Like it or not, fighting has a secure place in hockey history. There are fighters who were as popular — maybe more popular — than many of the star players. These days, fighting is virtually non existent in the game. But that does not change the fact that some of the most fearsome fighters in the history of — in this case — the Ontario Hockey League are still held in reverence by many with a nostalgic attachment to the game.
To be sure, my memory bank holds a lengthy list of many of my favourite fighters, especially from what I refer to as a 20-year golden age of fisticuffs that spans from 1975 (which was my first year in the media) to 1995. Keep in mind that the majority of the OHL games that I watched during that 20-year period were either at Sault Ste. Marie Memorial Gardens or Windsor Arena. Thus, many of my chosen and most liked scrappers are from either the Greyhounds or Spitfires.
Without further ado, my Top 10 list of brawlers from 1975 to 1995 — guys who did not pick their spots and backed away from absolutely no one — are as follows.
Todd Gill. Playing for the Windsor Spitfires from 1982 to 1985, Gill was actually a skilled defenseman who put 150 points from his blue line position over three full OHL seasons. And while he was not gigantic at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Gill was a raw-boned fighter who could throw howitzers with both hands. Among the many fights that Gill won included a clear-cut decision over Jeff Beukeboom, who was a mammoth 6-foot-5, 230 pound defenseman with the Soo Greyhounds. Playing at home one night, Beukeboom made the mistake of dropping his gloves and instigating a fight with Gill. In a rage, Beukeboom charged at Gill only to be met by a flurry of left hand and right hand punches to the head. When the fight was over and he had clearly lost, Beukeboom threw a tantrum and had to be restrained by the linesmen while Gill calmly skated to the penalty box with the cool, confident look of a champion.
Dennis Bonvie. Nicknamed ‘Dennis The Menace’, Bonvie was an absolute terror as a 5-foot-11, 200 pound defender with the old North Bay Centennials from 1991 to 1993, racking up more than 700 penalty minutes in 140 games. The legend of Bonvie is that he never lost an OHL fight. A pure goon, Bonvie would go on to play several seasons in the pro ranks including close to 100 in the National Hockey League. In one minor league season of particular note, Bonvie spent more than 600 — yes, 600 — minutes in the penalty box.
Mike Rusin. Solidly built as a 5-foot-11, 200 pound defenseman, Rusin played for the Soo Greyhounds from 1974 to 1976 and I do not recall him ever losing a fight. In fact, Rusin on three separate occasions scored unanimous decisions over Peterborough Petes tough guy Stan Jonathan, who would go on to become a famed NHL enforcer with the Boston Bruins. As for Rusin, after moving on from the OHL and the Greyhounds, he played eight full seasons in the old minor pro International Hockey League where he became a fan favourite and iconic warrior with both the Flint Generals and Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Brian Goudie. This was one scary dude who guarded the blue line for the Soo Greyhounds from 1991 to 1993. Goudie fought his way to more than 450 minutes in the penalty box in less than 150 games as a 5-foot-10, 200 pound strong man from The Pas, Manitoba. Quiet and seeming to lack a lot of emotion, Goudie had lightning quick hands and could down an opponent with a single haymaker to the chops.
Joey Gallant. Patrolling the left wing for the Windsor Spitfires from 1976 to 1978, Gallant didn’t skate that well and he rarely scored a goal. But when the fight bell sounded, Gallant answered it and his decisions included wins over noted tough guys such as Tim Coulis of the Soo and Al Secord of the Hamilton Fincups. Blood thirsty fans at Windsor Arena would chant Gallant’s name until Spitfires coach Wayne Maxner would send his prize fighter over the boards.
Brad Smith. A robust right winger with the Windsor Spitfires and Sudbury Wolves from 1976 to 1978, ‘Motor City Smitty’ could shoot, could score and throw hooks to the head when duking it out with fourth-line cement heads. An absolute crowd pleaser, Smith would go on to play in 240 games at the NHL level where he was not only a favourite of Maple Leaf Gardens faithful but a first choice darling of Hockey Night In Canada commentator Don Cherry.
Tony Horvath. Known as ‘Tony the Tiger’ and ‘Tough Tony’, Horvath was a hard rock defenseman for the Hamilton Fincups and Soo Greyhounds from 1973 to 1976. In one particular game as a member of the Greyhounds ‘Goon Platoon’, the 5-foot-11, 195 pound Horvath was involved in five fights. One was as part of a pre-game brawl, another was as a participant in a third period bench clearing brouhaha and the other three were one-on-one, toe-to-toe tilts with three separate players from the Sudbury Wolves.
Ken Belanger. A towering, 6-foot-4 left winger from Sault Ste. Marie who skated for both the Ottawa 67’s and the Guelph Storm from 1991 to 1994, the blond-haired bouncer did not seek trouble. But he was quick to retaliate with a vengeance when challenged. One of Belanger’s big wins came when he was playing in his hometown and he scored a rock ’em, sock ’em decision over aforementioned Greyhound goon Brian Goudie.
Brian Gustafson. A 5-foot-8, 160 pound mini goon, the Kenora, Ontario native remains one of the more fearless performers I have seen in all my years of covering the OHL as a blond-haired, blue-eyed terror for both the Soo Greyhounds and Windsor Spitfires. Despite his small size, Gustafson backed away from no one, engaging in fisticuffs that included much bigger opponents such as future NHLers Al Secord and Willie Huber of the powerhouse Hamilton Fincups.
Jim Aldred. Aldred had good size at about 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. And as a truculent left winger, who played two seasons with the Soo Greyhounds from 1981 to 1983, who did not win all of his fights, Aldred became known as a fierce protector of his teammates. Whether it was noted combatants such as Rick Goodfellow of the Brantford Alexanders, Mike Moher of the Kitchener Rangers or the aforementioned Todd Gill of the Windsor Spitfires, Aldred would not hesitate to drop the gloves. And even if he lost a fight, Aldred would invariably seek a rematch with the likes of Goodfellow, Moher and Gill.