When I think of players who are hard-hitters, I don’t necessarily think of guys who fight.
Rather, I think in terms of guys who can deliver good old-fashioned hard, clean checks that may rattle the bones but are largely hits within the rules.
In the ‘70s, Bob Gainey of the Canadiens was that kind of player. Larry Robinson as well. They didn’t run around looking for hits, but at the right moment, they could hit hard and change the flow of the game and give their team a jumpstart. A little later, Scott Stevens was a tough, hard to play against NHL defenseman— not because he was a fighter, but largely because he could deliver devastating, but usually clean, body checks.
So I’ve been thinking about the Leafs roster now, and trying to determine who fits into the category of good hitters. Again, not fighters or guys who work hard and are industrious, but guys other teams don’t like to play against because they can, at any given time, deliver some bone-crunching hits. People will automatically think of Phaneuf, I’m guessing. Schenn can dish out some good hits, for sure.
But going back through the years, there are a few Maple Leafs who absolutely fit into this category.
Now, I can’t personally go back to the 1940s, and I know, in Maple Leaf history, there are well-known individuals who fit the above description, someone for example like “Wild Bill” Ezinicki, who was before my time (born as I was in the early 1950s). He was considered a very hard-hitting Maple Leaf.
I should reinforce the point that I am creating a clear distinction between, say, “tough guys” who can, yes, fight (I’m thinking of former Leafs such as Dave "Tiger" Williams, Dave Hutchison, Kurt Walker, Ken Baumgartner, Tie Domi and Wade Belak) and Leafs who consistently brought the important “hitting” dimension to the game.
Also, someone can be a tough player (Tim Horton, Bob McGill and Bob Rouse, for example) but not necessarily a big hitter, though all those guys could deliver good hits on occasion, too.
In the same breath, Horton's long-time teammate, Bobby Baun (appropriately nicknamed "Boomer"), was not the skater Horton was, but was a crunching hitter, hammering away at guys like Hawk superstar Bobby Hull and others on a regular basis in the early and mid-1960s. (Baun is pictured above in game action against the Red Wings in Detroit, with Johnny Bower in goal.)
So, based on personal memories and what I know about the team’s modern history, here are names of players who fit the mold I’m talking about. (The list is not actually that long, when you consider how many guys played for the Leafs through the years.)
- Leo Boivin
- Ferny Flaman
- Bill Juzda
- Gerry James
- Jim Harrison
- Brian Spencer
- Lanny McDonald
- Scott Garland
- Pat Boutette
- Randy Carlyle
- Dan Maloney
- Wendel Clark
- Todd Gill
- Brad Smith
- Dmitry Yushkevich
- Danny Markov
- Gary Roberts
- Bryan McCabe
Someone like Eric Lindros, for example, would have made the list if he had been with the Leafs in his hey-day with the Flyers, when he was a punishing hitter.
Those who would make my own “All-Star” team of great Maple Leaf hitters, I would nominate: Bobby Baun, Bob Pulford (who, as a fore checking center in his prime could really run through guys), Jim Harrison, Brian Glennie, Lanny McDonald, Wendel Clark, Danny Markov and Gary Roberts. (That said, my personal favorite, for the short time he was with the Leafs, was Brian “Spinner” Spencer, who was outstanding in later years with the Sabres. I also loved Scott Garland. His photo at right lists him as a center, but he was a winger with the Leafs in the late 1970s.)
I’m sure I’ve missed some names, and many readers will have their own opinions. By all means, send your comments along.