When Luke Schenn dropped the gloves with Marcus Foligno in the opening minute of the Vancouver Canucks’ game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, it illuminated an odd statistic.
It was Schenn’s fifth fight against a member of the Foligno family. He had previously fought Marcus twice and his brother, Nick Foligno, twice. Oddly enough, there has been another Schenn vs Foligno fight in the NHL. Luke’s brother, Brayden Schenn, has also fought Nick Foligno.
That's a total of six bouts between the Schenns and Folignos.
That raises the question: which families have fought each other the most in the NHL?
"This is not 'Nam, this is bowling — there are rules."
Okay, it's not bowling, it's hockey, but there are still rules. Heck, it's not even hockey, really, as fighting is technically against the rules in hockey. Still, we need some ground rules.
In order to qualify, at least two members of each side of the family must have fought the other family. Thus, the Schenns and Folignos qualify, as both Luke and Brayden have fought a Foligno and both Nick and Marcus have fought a Schenn.
That means the Domis and Proberts don’t qualify. Even though Tie Domi fought Bob Probert nine times, their family members — son Maxi Domi and brother Norm Probert — never fought anyone from the other side of the family, so there’s no feud there.
We’re also going to have to place somewhat of a limit on how extended the family can get. Brothers are fine. Sons and fathers, absolutely. Maybe even throw grandfathers in there. Uncles and cousins? We might have to play it by ear.
But no in-laws. Let’s stick with blood relatives. Wade Redden doesn’t get to be part of the Folignos just because he married Marcus and Nick’s cousin. Besides, Redden has never fought a Schenn.
Finally, we’re only interested in NHL fights. If some brothers fought each other a bunch in junior, the AHL, or some semi-pro league, we don’t care.
We’re also going to set aside any ethical issues anyone might have with fighting in hockey, especially with the rising awareness of concussions and problem of painkillers.
So, which NHL families are the hockey equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys? Let’s dive in.
The first fight is with statistics
The first obstacle we face in figuring this out is statistics on fighting. The NHL's official site doesn’t even record how many fighting majors a player has received, let alone accurately track who has fought whom.
Fortunately, we have HockeyFights.com, which is run by the Nation Network. It aims to track every single fight in hockey but it notes that it’s only accurate to a point.
“The stats we provide are not official,” reads the site’s FAQ. “The fight cards are kept by us through boxscores and recaps. Our records are as accurate as we can get them and the best we’ve seen so far.”
Unfortunately, HockeyFights.com does not have every fight in NHL history in their records. They’re reliable enough for modern fight records but, understandably, older statistics are a little harder to come by.
Gordie Howe, for instance, supposedly had 22 fights during his NHL career. HockeyFights.com only has record of four fights, though it does list more fights for Howe in the “recent fights” column on his profile.
There was one other site that tracked fights with the detail we’re looking for — DropYourGloves.com — but it is unfortunately no more. Some pages from the site can be accessed via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, but many pages, including some with the information we need, are missing.
In other words, we have a data problem. Unfortunately, barring tracking down individual boxscores from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, there’s no easy solution to this problem. We’re just going to have to go with the data we’ve got and make the best of it.
On the plus side, the bar has been set by the Schenns and Folignos. Families that don’t even have a total of six fights to their name can be dismissed immediately. For instance, the Sedin twins, shockingly, don’t have six fights between them, so we don't have to worry about seeing how many members of another family they each foght.
The family that enforces together
I decided to start with players who fought a lot: enforcers, the type that have been around the game for decades but saw their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s.
For instance, the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot were inspired by the real-life Carlson brothers — Jack, Steve, and Jeff. Perhaps they could provide a proper feud with another fighting family?
Alas, only Jack and Steve ever made the NHL and Steve was actually more of a skilled player than an enforcer and only had two fights in the NHL.
Dave Hanson inspired the character of Dave "Killer" Carlson in Slap Shot but actually played Jack Hanson — filling in for Jack Carlson, who was unavailable because he was called up to play for the Edmonton Oilers prior to shooting. So, Dave Hanson inspired Dave Carlson but played Jack Hanson, who was inspired by Jack Carlson, who couldn't play Jack Hanson.
