At any given time, every NHL team has at least one player who is willing and able to put up his dukes. The justification for fighting in hockey is murky and debatable, and the effects of being a long-time and frequent pugilist are becoming more apparent and horrifying. The role has existed in the sport for a long time, and despite declarations from the likes of Brian Burke that "the rats are taking over the game" and true heavy-weights are disappearing, every team still seems to have one.
The fighters on a team are often beloved by the community. They take on mythic qualities, while remaining down-to-earth and humble about their roles. Tampa Bay, like every other team, has had its share of scrappers: from early warriors Basil McRae and Mike Hartman, to Enrico Ciccone, Rudy Poeschek, Sandy McCarthy, and more recent battlers like Zenon Konopka and current enforcer B.J. Crombeen.
But who could forget twin towers, Andre Roy and #11, Chris Dingman?
We'll get to Roy later, but today I want to tell you about "Dinger." The first time I saw Chris Dingman play was in the WHL, where his Brandon Wheat Kings were really, really good, and my hometown Regina Pats... uh... aspired to not suck as much every season as they did the year before.
It didn't really seem fair when the Wheat Kings came to town. They were stacked, skilled, and tough, and they had Dingman, who physically seemed like a man among boys. While not insanely tall at 6'3, he was something crazy like 240 lbs, and had giant shoulders and this big jaw that made home look like Megatron next to Bumblebee. He could play too, using his size to push his way through opponents. He was a 40 goal man one season, and became a Calgary Flames first round draft pick.
The goals disappeared in the NHL (he retired with 15 in 385 regular season games, adding 2 in 52 playoff contests), but the size was still worth something, and he became a regular pounder, skating on checking lines and lining up against heavy-weights around the League. He was traded with Theo Fleury from the Flames to the Avalanche and won a Stanley Cup there in 2001, but moved to the Carolina Hurricanes before the start of the next season. After 30 games in Raleigh he would be acquired by the Lightning, where he would play the rest of his NHL career.
Over parts of four seasons with the Lightning, Dingman appeared in 174 games, chipping in three goals and taking 279 minutes in penalties. He was the physical force the team needed in its arsenal in the playoffs as well, scrapping with Donald Brashear of the Philadelphia Flyers and others in the 2004 Stanley Cup run. The Flyers were a beast of a team, and it was a very physical series. As the cliché goes, having a player like Dingman in the lineup helps everyone feel bigger. He had 63 PIM in 23 playoff games that year, and raised his second Cup.
Dinger played in Europe for two years after parting ways with the Lightning after the 2006 playoffs. He currently provides analysis for Lightning games for Sun Sports.
(Other players to wear #11 with the Lightning: Steve Kasper, Bill McDougall, Shawn Burr, Steve Kelly, Mike Johnson, Sergey Gusev, Kristian Kudroc, Jeff Halpern and Tom Pyatt)
Nolan Whyte is big, but not very tough. His novel Among the Humans is pretty good though. There's some hockey in it, if you like that stuff.