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NHL’s most famous goon still has that fighting spirit

Times Staff Writer

Nineteen years after skating his last professional shift, the NHL’s all-time leader in penalty minutes is still a little rough around the edges.

Dave “Tiger” Williams, party to some of the NHL’s wildest and most brutal brawls during a 14-year career in which he racked up the equivalent of more than 70 games in penalty minutes, is still ornery and opinionated.

The former enforcer can still be obstinate and outrageous, such as when he says in a profanity-laced pronouncement that, besides not winning the Stanley Cup, “The only other thing I regret is, I had some bonehead general managers and coaches I should have kicked the

“I think it would be safe to say that the NHL is a billion-dollar business, or better, right? And they have some ... morons running their organizations. It absolutely blows my mind. The decisions these guys made just amazed me.”

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One such decision was made by the Hartford Whalers, who acquired Williams in a trade with the Kings shortly after he signed a contract extension in the fall of 1987 and released him less than a year later, effectively ending his career.

“They paid me to go fishing and hunting for three years,” Williams says. “It wasn’t a bad deal for me, picking up 400 grand to go fishing and hunting.

“But that’s how stupid they are.”

Williams, 53, still hunts and fishes. Though the Canadian once described himself as a “gun fanatic,” he stalks grizzly bears and other big game with bow and arrow for six weeks each fall, usually in northern Canada and often accompanied by well-known hunting partners, among them former Lakers forward Karl Malone.

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“That’s kind of my main hobby and my real passion,” he says. “And, of course, most people who hunt do a lot of fishing. And now that I have grandkids, we fish all summer long. Every weekend we go somewhere, unless I’m busy.”

His, though, is not merely a life of leisure. Splitting his time between Vancouver, where he is based, and Calgary, where his business is headquartered, Williams is president of Pacific Rodera Energy, a small oil and gas company.

Name recognition, he says, helps him in his business.

“You can’t fool the Canadian hockey fan,” he says, “and if you go out and give them all you’ve got, no matter if you’re an A player or a C player, they’re always there for you -- while you’re playing and well after you’re not playing.”

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Williams, who was not an A player but was voted into the All-Star game in 1981, still plays two or three times a week in the winter “for exercise,” and he recently finished an old-timers tour of 12 games in 12 nights for charity.

All without fighting.

“We don’t even allow body checking,” says Williams, who racked up 3,966 penalty minutes -- or 4,421, if playoff games are included -- and endured numerous suspensions while playing for the Kings, Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings. “There should be no fighting in any league unless you’re getting paid. You’ve got to be brain dead to fight for nothing.”

Williams, his partially flattened nose curved to one side like a hockey stick, was well compensated, of course, for meting out his distinctive brand of justice as an NHL tough guy, a role he seemed to relish and does not apologize for taking.

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Among many other incidents, the fiery forward was once involved in a gruesome stick duel with the Kings’ Dave Hutchinson -- in the penalty box. He went into the seats at the Forum to attack a fan who had thrown ice at him. He sent Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman crashing to the floor with an open head wound after Bowman had leaned over the bench to watch a fight in progress.

But if he believes he ever crossed the line, he won’t say.

“The fact is, when you’re on a team, it’s your duty as a teammate to do whatever you can do best to contribute to the overall success of the organization,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what that is. I think some guys lose sight of that. There’s an old cliche: A lot of guys come into the league as crushers, they get up one morning and they want to be rushers and the next week they’re ushers.

“I reminded myself of that little saying on a regular basis.”

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Not that he was reluctant.

“I don’t do anything I don’t enjoy,” he says, “but there are some things you do just because you have to do them. None of us has the luxury to do everything the way we want it done. Somebody’s got to take the garbage out in every household.”

That attitude enabled Williams to endure in an unforgiving role.

“I think most guys that played like I did didn’t last,” he says. “They had a hard time hitting five years, never mind 10 or 14. It’s easy being a tough guy for a year, or a month, or for three years. But to do it consistently over a long period of time -- 10 years or more -- it’s not an easy task for anyone.”

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Williams lasted, he says, because he never suffered a serious injury, kept himself in tiptop shape -- “always in the top 1% of the best-conditioned guys in the league,” he says -- and because, “I loved coming to the rink.”

And because, to him, being labeled a goon was gratifying.

“You want everybody in every building in the league to hate your guts,” he says, “because if they don’t, you probably aren’t playing hard enough.”

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Tough guys

NHL all-time leaders in penalty minutes:

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*--* Name Seasons PM 1. Dave “Tiger” Williams 14 3,966 2. Dale Hunter 19 3,565 3. Tie Domi 16 3,515 4. Marty McSorley 17 3,381 5. Bob Probert 17 3,300

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Note: Chris Chelios, 12th on the all-time list, ranks No. 1 among active players with 2,837 penalty minutes.


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