Many of you know Stu Grimson as one of the toughest NHL fighters of the ‘90s. Just before he started fighting Probert, Brown, and McSorley…he fought me.
In 1989, when I first went pro, I was playing for the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International League. It was a farm team for the Buffalo Sabres, but it was shared with Edmonton as well. Most IHL teams were in the Midwest back then, so we had a crazy travel schedule. But there was one other team that was relatively close and that was the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, the farm team for the Calgary Flames.
Salt Lake City was only an hour plane ride away and since we were so far from the rest of the league, we played them a lot.
And I mean a lot; 26 times during the regular season to be exact (and you thought NHL teams played each other too much). It was actually a lot of fun. Salt Lake is a great town and my college roommate Tim Sweeney played for them, so it was fun to hang out with him after the games.
But when you play a team 26 times, it’s going to get rough, especially when Salt Lake had guys like Stu Grimson, Rick Hayward and Ken Sabourin. Between the three of them, they had well over 1,000 penalty minutes that year. We were no slouch in the toughness department, either, with guys like Kerry Clark, Kevin MacDonald, Robbie Nichols and Jacques Mailhot. Pretty much every time we played each other, there was a brawl.
One particular game in Salt Lake, I made a save and out of the corner of my eye, I could see a 6-foot-4 behemoth of a player barreling down the slot right towards me. It was a guy named Grimson and he didn’t stop when he got to my crease. As he slammed into me, I flew back into my net and a melee ensued. The skirmish ended up in the corner and one of my defensemen was going after Grimson. The refs were in the middle, so no one was throwing any punches yet. That’s when I got up and skated as fast as I could right into the middle of the action.
Now, I fought about 10 times in my career…sometimes against players and sometimes against goalies, but this was going to be my first pro fight. I didn’t know much about Grimson’s fighting prowess yet, but I would have gone after Mike Tyson if he ran me like that. Adrenaline takes over my mind and body in situations like that.
When you are a goalie, the trick to fighting is to keep your mask on. As I grabbed Grimson by the jersey, he ripped my mask off in the first second. I got one punch in that I think landed on his cheek.
The next few moments felt like they were in slow motion. He spun me around so my back was against the glass, then raised his fist and drew it back, getting ready to one-punch me with a haymaker. As his fist came toward my face, I did the only thing an unmasked goalie could think of – I ducked. As I ducked, his fist went over my head and I heard a loud bang followed by a scream of pain. He had missed my face and hit the glass instead. He skated off the ice clutching his hand and bent over in pain.
He missed the next few weeks of the season with a broken finger.
I didn’t think much of it until a few years later when he became an NHL heavyweight. I will always be able to tell people I beat Stu Grimson in a fight; I just don’t tell them how.
A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). The 40-year-old currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Read his other THN.com blogs HERE.