Sunday morning is usually a peaceful feeling, but hey, why not break it up a little bit. Who do you think the toughest Pittsburgh Penguin ever was?
There could be many right answers to this question. And there might not even be a right answer at all. And, yeah, I realize I wrote something similar two weeks ago talking about some of the best Penguin fights of all time, but apparently I just like writing about rough stuff on the weekend.
Here’s what I think over the last 25ish years of consciousness (so all the old heads can jump in now and talk about Battleship Bob Kelly or whomever else on their own time):
I know what you’re thinking, hey weird choice to start this list off, right? But why not start it off with a bang. Like, literally.
Kasparaitis was tougher than a 2 dollar steak, and there’s no doubt about that. Watch him basically end the useful part of Eric Lindros’ career here in 1998, catching the Big E in a bad habit with his head down and putting a shoulder into a player 5 inches bigger than him, clean as day with a thunderous check given with bad intentions and an unfortunate result. Always keep your heads up, kids.
Then watch three Flyers players immediately pile on Kaspar and try to kill him. Gotta be tough to live like this, knowing the cost you have to pay but still dish out the pain anyways.
This montage of mostly hits (but also a fight at the end!) is just vintage Kasparaitis. He played the sport of hockey with the reckless abandon that most people play in video games. Just switch to the defense and use your body to fly and try to kill the opponent who dares to skate the puck in against you.
That’s easy to do with a controller in your hands, but when it’s your body you’re throwing around (and then dealing with the consequences of the impact, and also angry teammates of the guy you just K’ed TFO) — that’s one tough mentality. Especially for a 5’11 guy that was just stout and built like a fire hydrant.
“Big” Georges Laraque is undoubtedly one of the top NHL fighters of all time. 6’4, 245 pounds. Fighting southpaw. He didn’t even really like fighting, but that’s the reason he got to the big time. He was just bigger and tougher than everyone else. A protector. I don’t even think he was really all that mean or a bully (easy to say since I never had to square up on him), Laraque was just a sort of gentleman whose natural role was to enforce.
Just look at this with Laraque (while with the Coyotes) offering a fight, and seemingly genuinely enough wishing his opponent luck. An opponent, Raitis Ivanans, at 6’4, 240 pounds, who probably didn’t need a lot of luck. Then Laraque beat him up anyways.
It’s a miracle here that Riley Cote’s helmet didn’t go off with his whole head in it.
If I had to name one absolute toughest Penguin, I think this would be it. Georges Laraque was the first heavyweight that I remember that even some of the other tough guys around the league would steer clear of. In the mid-late 2000’s there were no more Probert’s and McSorely’s on every team, and with the enforcer rule a player didn’t have to fight if he didn’t want to. Many, many people didn’t want to fight Laraque. Those who did (like Cote), almost had to out of obligation for their role and their livelihood.
It usually didn’t go well, since Laraque was considered by most to be the top heavyweight fighter in the NHL for his day.
I don’t even think Steve MacIntyre even needed a hockey stick. At 6’5, 250 and with almost literal cinder blocks on the end of his wrist called hands, there was only one thing “Big Mac” was meant to do.
I like this video (with Wilkes-Barre) where MacIntyre attempts to fight the entire team, including the goalie.
The classic is the 41-year old Roberts beating up a man almost half his age (who is supposed to be in the prime of his life).
The steely glare, the intense work ethic, the absolute destruction of the Ottawa Senators in the postseason. That Gary Roberts is one tough SOB.
Love him or hate him for the ill-fate trade that brought him to Pittsburgh, but there’s no doubt that Ryan Reaves is the last of a dying breed as a super-tough heavyweight. Plus, there’s always the bonus that Tom Wilson never has had the courage to stand up to Reaves since being fed his lunch back in 2014 when Reaves was with the Blues.
Just a dominant fighter. Bigger, stronger, tougher than anyone in the league that’s left. (Unlike Laraque, I’d say Reaves is kinda mean too)
In 150 games with the Penguins, Tocchet compiled 450 penalty minutes. Many the tough way. And there’s nothing really tougher than fighting Kris King (in his own right a very tough customer) while having a cracked jaw.
Look at that full head of hair too! Tocchet was “only” 6 feet tall, but played at about 220 and was never afraid to throw his body around and back it up with his fists. No matter what shape his jaw was in. That’s one tough individual right there.
Who do you have as some of your toughest Penguins of all time?