In today's Top 10, we look at the OHL's best and most useful fighters. In that I mean, players who fight, and fight often (in most cases), but are also skilled, important members of their team. So, apologies to guys like Peter Stevens and Mike Yovanic, but this is a list of the top complete fighters, not just the best fighters. The criteria I used to measure whether they were fighters or not, was whether they had ever been in more than 10 fights before in a season. Of course there is also some subjectivity in my selections, because I took into account whether these guys were winning some of these fights. Confused? I hope not. I've embedded a clip of each guy at his best with the gloves off, for entertainment purposes of course.
Here is the top 10...
10. Luke Gazdic - Erie Otters
Gazdic will never be mistaken for a superb offensive player, but he's worked hard to improve his puck skills and it showed where he set a career high with 20 goals this season. He is an effective energy player who seems to do anything to help his team win. He hits anything that moves and is one of the most feared body checkers in the OHL. And of course, he fights and fights well. Gazdic fought 12 times this year, inlcuding fights against heavyweights Mike Yovanic, Kyle Neuber, and Brandon Mashinter.
Here is a clip of Gazdic TKO'ing Mike Yovanic from earlier this season.
9. Andrew Shaw - Niagara IceDogs
This kid is nuts. In a good way. At just under six feet and max 160lbs, Shaw came into the league this year willing to fight anyone, even if it was a guy 5 inches and 75lbs bigger than him. And he holds his own and never gives up. His offensive game improved greatly over the course of the season and I think eventually you'll see him being a very solid offensive contributor in this league, when he's given more ice time. Being the youngest player on this list is an impressive feat.
Here is Shaw fighting Jack Walchessen this season.
8. Zac Rinaldo - London Knights
Rinaldo is a human wrecking ball on the ice. He's absolutely one of the best body checkers and most aggressive players in the OHL. While he's developed the reputation for playing a bit dirty, he's often able to back things up with his fists. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Rinaldo put up nearly a point per game in his time with London this year. Again, while he'll never be a big time offensive contributor at the next level, he's starting to realize that he can create offense with the energy he brings to the ice. He's also developed into a real quality piece in the puck possession game, in particular during the cycle.
Here is Rinaldo tossing around behemoth Taylor Doherty from this season.
7. Kyle Clifford - Barrie Colts
The draft eligible Clifford got better and better as the season went along, thus explaining his rise through the draft rankings from season start to season finish, culminating with a spot on the Canadian Under 18 team. He forechecks hard and appears to know where to go on the ice offensively. Clifford also developed quite the penchant for fighting this season, dropping the gloves 14 times. While his offensive abilities may be hitting the tip of the iceberg, his physical abilities are clearly a strength of his.
Here is Clifford fighting Matt Clark of Brampton, a fellow draft eligible player.
6. Anthony Peluso - Brampton Battalion
Peluso made great improvements this year, in my opinion. After the trade from the Soo to Brampton, he looked to be playing inspired hockey. With Brampton his offensive game began to come out, as he was turning his hard work on the forecheck into scoring opportunities. When you go hard to the net, good things often happen, and Peluso has started to become a solid opportunistic scorer, even netting 8 in the playoffs. I think his play in Brampton really helped to earn him that contract from St. Louis recently. While Peluso didn't fight quite as much this year (with 8), he did have 14 last season.
Here is Peluso TKO'ing former Knights defenseman Todd Perry from a few years ago.
5. Harry Young - Windsor Spitfires
Young is the only defenseman I put on this list, but he deserves it. Not only did the towering defenseman fight 20 times this season, but he's developing into a strong shutdown defender who is using his size to gain position on opposing forwards. He also serves as the captain of Windsor where he's clearly demonstrated his leadership capabilities in leading that team this season. While this New Jersey Devil draft pick could still stand to improve his mobility, the Devils have to be happy with the progression of the rest of his game.
Here is Young in a fight with the Knights Jason Wilson.
4. Brandon Mashinter - Belleville Bulls
Ok, I cheated a bit. Mashinter has never fought more than ten times in his OHL career. While he may not fight a lot, when he does, he can throw them with the best in the OHL. His reputation as one of the best fighters in the OHL, earns him the right to this list, despite not meeting the fight criteria I set. I'm not sure there was a more improved player in the OHL this season, than Mashinter. Formerly a purely physical grinder who was relied on for his fists, Mashinter turned into a goal scorer this season, scoring 34 goals and earning a contract from the NHL's San Jose Sharks. Nearly every aspect of his game improved this season, including his skating which went from terrible to acceptable.
Here is Mashinter really tossing around IceDog and fellow listee Andrew Shaw during this season's playoffs.
3. Matt Martin - Sarnia Sting
Martin turned a 25 goal season into a selection at the 2008 NHL entry draft, after failing to be drafted in 2007. This season, Martin continued to improve, scoring 35 goals and performing at over a point per game pace. Martin is an incredible physical presence on the ice, throwing body checks left and right, driving hard to the net, and winning battles in the corners. On top of that, Martin can really throw them and should make a solid professional hockey player.
Here is Martin taking on fellow power forward James Livingston of Sault Ste. Marie.
2. Stefan Della Rovere - Barrie Colts
Many hockey fans became familiar with Della Rovere during this years World Junior's, where his undisciplined play hurt Canada in some instances. When he's playing within the limits, Della Rovere is quite the effective pest. He skates hard and he plays hard. Rovere is one of the best body checkers in the OHL, but is also a beast on the cycle, where his strong lower body help to protect the puck in the corners. Rovere is also a solid offensive player who has the ability to make his linemmates better. As much as Rovere likes to stir things up, he can also back it up with his fists, with a total of 24 fights over the last 2 seasons.
Here is Della Rovere scuffling with number 3 on this list, Matt Martin.
1. Zack Kassian - Peterborough Petes
This potential top 15 draft pick for the 2009 NHL draft, is a throwback to the power forwards of yester years. Kassian uses his size to his advantage, being physically aggressive, as well as driving to the net with the puck on his stick. As a potential first round pick, Kassian obviously has a ton of offensive talent, but the kid loves to fight with 14 scraps this season, holding his own in the vast majority of them.
Here is Kassian fighting IceDog forward Chris DeSousa from late last season.
For next week's Sunday Top 10, I'm going to ask you, the readers, for a top 10 idea you want to see. Simply post your idea as a comment and I'll see what I can do about getting it done.