Hanson — the real Dave Hanson — had a few fights of his own in the NHL but lacked a brother. His son, Christian Hanson, had one fight in the NHL preseason but not with any familial connection to anyone his dad fought.
Sadly, the Hansons are a dead end.
The truth is, there haven’t really been that many enforcer families in the NHL. It takes a certain type to be simultaneously a good enough fighter and a good enough player at the NHL level to be an enforcer. Most brothers in the NHL have made it on the strength of their skill, not their fists.
There are exceptions, however.
Basil McRae has a whopping 219 fights listed on HockeyFights.com. His brother, Chris McRae, had a few brief stints in the NHL, dropping the gloves 14 times across 21 NHL games.
Both McRaes crossed paths with another enforcer of the era, John Kordic. In fact, John Kordic fought Basil McRae nine times. So, even though he only fought Chris McRae once, that’s ten fights between the Kordics and McRaes for John alone. And John Kordic had a brother who also made the NHL.
His brother, Dan Kordic, had 56 fights in the NHL. But he never tangled with either of the McRae brothers, so there is no family feud there. It’s probably for the best — delving too deeply into the sad story of John Kordic would definitely get into the ethical issues with fighting that I promised to avoid.
What about father-son connections among enforcers? Tie Domi holds the record for most NHL fights with 339. His son, Max Domi, has far fewer at 14, but if he fought the son of someone his father fought a bunch of times, that would qualify as a proper feud.
It’s not to be. Max fought Nick Foligno once but Tie never fought his father, Mike Foligno.
Focusing on enforcers doesn’t lead to any family feuds. So, what if we focus less on the feud and more on the family?
The fighting Sutter brothers
The most prolific family in NHL history is undoubtedly the Sutters. One of the few families that can compete would be the Stastny family, with brothers Anton, Marian, and Peter playing in the 80’s and 90’s and Peter’s sons Yan and Paul in the 2000’s, with Paul Stastny still playing today.
The Stastny family don’t have many fights, however. The Sutters definitely do.
The six original Sutter brothers — Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich, and Ron — combined for over 5000 NHL games, including the playoffs. Their eldest brother, Gary, said to be the most skilled of them all, chose to stay on the family farm instead of pursuing hockey.
Three second-generation Sutters have also played in the NHL — Brandon, Brett, and Brody — with Brandon the best of the three.
Of the Sutters, Brian fought the most, with 177 fights listed on HockeyFights.com, though Duane isn’t far behind at 131. Rich had 84 fights, Ron had 26, and Darryl had 7. Surely, somewhere in the midst of all of those fights there’s a feud with another family.
Looking at the fight record with the Sutters, there’s a name that pops up several times: Wilf Paiement.
Wilf Paiement combined grit and skill, racking up 814 points in 946 games as well as 1757 penalty minutes. He amassed 105 fighting majors in the NHL according to HockeyFights.com. Four of those fights came against Brian Sutter and two against Duane Sutter. That’s a good start.
Unfortunately, his older brother Rosaire Paiement, who was third on the Canucks in scoring in their inaugural season, was a lot older — ten years older. By the time Wilf entered the NHL, Rosaire was already out of the NHL and playing in the WHA instead. As a result, his career in the NHL doesn’t overlap with any of the Sutters, so none of his 27 fighting majors in the NHL help the cause.
The generational aspect of the Sutters seems promising but there aren’t many other dynasties similar to the Sutters. Mike Foligno, the father of Marcus and Nick, did fight Brian Sutter once but his sons have never fought any of the Sutter kids.
There’s the Tkachuks, but Keith Tkachuk’s career barely overlapped with the Sutters and he never fought any of them. Besides, Matthew and Brady Tkachuk haven’t fought any of the second-generation Sutters.
Really, Brandon and Brett have just five fights each in the NHL and Brody never dropped the gloves in his 12 NHL games. Turns out the generational aspect doesn’t really help.
