Let’s face it, Gilbert Perrault had plenty of room to fly thanks to the likes of Jerry Korab, Larry Playfair and Jim Schoenfeld around to keep the “Broad Street Bullies” in check.
We reached out to several Sabres historians and hockey fight experts to bring together this collection of bruisers that went above and beyond the call of duty night after night.
When he wasn’t laying the lumber, he was beating his fists against the faces of “Tiger” Williams, Dave “the Hammer” Schultz, Al Secord, Terry O’Reilly and John Wensink. He didn’t have many majors while in Buffalo, but that’s because of the reputation he had. You didn’t want to piss this guy off.
Drafted 131st overall in the 1986 entry draft by the Sabres, Hartman might have been 190 pounds soaking wet. But for a stretch of over five seasons he amassed over 800 PIM’s and over a hundred majors with the Blue and Gold!
He played in a very tough era when most teams were dressing two to three heavyweights per game. His fight card included John Kordic, Ken Baumgartner, Chris Nilan and a slew of Boston Bruins including Jay Miller, Bruce Shoebottom and Lyndon Byers.
Cool tidbit about Hartman, he played for the 1994 Stanley Cup Champion NY Rangers but didn’t appear in the minimum amount of games that season. Captain Mark Messier lobbied for his teammate to make sure his name appeared on the Cup. That’s how well respected these guys are in the locker room.
Drafted by the New York Rangers back in 1994, Boulton was acquired before the 1999-00 season and first suited up for the Sabres during the 2000-01 season. He didn’t register a ton of PIM’s by NHL heavyweight standards but he certainly made them count, accumulating more than sixty majors in his four seasons in Buffalo. Boulton’s best seasons unfortunately came after his time as a Sabre. In fact he was still actively punching player’s lights out just this past season.
Boulton made this list for one simple reason.
He went out and took on the best NHL fighter of all time in Bob Probert during a pre-season game back in 2000. Even legendary Sabres enforcer Rob Ray never took up a challenge from the former “Bruise Brother”. Boulton handled himself quite well and the video replay of the fight, although undetermined, appears Probie might have been knocked down at the end by a Boulton left handed haymaker.
Standing all of five feet one, weighing less than one-hundred-eighty pounds, the former Sabre winger traded blows with the likes of Gary Howatt, Dave “the Hammer” Schultz, Dave “Tiger” Williams, Mel Bridgman, Stan Jonathon and Behn Wilson.
Folks if there is a Hockey Fight Hall of Fame those boys are in it!
He certainly didn’t win many fights but he stuck his neck out for his teammates on a nightly basis.
Although he had enjoyed early success as a recognized top heavyweight in the league, it was discovered that he had been using PED’s and that could have played into his tough customer reputation.
To his credit he never hid from using the steroid-like supplement. His biggest win certainly had to be over the reigning champ Brashear during the 2006-07 season. Most brutal loss? Matt Johnson 2003-04, who he had beaten just two months prior. You can hear “Petey” weekdays on the hockey hotline on wgr550. Great insight and always talks about fighting. Never dodges a topic either.
Drafted fifth overall back in the 1972 NHL draft, the six foot red-haired behemoth quickly became a fan favorite.
It was December 13th, 1972 when Schoeny made his mark on the league. The visiting Boston Bruins had been running Buffalo through the boards for years, until Big Jim, checked Wayne Cashman through the Zamboni entrance at the old Memorial Auditorium, and the first of three Boston beatings were handed out.
Bobby Orr and Carol Vadnais were the other unlucky souls for the Bruins that night. Schoeny went on to pound Bob Kelly of the Philadelphia Flyers later that year.
Big Red didn’t have to fight much but he was there to answer the call from former tough guys like Dave “Tiger” Williams, Nick Fotiu, Bobby Nystrom and Dave “the Hammer” Schultz.
If Brad May’s sole job was to fight night in night out he very well might have been the Champ. Even before he became “May Day”, Shayne Corson, Mark Hunter, Troy Mallette and other notable middleweights had already felt the wrath of Brad May’s punching power and that was just in his rookie year.
