Much has been made of the lack of enforcers in the NHL as hockey has tried to protect its players with rules rather than other players’ fists.
But something that has also faded from the game with rule changes are “pesky instigators.”
For a while, every team had a guy that you hated, unless he was on your team. This guy did the dirty work, often camping out in front of the goalie on power plays and just getting under the opponents’ skin.
The Detroit Red Wings have had a few players like that, most recently Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom. Other teams hated Holmstrom. Neither Franzen nor Holmstrom were the most talented players out there, but they got the job done.
The Red Wings had one player who was that pesky but also extremely talented—maybe the best ever at camping out in front of the net: Dino Ciccarelli.
This right winger was one of the peskiest players in NHL history, which was elevated by the Detroit/Colorado rivalry. Ciccarelli and Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy got into it on numerous occasions. Roy was even known to give Ciccarelli a little upward knock on his groin with a goalie stick when the referees weren’t looking. There is even a hockey card depicting this cup check by Roy administered to Dino.
That’s how much Ciccarelli got under Roy’s skin. How much he aggravated goalies.
But people forget how great a player Ciccarelli was. They remember the dirty work, but forget that he was an underrated goal scorer.
He scored 608 goals and tallied 592 assists in his career, totaling 1,200 career points. Those numbers eventually got him elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. He still ranks 18th all time in NHL goals and 47th in points.
It started his first full season in 1981-82 when he had 55 goals and 51 assists for the Minnesota North Stars. He repeated the 50/50 season in 1986-87, had a 41-goal season the following year, then 44 in 1988-89 when he was traded near the end of the season to the Washington Capitals. Another 41-goal season followed before he had two average seasons with Washington.
When he put on the famed “winged wheel” logo sweater, Ciccarelli experienced a resurgence with the Red Wings, scoring 41 goals and tallying 56 assists for a stellar 97-point season in 1992-93.
He would never score 40 again, but was a regular pest in front of the net for the Red Wings for four seasons. It really seemed like played longer in Detroit, but he headed south and finished his career with Tampa Bay and Florida, missing out on the two titles runs by the Red Wings that immediately followed his departure.
Ciccarelli was underappreciated when he played, making just four All-Star teams, but he got the job done and got it done for a long time. He scored 107 goals and notched 133 assists for the Red Wings, but it was his grit that made him a legend in Detroit—and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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This is the first in a series on Hockey Hall of Famers who played or coached with the Detroit Red Wings.