There are the Hatchers, Kevin and Derian. Kevin Hatcher fought three different Sutter brothers — Brent, Duane, and Ron — which seems like an accomplishment of some sort. As far as I can tell, he’s the player who has fought the most Sutters in NHL history.
Derian Hatcher, however, was six years younger than Kevin and his career didn’t overlap with the Sutters as much. He didn’t fight any of them.
Neither of the Primeaus fought any Sutters — not a lot of overlap in their careers — but Keith Primeau did fight both Kevin and Derian Hatcher. Wayne Primeau, on the other hand, didn’t. Keith and Wayne did fight each other, though.
Gordie Roberts fought both Duane Sutter and Rich Sutter but his brother, Jim Roberts, didn’t fight any Sutters.
Kevin, Kelly, and Kip Miller didn’t fight much but Kelly did fight Rich Sutter twice. He doesn’t get any help from the rest of the family, however, not even cousins Ryan and Drew Miller. Well, Ryan is a goalie, so that makes sense. When goalies fight, they typically fight each other, and Ryan Miller’s one fight was with Jonathan Bernier instead of Brandon Sutter. Too bad.
Kelly also fought Kevin Dineen twice, so how about the Dineen brothers? Gord Dineen fought Ron Sutter but Kevin never fought any Sutters at all. That’s no help.
Kevin Dineen did, however, fight both Dale and Mark Hunter. While Gord never fought either of them, the Hunters hold some promise.
The big, bad Hunter brothers
The Hunter brothers were Dale, Dave, and Mark. The Hunters began their careers in the fight-filled 80’s and they didn’t shy away from the fisticuffs. Dale Hunter famously has the second-most penalty minutes in NHL history behind only Dave “Tiger” Williams and is the only NHL player ever to score over 1000 points and amass over 3000 penalty minutes.
Dale and Mark even famously fought each other as part of the “Good Friday Massacre” between the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques on April 20, 1984.
“The average hockey fan, and the media, see that and go, ‘Whoa! These two brothers going at it,’” said Clint Malarchuk, the backup goaltender for the Nordiques at the time. “But if you knew the Hunters, that wasn’t the first time they fought. That’s a farm-boy family. All brothers. They fought all the time. It was no big deal to them—it just happened to be during a hockey game in front of thousands of people.”
The Hunters aren’t your typical enforcers. They could flat-out play, racking up goals and assists to go with their penalty minutes. And, when you look at the Hunter’s fight records, a similar family pops up: the Sutters.
Brian Sutter may have fought the most among the Sutters but it wasn’t Brian that squared off with Dale Hunter. Dale fought two of the Sutters during his career: Brent Sutter twice and Ron Sutter three times. That’s five fights between the Hunters and Sutters already.
Both Mark and Dave Hunter contribute one fight each to the feud, as they each fought Rich Sutter once.
That gets us to seven fights between the Hunters and Sutters, somehow without including Brian Sutter and his 177 fights. Brian did fight former Canuck Tim Hunter three times, but he’s not related to Dale, Dave, and Mark.
So here’s the final tally in the Hunter vs Sutter feud:
- Dale Hunter vs Ron Sutter x3
- Dale Hunter vs Brent Sutter x2
- Dave Hunter vs Rich Sutter x1
- Mark Hunter vs Rich Sutter x1
With that, the Hunters and Sutters surpass the Schenns and Folignos, but only just barely, and it took a lot more brothers to do it. With no second-generation Hunters in the NHL available to fight Brandon, Brett, and Brody, that’s where the feud ends.
It makes a certain amount of sense. Both the Hunters and Sutters are farming families from the prairies who were taught a rough-and-tumble game from an early age and both were surrounded by brothers. As Malarchuk said, "They fought all the time."
Unless I’ve missed something in my research, that means that the Schenns and Folignos have the second-biggest family feud in the NHL with six fights between Brayden, Luke, Marcus, and Nick.
It seems shocking that the second-biggest family feud is between two families that have played their careers in an era where fighting has been on the decline. And all it will take is two more fights between the Schenns and Folignos to surpass the Hunters and Sutters and take the title of the biggest family feud in NHL history.