Joey Kocur

I recently read an interview with Donald Brashear describing what it was like to take on Joey Kocur in a fight:

"Kocur was hitting me in the helmet like a power hammer and in the end the helmet split! I remember the next day I had a terrible pain, my gums on the left side of my head were hurting even though he was hitting me on the right side of my face. I couldn't chew anything. I wonder what it would be if I did not have a helmet? Too scary."
Too scary indeed. Joe's punching power is legendary. He was regarded as being the hardest puncher of them all. When he caught someone with that right sledgehammer, it was lights out.

What Brashear learned that day was what many others learned on many other days: Don't mess with Joe Kocur. Don Jackson tried it, and had his jaw broken by a single punch. Big Jim Kyte took him on, then had to be helped off the ice. Brad Dalgarno got worst, though, when he had his orbital bone crushed. Dalgarno underwent several operations and missed over a year of action.
Kocur's reputation as a tough 'hombre' began in the junior leagues where he racked up 1053 penalty minutes in only 226 games. He also scored 177 points. Detroit drafted Joe in the 5th round, 88th overall in 1983.

Kocur's professional career almost came to an end before it had begun. While playing for Adirondack (AHL) in January 1985 he engaged in a fight with Nova Scotia's tough guy Jim Playfair. One of Joe's punches connected with Playfair's teeth so that Kocur suffered a deep cut on his knuckle. Soon the wound got infected. Doctors gave him antibiotics but his hand didn't get better. The infection was in fact so severe that the doctors were ready to amputate Joe's hand to save his life. But only hours before the operation, the antibiotics started to work and his hand was saved.

When Joe made Detroit's lineup it meant that they had the most feared one-two punch in the league. Tag-teaming with Bob Probert, the dastardly duo were quickly dubbed "The Bruise brothers."

Kocur has fond memories of these times:

"Back then me and Bob carefully used to go through the opponents lineup before each game. That way we could put up a strategy against the guys we were supposed to go up against."

Kocur led the entire NHL in penalty minutes 1985-86 when he had 377 PIMs. The following five seasons he never collected less than 213 Pim's per season.

Interestingly, Kocur never saw himself as a "goon."

"A goon is someone who deliberately tries to injure his opponent. I'm was more of a "policeman" who defended my teammates. There are players who tries to make a name for themselves by fighting smaller players. I've never did that. I only fought against players who could defend themselves."

Kocur, who grew up idolizing Terry O'Reilly and Al Secord, was not a raging headhunter like so many goons. Like Philadelphia's Dave Brown or Edmonton's Dave Semenko, Kocur was honorable in his fighting, and once he bested his opponent he would never throw extra punches. He would simply tie up the other guys arms and wait for the linesmen to step in.

Kocur's reputation masked the fact that he was a serviceable role player. Occasionally he was used in a shut down role, notably against cousin Wendel Clark of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a thunderous body checker thanks to good speed and balance on his skates. He had a heavy shot which he didn't use often enough. Though his hands were soft enough to take and give good passes, he never forgot why he was employed in the NHL.

"You do what it takes to stay in the game," he says. "I can't get away from doing what I do best."

Kocur's career in Detroit lasted until March 5, 1991. That's when he got traded to New York Rangers. The Rangers were a smaller, skilled team and were looking for that physical presence. In retrospect, GM Neil Smith called Kocur "the final piece of the playoff puzzle."

It was an interesting time for Kocur.

" It was tough in the beginning. I missed Detroit and it's great fans. After all, I had played for Detroit during my entire NHL career. But I quickly understood that Rangers was a very good team to end up in. The New York fans instantly made me feel welcome. They are not very different from the fans in Detroit. They both love tough play, combined with technique and finesse."

Of course Kocur eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup with Rangers in 1994.

" I thought the whole city was going to explode when the final buzzer sounded. Those were unforgettable days."

On March 20, 1996 Kocur was traded to Vancouver. His stay in Vancouver was brief as he only played 7 games for the Canucks. The Canucks management thought he was washed up and that his hands were done. He had undergone four operations on his right hand so they left him unsigned after the season.

