Friday

Rob Ray

Let's face it. Based on hockey skill alone, the only way Rob Ray belong in a NHL rink was to buy a ticket like the rest of us.

But what he lacked in skating, shooting and scoring skills, he made up for in intangibles.

He contributed through two intangibles in particular: He was a great teammate, and he was a fearless fighter.

He ended up playing in 900 games, accumulating over 3200 minutes in penalty minutes, including over 235 fights. He went toe-to-toe with every tough guy, likely multiple times, in 14 NHL seasons. He had memorable fights with Tie Domi, Paul Laus, Chris Nilan and former teammate Matthew Barnaby.

No, it was not an easy way to earn a NHL pay check. But it certainly beat working in the family farm equipment dealership back home in Sterling, Ontario.

Off Goes The Shirt

Some of those tilts were pretty wild, and often ended with Ray half naked on the ice. That was cleverly by design. He would deliberately wear his jersey and equipment in a fashion where he could easily discard the gear so that his opponent had nothing to grab on to. The NHL quickly installed the "Rob Ray Rule" - any player who does not have his jersey tied down and is involved in an altercation is banned for the rest of the game.

Ray is also well remembered for his role in subduing a drunken fan who hopped onto the ice and charged the Buffalo bench.

"There was a fight on the ice. Clint Malarchuk was sitting up on the glass behind the bench. All of a sudden we turned around and there's this guy sitting there. And Muck (former Sabres head coach John Muckler) says, 'Give me a stick, I'll get him down!' He was going to go hit him. Just at the last second, the guy dove onto the bench where the defensemen were. They threw him onto the ice and I came from the other end of the bench. And he came right at me. He had to be stoned or drunk or something. I had a hold of him ... I had like his head on the boards. I think I hit him like 17 or 18 times before the cops finally got in there. The cops were right there on the ice, falling all over the ice. By the time everything was done, there was hair, there was bullets, there was everything laying all over the ice because the cops kept slipping and falling and stuff coming out of their pockets."

He Did Not Start Out Being A Goon

But Ray was not always a pure goon. He made the OHL Cornwall Royals because of his physical play, but it was not until he turned pro that he embraced fighting.

"In junior I wasn't really a fighter. I was more or less a role player. In Rochester, they more or less said that's the way you've got to play if you're going to make it up there, so you started doing that. So you fought, but even when I got to the NHL, I wasn't real comfortable doing it. So one night I fought Dave Brown in Philadelphia. And I buckled him good. That was where I got the confidence I can fight the big guys. It was kind of a turning point in my career."

Ray's most common dance partner was Toronto's Tie Domi, who he figured he dropped the gloves with over 20 times. Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun once asked him to describe his relationship with Domi.

"He's helped me out with stuff and I've helped him out with stuff. We have an understanding, on the ice, you know, a respect level for each other. We're both past the point of showing off after a fight or anything like that. Once we get it done, it's over with."

He also asked about his worst injury in a fight, and about injuring others.

"I have a steel plate and screws in my (right) thumb. And I was once hit on the side of the head so hard that it drove my eyeball into my orbital bone. It's hard to say how badly you hurt someone. Knockouts? Sure, a bunch of them. There was Dennis Bonvie when he was in Chicago, and Jim Kyte ... that one was pretty bad. They had to carry him off the ice.

He Had Game, Too

You get the picture - Ray could fight. But he did score the odd goal, 40 in total in 900 NHL games. He remembers his first goal and first game like it was yesterday.

I got called up from Rochester to Pittsburgh and scored a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh against Barrasso. I was on a line with Scott Arniel and Kevin Maguire and Mike Ramsey was on the point. Ramsey assisted on it. For them, Paul Coffey was on, Mario Lemieux was on, the whole thing was on. I look back now, why was I even on the ice when those guys were on? I still have the game sheet. I had a goal and an assist and was +3 in my first NHL game. And I just sort of sat back and thought, "Where have I been?" "Why didn't I got here sooner? This is gonna be easy." And 27 games later I had a goal and two assists and got sent back down to Rochester.

Yet the man they call "Rayzor" was a teddy bear off the ice, avoiding the rough stuff.

"Actually, I've never been in a fight off the ice in my life. Came close one night in a bar back home. Kinda walked over to see what was going on and this guy hit me. I went flying backwards over a table, my shoes came flying off my feet ... I didn't even look for my shoes, I just bolted out the door. I said, screw this, I'm outta here."

But Rob Ray brought more to the table than just fisticuffs. He was a great teammate and leader, a player the whole dressing room loved to having him be a part of.

Big Heart In The Community

Ray was extremely popular in Buffalo because of his great work in the community. He was constantly visiting hospital rooms, delivering Christmas presents to the less fortunate, or appearing at charity fundraisers any number of organizations were putting on. He was especially fond of the Make-A-Wish foundation where he organized his own fundraisers through motorcycle rides.

Through all the charity work Ray has never asked for anything in return. He always felt fortunate to find himself where he did.

"I was raised to do things with integrity and honest. I've never been after individual glory or recognition for what I do on or off the ice."

Rob Ray definitely made an impact in Buffalo - both on and off the ice.

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