The Dale Hunter Hit Piece

One hundred and thirty-two (132).

That is the obscene number of points you would need to tie for fifth place in the 1992-93 NHL season’s scoring title race. Super Mario Lemieux led the league that year with 160 in 60(!!) games. Pittsburgh had won the previous two Cups and seemed unstoppable. Teemu Selanne set the rookie goal scoring record with 76 goals and tied for fifth place with 132 points.

23-year-old Pierre Turgeon also had 132 points. It was his second time  scoring 100 points. I became aware of pro hockey around age 7 when the Islanders lost in overtime to the Panthers in 1995 or 1996, so missed the 1993 playoff run. But I knew who Pierre Turgeon was. Two databases informed my knowledge of NHL history before the Internet: my dad’s memory and the “Never Say Die” Islanders VHS tape I had. “Never Say Die” was basically a highlight reel of the team through the dynasty Stanley Cup-winning years with about 5 minutes of “it’s the mid 90’s and we suck.”

This thing is listed online for $55.99. I better find mine. 

It was in this documentary I saw Pierre Turgeon get absolutely SMOKED by Dale Hunter after scoring a meaningless 3rd period goal to clinch game 6 of the first round. 

Commentator Jim Hughson called it on the spot: “Pierre Turgeon, one of the best players in the league is hurt by a NASTY cheap shot from Hunter.”

For non hockey fans (who are for some reason on a hockey website, welcome!): this is far more brutal than the post-whistle scrums after a contested play. Tight, competitive play will lead to actions acceptable in hockey but not in other sports. The dirty glove facewash and forearm/hip crosscheck are good examples of this consensual contact. 

Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about when we say “etiquette” or “the code.” It’s agreed upon violence. When violence steps outside the boundaries, the code is violated. 

That’s where fighting comes in. Fighting is a great counterpoint to violence that crosses the line. Most of the time, following the Hammurabi mentality creates sufficient payback for the original harm. But what happens when “an eye for an eye” isn’t enough?

Islander defenseman Rich Pilon buried Hunter right after the original hit. I think Hunter was even hurt on the play. That didn’t make up for taking out Turgeon, but seeing Hunter get wrecked made my inner Hammurabi purr like a well-fed cat.

The problem is that it’s still not fair. Hunter saw Pilon coming. Hunter knew what would happen if he did what he did. Further, Turgeon’s team had playoff games to miss. Hunter’s team didn’t. So, what happens when “an eye for an eye” is more like “a fingernail for an eye?” Is there another deterrent?

This is when the league dictates a suspension after a hearing, a delightfully bureaucratic solution to a sick burst of violence. Hunter earned 21 games – the longest for on-ice behavior ever given at that point in NHL history, but just 25% of the regular season. In other words, it was the same punishment Tom Brady got for Deflategate.

Although it was the longest suspension in league history, it only just beat the 20-gamer earned by Tom Lysiak for Tripping a linesman. 

Bettman’s thoughts: “Yep that one extra game for Hunter should do it. He’s second all-time in PIMs but this’ll show him.”

Worse than its arguably short length, the suspension didn’t address the playoffs problem. Ray Ferraro did not think a regular season suspension was the appropriate punishment. He wanted Hunter to miss playoff games like Turgeon did.  Ferraro trashed Dale Hunter, saying “he’s been doing it for years, he’s a cheap player and he went and he took out one of the game’s stars.” 

Beyond suspension and league fines is the law. Turgeon’s agent also thought Turgeon deserved more justice and filed a lawsuit for civil damages against Hunter. (Criminal charges could only have come from a prosecutor i.e. the government.)

The hit caused a separated shoulder and a concussion and Turgeon was projected to be out 4-6 weeks. Though he did dress for game 7 conference semis at Pittsburgh and most of the conference final against Montreal, he never came close to his astronomical point total that season. He got 94 the next year, and hovered around 60-70 for the rest of his career.

To put it in perspective, this would knock a 2020 player from Nathan MacKinnon to Matthew Tkachuk. Turgeon was a monster. 

What’s more tragic is Turgeon’s reputation in the league for being a classy player. Turgeon won the Lady Byng that year for gentlemanly play — coincidence, or league-sanctioned apology? That year, coincidentally, was Gary Bettman’s first year as NHL Commissioner. The players were aware of it in their comments to the media at the time, and challenged Bettman to punish Hunter for what some of them called a “gutless” hit. Goalie Glenn Healy echoed Ferraro’s sentiment that the hit was a disgrace. 

Healy called it “bush league.” Captain Pat Flatley hoped that new commissioner “Mr. Bateman” (lol) would take it seriously, especially because he considered Turgeon to rank with “the Lemieuxs and the superstars of the game.”

Glen Healy was still emotional about the play when he discussed the playoff run on Spittin Chiclets recently. You can’t help but feel for Turgeon in the video. No one expects contact that long after a goal. Turgeon was also in the dangerous 2-5 foot distance from the boards where you can get wrecked.

I get why Dale Hunter felt like a bag of dicks when he handed a 132 point scorer the puck with 10 feet and a goalie. But then he mauled a guy. And it was bush league. And worst of all, he tried to weasel out of it, claiming he “didn’t know it was a goal.”