Needing to find more room on the ice for himself, May would raise the bar and seek out other notable tough guys like Mike Peluso, Jeff Odgers, Paul Kruse, Mario Roberge, Randy McKay and Rick Tocchet, and fought well, except with Roberge, he seemed to give Brad trouble. He added even bigger customers in later seasons: Jim Cummins, Darren Langdon, Dean Kennedy, Basil McRae, Jay Wells and Rudy Poeschek.
Perhaps his most famous KO victory happened in the old Maple Leaf Gardens. May planted a devastating right to Ken Baumgartner, knocking him off his skates, something rarely accomplished before, if ever. That was back in the 1995-96 season, and right about the time when the league took notice. May was good with both hands and was not big on wrestling, he was a thrower and wanted to knock you out.
May threw with such force that he even injured himself a couple times. One night he was beating Ronnie Stern of the Calgary Flames so bad that he had to stop firing punches because of a sore shoulder.
He was traded to Vancouver in the spring of 1998, just before Buffalo started to make it’s run to the E.C. finals. He continued his fighting ways for another ten years with stints in Detroit, Toronto, Colorado and was part of the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks.
May is back in Buffalo working with the broadcast team.
With all due respect Larry Playfair is known in many circles as one of the toughest players in the history of the NHL but he did not have the longevity or tenacity of our number one choice. He is on most hockey fight experts Top 10 all-time heavyweights list.
When preparing for Buffalo and Playfair, Don Cherry (then Coach of the Boston Bruins) often told his players to leave him alone “Don’t wake a sleeping giant” he would say. Playfair was challenged early and often by feared players such as Dave Hutchison, Al Secord and Bobby Nystrom.
Larry handled himself well enough in those bouts. In his second year he scored convincing wins over highly regarded tough guys such as Willi Plett, Terry O’Reilly and Paul Holmgren, losing just one fight that year to Jimmy Mann.
During the 1980-81 season he scored a big win over Dave Semenko and had three bouts with John Wensink all in the same game! Playfair’s fighting ability and his list of opponents progressed considerably as his career went on.
He avenged his loss to Jimmy Mann and had legendary wars with Chris Nilan of the Montreal Canadiens and the Bruins O’Reilly who didn’t seem to ever learn his lesson. He welcomed rookies like Rick Tocchet, Brian Curran, Allan Stewart and Bob McGill into the league with his fists.
Eventually Larry was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a couple seasons before returning to Buffalo, still trading punches until the end of the 1989 season. Playfair is still very active within the organization today and was a past President of the Alumni Association.
There has never been and most likely will never be another player like Rob Ray in Buffalo. For fourteen seasons Ray lined up and took on as many of the league’s toughest heavyweights and super heavyweights as he could.
He amassed over 3100 PIM’s and more than 290 fights as a Sabre, Razor is in a class all by himself. In his first full season he took more beatings than any two players in the league BUT he always showed up and in many cases he had the guts to go looking for round two with those that had gotten the better of him.
Joey Kocur, Lyndon Byers and Chris Nilan were just a few of the early bouts he didn’t fare well in. Veteran tough guy Tim Hunter might have been his most disappointing showing that first season. The 1991-92 season didn’t go much better in terms of wins, but he didn’t turn any invites down. Proving to teammates that he was there to do whatever he needed to do to help the club. He lost a couple of bouts to Mark Tinordi and Terry Carkner. Bob McGill, Mario Roberge and Adam Graves all bested Ray as well making for an even longer season.
He struggled in the early goings of the 1992-93 season, taking a severe beating from Stu Grimson and was out classed by Ken Daneyko, Mark Jansenns and Darin Kimble before finally finding some momentum. His first notable win was against Mick Vukota of the Islanders, Ray landed just a few more than Mick ‘the Quick” in that first fight of many between them. Later that month, Ray scored a late round decision over Dave Brown of the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, Brown was definitely a top three fighter in the league. Ray left Brown’s jaw on the ice. Two weeks later, Ray started his long-standing feud with Tie Domi. In their first NHL clash up in Winnipeg, Ray took advantage of a slow reacting Domi and scored another nice win. He ended the season with a few more good battles with Randy McKay, Keith Primeau and a rematch turned slug-fest with Domi in Buffalo.
