Phil Kessel. The outmatched Kessel decided to use his stick instead of his fists and a melee ensued. Fans on either side of the aisle can debate the merits of “the code” or the fight’s catalyst, but in the end, both sides liked what they saw.

”It was pretty stupid, right? He said he was going to jump me,” Kessel said after the game.

”What are you going to do? He’s a big boy so if he’s coming after me, what are you going to do?”

Notice that 4 out of the top 5 fights took place in the late 90s, more than a decade ago. Three of those took place toward the end of the regular season, as teams gear up for a playoff run and a chance to vie for the Stanley Cup. As the hockey climate has changed, goalie fights and fights in general grow even more rare. Gone are the days of rock-’em, sock-’em robots on ice, as league officials look to curb player injuries and “concussion” is the word of the day.

What do you think about the spectacle of fighting in hockey?