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NHL prizes combination of toughness, talent

Ferguson, Gillies among those who provided blend of physicality, skill

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Today's high-speed hockey places a premium on talent, skating and creativity. But that doesn't mean the physical aspect isn't still an important part of the game.

From the inception of the NHL in 1917, players who've combined talent and toughness have played key roles on their teams. Here are some of the best (in alphabetical order):


Ken Daneyko

Playing 20 seasons for one NHL team is a feat in itself, but Daneyko, a tough defenseman from Windsor, Ontario, accomplished more than that. He helped the New Jersey Devils win three Stanley Cup championships and once played 388 consecutive games. Daneyko survived on guts and gamesmanship while chipping in a goal or two and finishing on the positive side in plus-minus rating for 11 of his final 12 seasons. He finished his NHL career with 178 points (36 goals, 142 assists) and a Devils-record 2,516 penalty minutes. His No. 3 was retired by the Devils on March 24, 2006.


Tie Domi

The talent always was there, from his junior days in the late 1980s right up to when he hung up his skates in 2006. Domi scored 13 goals in 2000-01, then had 15 in 2002-03. But Tahir (his given name) preferred to keep his battle level higher than his scoring numbers. The result was more often a truculent Tie than a dipsy-doodling Domi. He was a fan favorite with the New York Rangers, then the Winnipeg Jets and finally with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fans and fellow players respected that he never backed down from anyone.


Bill Ezinicki

When the Maple Leafs became the NHL's first dynasty by winning the Stanley Cup in 1947, 1948 and 1949, "Wild Bill" played right wing on the first line alongside Hall of Fame center Syl Apps and Harry Watson on left wing. Ezinicki was a key factor on all three Cup-winning teams and was arguably the best clean bodychecking forward of all time, despite weighing in at 170 pounds. He also played the game as tough as anyone -- not surprising for someone who spent time at a special hockey school run by Hall of Fame defenseman Eddie Shore.


John Ferguson

Hall of Famers such as Jean Beliveau and Bernie Geoffrion required a physical force to keep opponents honest. Such was the thinking of Montreal Canadiens general manager Frank Selke in June 1963 when he acquired Ferguson from Cleveland of the American Hockey League. But Ferguson proved he was more than a mere ice cop; he could also score. Ferguson reached double figures in goals in each of his eight NHL seasons, was a two-time 20-goal scorer and had an NHL career-high 29 in 1968-69, when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. In his 500 NHL games, Ferguson struck the perfect balance between scoring (145 goals) and physical play (1,216 penalty minutes).


Lou Fontinato

"Leapin' Louie" was in good company on the 1952 Memorial Cup-winning Guelph Biltmores, where his teammates included two future Hall of Famers, right wing Andy Bathgate and defenseman Harry Howell, as well as other future New York Rangers such as left wing Dean Prentice. Fontinato's boisterous style helped him become the most popular Rangers player during the late 1950s, but he also was a solid, dependable defenseman who would stand up to the likes of Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe.


Clark Gillies

Gillies spent his best NHL seasons at left wing on the New York Islanders' top line with center Bryan Trottier and right wing Mike Bossy. Gillies, the third of the trio to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, got there on the strength of his scoring ability and avoided fisticuffs as much as possible -- he never reached 100 penalty minutes during any of his 14 NHL seasons and was a two-time First-Team All-Star. But Gillies' willingness to stand up for his teammates during the 1980 Stanley Cup Playoffs sparked the Islanders to their first of four straight championships.


Dale Hunter

At a time that the still-young Washington Capitals sought respect throughout the NHL, one of their most inspirational players was Hunter, a feisty center. Although Hunter originally established his scoring credentials with the Quebec Nordiques, most of his 1,020 NHL points came after he was traded to Washington in June 1987. Hunter had nine 20-goal seasons in the NHL and 11 with at least 50 points, all while piling up 3,565 penalty minutes. He also had 118 points (42 goals, 76 assists) and 731 penalty minutes in 186 Stanley Cup Playoff games.


John Mariucci

No player in the long history of the Chicago Blackhawks was more popular or intimidating than the man who later would be known as the "Godfather of Minnesota hockey." But for five seasons in the 1940s (before and after three years serving in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II), the pride of Eveleth, Minnesota, manned the blue line in Chicago. Mariucci played solid defense, scored occasionally and provided protection for the outstanding small forwards on Chicago's "Pony Line," which featured Max Bentley, Doug Bentley and Bill Mosienko.


Jack Stewart

There may have been harder hitters in the NHL than this native of Pilot Mound, Manitoba, but not many. Stewart earned the nickname "Black Jack" after he hit an opponent so hard that the dazed player skated to his bench and exclaimed, "Who hit me with a black jack?" Stewart signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 1938 and soon became a cornerstone on defense, playing a key role on Stanley Cup championship teams in 1943 and 1950. Prior to World War II, Detroit's hockey boss Jack Adams paired the equally rugged Jimmy Orlando with Stewart. "Opponents rarely made it past those two," boasted Adams. He was right.


Dave Williams

The "Tiger" of Toronto (and later Vancouver) had plenty of toughness (3,971 penalty minutes) but blended it with enough skill to be a threat in the offensive zone. Williams scored 20 goals in a season for three different teams and had an NHL career-best 35 with the Canucks in 1980-81. In 1982, he was the engine behind Vancouver's surprising march to the Cup Final against the defending champion Islanders. In that series, a four-game-sweep by New York, Williams did his best to make life miserable for Bossy, one of the NHL's most feared snipers, as he had done when the Maple Leafs upset the Islanders four years earlier. Bossy, in turn, considered Williams one of the most intimidating players he ever faced.

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