93-94 started well for Ray, the Flyers Brown came looking for him in his first trip to Buffalo since their last fight and Ray did ok. He lost a tough one to Kocur and Gino Odjick. Had a toe-to-toe exchange with rookie Sandy McCarthy, and took the ‘W” in bouts with Dennis Vial, Paul Laus and Domi. He avenged his losses to Roberge and Carkner while re-igniting his feud with Vukota, fighting him twice in a mid-season home-at-home series. Another notable loss came late in the year to Ottawa tough guy Bill Huard but he responded well with big wins over Gerry Fleming and Warren Rychel. He fought Mike Peluso three times in the playoffs to end the year.
Ray’s fight card is flooded with tough guy’s, and Knock-Out’s, he continued adding names each season, including notable pugilists Darren Langdon, Grant Jennings, Rudy Poeschek, Todd Ewen, Francis Leroux, Louie DeBrusk and Donald Brashear. During the 95-96 season he suffered his biggest defeat to Tony Twist, having his orbital bone broken in the process. He missed about a month after the injury but went right back to work taking on Domi twice in one game, Laus three times, Daneyko, Jim Kyte (KO Win), Brashear and Vial (Bloody TKO Win).
Razor caught some slack over his adopted technique of losing his sweater during fights, sometimes even before the fists were flying. Nothing new, all fighters have a few tricks up their sleeve. The NHL created a rule that states “any player who engages in fisticuffs and whose sweater is not properly ‘tied-down’ (jersey properly fastened to pants), and who loses his sweater (completely off his torso) in that altercation, shall receive a game misconduct.”
Throughout his time in Buffalo, fans chanted “We Want Ray” anytime an opposing player took a cheap shot at one of his teammates.
Perhaps the best known Ray scuffle of all time came against an unlikely opponent. During a 1992 game in Quebec a fan approached the Sabres bench during a stoppage in play and caught the beating of his life. Ray recounts the event in his book “Rayzor’s Edge” and many of his battles during his career. A must read for Sabres and hockey fight fans.
Sadly, Ray was traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2003. He appeared in just eleven games before officially retiring.
Currently Ray works with longtime Buffalo play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret on all Sabres broadcasts and currently serves as the Alumni Association President. His involvement in the community with local charities is second to none. In 1999 he was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to a player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
Adding up all of his accomplishments on and off the ice is reason enough to earn Rob Ray the Sabres top Enforcer of all-time honors.
Tim Horton – Before his name was associated with serving up the most popular cup of coffee, Horton was better known for his reputation as a tough competitor. Although his time was limited in Buffalo he basically went unchallenged. In fact the only fight on record happened in early February of the 1973-74 season just weeks before his untimely death. As Buffalo Business First sports reporter Jim Fink remembers it, a young Dave “the Hammer” Schultz jumped Horton from behind one night in a game against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Horton grabbed Schultz and flipped him over onto his back and gave him a good punch to the face. Horton just skated away laughing, he was forty-two years old when he died tragically in a car accident one night while driving home after a game in Toronto.
Val James – His scouting report referred to him as “Muhammad Ali on Skates”. He appeared in just seven games with Buffalo during the 1981-82 season. He was brought up for one reason, beat up the Bruins. Terry O’Reilly can confirm the scouting report was accurate.
Brian “Spinner” Spencer – Much like Gare and May, Spencer was a tough winger and a solid two-way player. He wasn’t the toughest hombre to ever wear the Sabres sweater, but with Dave Hutchison, Dave ‘the Hammer” Schultz and Bob Kelly on your fight card, we couldn’t leave him off. Spencer also died tragically, he was involved in a cocaine deal gone wrong. He battled alcohol and drug addiction after hockey and at one point was on trial for murder and faced the death penalty. He was acquitted in 1988.
Matthew Barnaby – I’m sure if you asked Barnaby today, he’d say he was an enforcer but to most knowledgeable hockey fans he was more of a shit disturber than anything else. One thing they can’t take away from him though was his courage. Barnaby didn’t care how big or mean his opponent was, he answered the bell and gave Buffalo fans six incredibly entertaining seasons.
(Pete Weber @PeteWeberSports)
H.M. Horton, James, Chris LangevinHere is Buffalo Business First sports reporter Jim Fink’s top 10
(Jim Fink @BfloBizJimFink)Lee Fogolin
H.M. Playfair, Ruff