Best fighter: Laraque

When the Oilers gave Dave Semenko's No. 27 to Georges Laraque, they were back on top of the NHL arms race.

Updated: January 8, 2004, 8:45 PM ET
By Rob Tychkowski | The Hockey News

The Hockey News solicited votes from 42 journalists to come up with "The Best of Everything in Hockey." One correspondent from each NHL city and 12 national media members were asked to vote on various disciplines for active players and executives. In addition, they cast ballots on NHL franchise-related off-ice departments. Five points were awarded for first-place votes, three for second and one for third. The accompanying story and voting results is one of more than 40 areas featured. The complete results can be found in "The Best of Everything in Hockey" magazine. Also featured in the publication are all-time bests from each of the 30 organizations and a fan vote on the top 10 favorite players from each franchise.

At the height of Dave Semenko's reign as NHL heavyweight champion, you could almost count the number of fights he had in a season on one fist.

OK, two fists.

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Best Fighter
  Player, Team Pts.
1. Georges Laraque, Edm . 169
2. Peter Worrell, Col. 59
3. Tie Domi, Tor. 49
4. Donald Brashear, Phi. 33
5. Jody Shelley, CBJ 16
6. P.J. Stock, Bos. 9
7. Reed Low, StL 7
8. Sandy McCarthy, Bos. 4
9. Matt Johnson, Min. 2
10. Jim McKenzie, Nsh. 2
But it got to the point where all he had to do was give a menacing glance and the job was done.

His path of destruction had become so long and bloody that it was wiser for would-be-trouble-makers to cut the Edmonton Oilers a very wide berth so nobody got hurt.

It resulted in a few Stanley Cups, a few thousand points for Gretzky, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey and Messier and made 'Sammy' a living legend to this day in Edmonton.

It has been a long time since the Oilers won a championship or boasted an Art Ross winner, but when they pulled the mothballs off of Semenko's No. 27 in 1998 and gave it to Georges Laraque, they were back on top of the NHL arms race.

Five years later, Laraque's wake of devastation is every bit as long as Semenko's, and his line of challengers just as short.

"If you don't want to fight me, fine," said the 6-foot-3, 250-pound nuclear deterrent, whose presence prevents more wars than it starts. "Just make sure you respect my team. Then I won't have to come after you. Otherwise I have a job to do."

Laraque is good enough at that job to make him the NHL's undisputed heavyweight champion. He was voted No. 1 in The Hockey News' poll of its 30 correspondents, as well as hockey experts, placing first on 31 of 42 ballots.

"It's nice to hear things like that, but it really doesn't mean that much, how you're rated," said the Montreal native. "You still have to show up and be ready, because if you're not, somebody is going to beat you."

It hasn't happened yet. After five years and more than 100 fights, Laraque's loss column is maybe three or four names long, and all of those have been abbreviated split decisions he has long since avenged.

So what makes him so good? Or, so bad if you're one of the guys who has to take him on?

Let's count the ways:

1. He's bigger than heck. There are a lot of tall fighters out there, in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-6 range, but most of them -- like Matt Johnson, Eric Cairns and Krzysztof Oliwa -- , check in at only 230 pounds. That's not nearly as solid as the 250 pounds Laraque spreads out over his frame.

2. He's left-handed. If you want to throw your right hand, as most guys do, you have to leave Laraque's left untied and take your chances in a slugfest. If you're Laraque, that's exactly what you want.

3. The initial flurry. Laraque doesn't mess around. He comes in hard. To beat him, you have to find a way to withstand that initial 10- to-15-second flurry. Easier said than done. Some try to open with a home-run punch or shoot in and clutch. But if he catches you coming in or you end up grabbing nothing but air, you're in trouble.

4. He likes it. There have been a long line of reluctant heavyweights, guys who fight because they have to. Laraque is not one of them. He sincerely loves punching people in the face, especially when they deserve it. "Me? I like fighting. People who see me off the ice can't believe I'm that kind of guy. Off the ice I don't like trouble, I'll be the nicest guy around, talk to everybody. But on the ice...it just gets in my blood. It's very hard to explain."

That's why he lets his fists do the talking.

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