Kocur was 31 years old at the time and started to play some recreational "Beer league hockey" for Lakeland in the OAL league (Over 30 Amateur league). Instead of retiring he surprised everybody by coming back where his NHL career had started...Detroit. Scotty Bowman thought Joe could add something to the lineup and signed him as a free agent on December 27, 1996.

Kocur immediately struck gold as he and Detroit won the Stanley Cup two years in a row. Who would have thought that while he was playing for Lakeland in the OAL league ?

Kocur, also a cousin of NHL player/coach/ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, announced his retirement in October, 2000 it marked the end of one of NHL's most fearsome fighters in NHL history. He kept in the game by trying his aching hand as an assistant coach. Undoubtedly he also spends lots of his time playing the more civil sport of golf, where he is a scratch handicap.


Anonymous,  10:54 PM  

Dave Brown did have his share of problems with Thomas Sandstrom,but was very much respected by the other enforcers.Labeling him as a headhunter is unfair.

JKidd 12:03 PM  

BS - Dave Brown was every bit a head hunter as he's labeled. Check misconduct and suspension logs for Brownie, and you'll see it all too well. Not to mention, his head hunting wasn't just with the gloves on, but a nasty mother trucker with'em off. He didn't care if you were lifeless on ice or not, he was still gonna send lefts into your face regardless. A very dishonorable player, imo.

Onto Joey. A right handed punching machine. I remember watching Joey Kocur start to tangle with Link Gaetz, and I instantly feared for Link's safety. Kinda crazy given Link's pedigree as a goon, but that's how incredible Joey was.

Anonymous,  10:05 PM  

Other than the Sandstrom suspensions he had no other stick infractions,he was no "head hunter",as for being dishonorable,just read what other enforcers have said about him,they considered him a very honorable fighter.

Anonymous,  7:28 AM  

If you read the article, it states that Dave Brown was NOT a headhunter read -- "Like Philadelphia's Dave Brown or Edmonton's Dave Semenko, Kocur was honorable in his fighting".

Anonymous,  9:55 AM  

Both Dave Brown And Joey Kocur played together on the Yorkton Terriers Jr. A hockey club.
This team scared the crap out of everyone they played. Not only because they were tough but also had a good scoring team

Anonymous,  11:36 AM  

Dave Brown and Joey played in Saskatoon after Yorkton, back in the day when WHL was tough, not so much anymore. Regina had Jeff Crawford, Stu Grimson, Garth Butcher, and a few others. Saskatoon had Joey, Dave, Daryl Stanley, Dale Henry, Leroy Gorski, etc.. all tough guys. And starting into the league at that ti eor just after were Prince Alberts tough guys, Dave Manson, Ken Baumgartner.. Dave Brown didn't fight much his second year in Yorkton, word got out pretty quick how tough he was and nobody would fight him. Joey got most of his points in junior because everyone backed off him. A guy from Brandon was bugging a young rookie named Wendel Clark, who was playing on the wing, or at least the d-man up for the faceoff in their own end, Joey traded places, and sucker punched the guy so hard, it lifted him in the air from his bent over position for the face off, he landed on his back out cold. It was such a sickening smack as Joey hit him, honestly you thought the guy was dead. Joey is/was a really nice guy as most of the 'goons' were, surpassingly smart - Ken B -2 time WHL scholastic player of the year. Dave Browns headhunts on Sandstrom were because Sandstrom was a VERY dirty player and would not fight so he was getting payback.

Anonymous,  5:54 PM  

I played at Lakeland on the D when Joey was there, and was glad I never had to play against him!

Unknown 12:43 PM  

LOL at the idiot who said Dave Brown was an honorable fighter. He would always punch guys who were down on the ice. ALWAYS. He never let up. He would also take on non-fighters as did his fellow goon thug Darryl Stanley (look up Stanley attacking Mike Gartner). I watched Dave Brown for many years. A great fighter, but never honorable. Neither was Dave Semenko who would pull people's hair and head butt them in the face

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