Former NHL fighter Donald Brashear is still playing hockey at 52 and doing it his way

Donald Brashear fought in the NHL because that was his job, not because he wanted to drop the gloves — which he did more than all but seven players to ever play in the league.

“Fighting was never the most important thing in my life,” Brashear said. “But I did it anyway and I found a role in that.”

Brashear picked the fight that started the 2004 brawl between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Ottawa Senators, which still holds the NHL record for the most penalty minutes in a game (419). A generation later, Brashear is still playing hockey at 52 and doing it his way because of a love of the game that goes beyond the fisticuffs he was once famous for.

“A ton of people ask me, but I just love it,” Brashear said last month before a Flyers alumni game in Philadelphia. "Hockey was really my passion at a young age, and it’s still my passion. I’m still so passionate about it. I’ll play till I can’t, you know? But I’m having so much fun playing it, too, because I can play the way I want it.”

Brashear fought 277 times in his more than 1,000-game career with Philadelphia, Montreal, Vancouver, Washington and the New York Rangers from 1993-2010. He was part of an era when enforcers were prized by teams.

“Guys used to fight to present themselves and make a presence known,” former defenseman Steve Oleksy said. “Trevor Gillies, Tom Sestito, Brashear, Chris Simon — you knew you couldn’t do anything out of line, or there was going to be consequences.”

Brashear's 2,634 penalty minutes rank 15th all time, and he took pride in standing up for teammates as a way to pave the way to victories.

“To me, even when I played, the goal of hockey was the team that scores more goals than the other that wins the game,” said Brashear, who scored 88 of them over his long NHL career. “(Fighting) helps sometimes to gain respect. It doesn’t make you score goals or it doesn’t make you make passes or stuff like that.”

Brashear in 2011, at age 39, even tried his hand at mixed martial arts at Ringside MMA at the Quebec Coliseum, fighting Mathieu Bergeron and knocking him out in 21 seconds.

More recent years have brought him back to hockey, playing in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey and senior Ligue de hockey Senior Lac au Fleuve in his native Canadian province of Quebec. He's still fighting, but what keeps him in hockey is the chance to handle the puck, shoot and try to score more than he was ever permitted earlier in his life.

“Back then, when you played, they gave us roles and when you pass the red line, I had to dump it in,” Brashear said. “I love playing the game now to try to be the player I wanted to be.”

Have decades of experience helped make him a better player?

“Better player but a little slower,” he said. “But I can still play.”



Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press