I feel bad for Turgeon, but part of me feels bad for Hunter, too. He’s tied to this incident as an infamous cheapshot. He, too, had a respectable NHL career that many see as Hall of Fame worthy.

The ultimate lesson here has to be respect for superstars. They drive people to the game. Instead of launching a vendetta against Dale Hunter (as much as I want to), I just have that much more respect for Ovechkin. He’s spent his career lighting up his opponents. He’s never been known as a dirty player and still delivers some of the most intense, exciting hockey we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Although Hunter was never the scorer Ovechkin was, his legacy could have been focused on his all-around production as a bruising, heart-and-soul forward.

***

Pierre Turgeon dressed for Game 7 of the Patrick division finals, but never played in a game that went to overtime tied 3-3. The Penguins were pursuing their third Stanley Cup in a row. In overtime, the hero was not Lemieux, Jagr, or Ron Francis. It was your boy David Volek, and his goal won the Islanders their last playoff series until they beat the Panthers in 2016.

The Islanders lost 4-1 in the Conference Finals to the Candiens. Patrick Roy outdueled Glenn Healy to win in OT in games 2 and 3. Roy only gave up 8 goals in 5 games. After losing their first overtime game that playoff season, the Canadiens won 10 OT games in row en route to Cup #24. 

Pierre Turgeon has the most points of any NHL player not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is the only top-40 scorer not in the Hall of Fame.

Dale Hunter now coaches for the London Knights, who supposedly pay their players illegally. Be a real shame if that were true.

I’m impressed by Pierre Turgeon’s perspective on the incident. I can’t find video of him trashing Dale Hunter anywhere. “That situation could’ve been a little different, but those things happen, and it happened. Then you move on. There’s no grudge. I’m not holding anything against Dale,” Turgeon told the Washington Times in 2007.

When researching for this article, I listened to Don Cherry’s podcast to get more information on Dale Hunter. Cherry is shocked Hunter isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Cherry and his son downplay the incident, saying that Turgeon was celebrating an open-net 6th goal, “jumping around like he scored the overtime goal.” It was the 5th goal, and the reason Hunter was mad was not righteous — it was because he gift wrapped a turnover to Turgeon and sealed him own team’s first round exit.  Cherry proudly reports that he said in 1993 that Turgeon was “NOT hurt” and that the suspension was excessive. 

Cherry uses Turgeon’s return to place against Montreal as evidence that Turgeon was not badly hurt — you know, because hockey players never play through absurd injury in the CONFERENCE FINALS. Ever heard of Stevie Y and his knee, Don? Ever heard of the equipment guy typing Lemieux’s skates because his back was so bad? I guess Pierre wasn’t as tough as your buddy Dale. I bet being French Canadian and Dale being Anglo-Saxon (yes, Canadians really say this) had nothing do with your take on the incident. 

To underline the hypocrisy, Cherry starts blowing Hunter for playing with screws in his shoulder literally 30 second after bragging that Turgeon wasn’t injured. You know, with a separated shoulder.   

I agree with Ray Ferraro. The hit checked all the “gutless” boxes: season over? Yep. Play over? Yep. Guy expecting contact? Nope. Guy saw you coming? Nope. Hit dangerous distance from the boards? Yep. Best player on the other team? Yep. Hit with intent to injure? Yep. Dante had seven circles, and Dale’s been to every one. Each layer of the hit shows Dale Hunter descending further into Hockey Hell. 

There’s no place for that in hockey. Like Ferraro, I think missing the first quarter of the regular season was not an appropriate penalty. That suspension didn’t even meet the “eye for an eye” standard that the hockey code is all about. If we were using that baseline, Hunter should have been suspended for a seven game series – the same time Turgeon missed.

But here, there’s something else that was lost. Yes, I’m an Islanders fan, so you need to take this with a grain of salt. But there’s a feeling among Islanders fans that some of Turgeon’s potential was lost on that play. He put up 58 goals as a 23-year-old, but never more than 38 after that.

More than that, though, the incident represents a fundamental unfairness in our universe. There are actions you can’t take back (not that Dale Hunter wanted to. Didn’t see it go in the net, my ass). There are consequences for which there is no possible repayment. Things can happen that derail a moment in time irretrievably, and all the moments after that. The real pain is envisioning those alternate timelines, where Turgeon helps the Islanders past the Habs, where he breaks 40 goals again, where Hunter gets inducted to the Hall of Fame as the only player to record 1,000+ points and 3,000+ penalty minutes. 

The Dale Hunter Hit derailed two Hall of Fame careers. 

And for that, Dale Hunter, you suck.

P.S.

According to Cherry, Hunter’s reaction to not being in the Hall is that he’s “not their kind.”  Keep Hunter of of the Hall of Fame might not be an eye for an eye, but it’s classic Hammurabi hockey mentality.

How dare they question my character. 

He hit my elbow with his face, ref!

OH and before you say “Scott Stevens buried blah blah” you better find me 3 nasty board hits that compete with Dale Hunter. Scott Stevens murdered people in broad daylight at the blueline, not in some dark alley where the glass stanchion starts. 

-Puckraker

Author: Puckraker

Puckraker grew up skating and retired after a Tier III NYS tournament appearance with the Great Neck Bruins. These days, Puckraker is a lawyer living the dream from New Orleans, where there are no hockey rinks.

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