Former NHL tough guy Jay Wells – ‘Never been a big fan of the fights’

Jay Wells racked up more than 2,300 penalty minutes while playing for teams like the LA Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers over an 18 year NHL career. He also went toe-to-toe with the opponents en route to accumulating over 100 fights during the same stretch.

On Sunday night, prior to the Kings-Oilers game at Staples Center, he was recognized by the franchise he’s most linked to, Los Angeles. Originally selected by the Kings in the first round of the 1979 Draft (16th overall), Wells played a total of nine seasons for the team and was part of the famed ‘Miracle on Manchester’ game before eventually leaving in the summer of 1988.

Following a pre-game ceremony held in his honor, part of the Kings ‘Legends Nights’ series, we had a chance to catch up with Wells and get his input on a variety of topics. However, it was his comments about fighting that may come as the most interesting. Take a look…

On if he wanted to see an 80s type feisty game tonight:

“No. I’m just thinking a hard-hitting, battles in the corner–that kind of stuff. I’ve never been a big fan of the fights. I did a lot of it. I think 120 fights in my career, so I did a lot of it. But I really believe that my fights were protecting my teammates or standing up for what I believe and that was none of my guys were going to get pushed around. When I talk about feisty, I’m just talking about passionate hockey. That could be scoring. That could be hitting. That could be pushing and shoving. That could be passing. It could be the skills too. Just a real good passionate [game.] That’s what I was talking about, being feisty. Let’s see some emotion. Let’s play some hockey, because when we played, there was emotion. Sometimes it got out of control, but there was emotion almost every game.”

On the bigger problem currently facing the NHL, the hits or the fights:

“I’m not an expert in the game, of course, but I think the speed of the guys—they’re so big and so strong and their equipment is so big. Shoulder pads, when we wore them, were shoulder caps and strings. There was no plastic. It was just leather on you. So when you hit somebody, you were braced and you knew that it might hurt you, it might hurt him, whatever. Now they wear big heavy equipment with plastic molded inside and it’s like hitting a brick wall sometimes. I think the equipment is there to protect, but the guys are just so big and fast and strong, that it actually injures now. Concussions, obviously, [are] a big issue, so I don’t know what I would change other than maybe…I love the fast…pace of the game without the center line. But the center line might be a good thing to slow the game down a little bit and show a little bit more skill, puck movement, and that kind of stuff. So if I [were] changing something, I might look at that kind of thing—putting the center line back in, slowing these guys down a little bit.”

On how he might remove fighting from game while still keeping excess stick work out of the game:

“It’s really hard nowadays. [For the] younger group, junior players, the players that aren’t in the NHL, it’s really hard. You can’t really fight. Once you fight, you’re thrown out of the game. Your first fight, you’re gone. Now, they wait until the third period and then if they’re losing, they go out and fight. To me, that’s senseless fighting. Back in the 70s and 80s and today still, there are spontaneous fights that just erupt. I don’t have any difficulty watching and seeing those types of fights. I hate the staged fights. Line up at a face-off and ‘Hey, you’re a big, tough guy. I’m a big, tough[guy]. We’re gonna go, all right?’ And then you drop your gloves and go. That needs to be eliminated. There’s no reason for that kind of stuff. In today’s day and age, the fighter has to be able to play the game. If you can’t play the game, you don’t belong in the league. So the tough guys now can actually play, where back in the 80s, there were a lot of tough guys who played two, three seconds in a game and had three fights or two fights. I think they’ve done a good job of correcting those fights, in my opinion, but there still can be some improvement. I like the ones that just erupt and happen. [Those are] the ones where someone’s sticking up for himself or another person. Like Kyle Clifford’s–I thought that was great. Kyle’s a tough guy. Tonight, he hits a guy and two guys come charging at him and he doesn’t do anything about it because…you know, that was smart by Kyle. Back in the 80s, there would have been a brawl, and that is eliminated and that’s good.”

On who was the toughest guy back then, somebody most people wouldn’t think of as tough:

“I think Dean Kennedy was a real good, tough, strong fighter, but there were a couple sleepers…Brian MacLellan was a big, 6-foot-3 kid out of Minnesota. Was it Minnesota? I’m not sure. I think he went to Bowling Green. He was one of the guys who was a real sleeper. He was a gentle giant and when he got mad, he was scary. He could really throw them. Then we had some guys who were really out front—like Randy Holt. He just loved the fisticuffs. There were all different types. He probably has a record. Brian MacLellan, probably. Who else? Jerry Korab was a real enforcer, but you wouldn’t know it when you played with him. He just knew when to do it, kind of thing. He was a big, tough guy but not really recognized as a Bob Probert or a Dave Brown type of player in the day.”

On the Jay Wells bobblefist given out to fans attending the game:

[Laughs] “It’s kind of funny, I think. When they first called me about coming down here, they said they’re going to make a little statue and hand it out. And I’m thinking, I wonder what this is going to be. When he said we’re going to do a bobblehead, I was thinking, ‘Okay, that’s kind of cool,’ because I’ve seen lots of bobbleheads around the league. Then, when they sent the pictures, they said, ‘Actually, we’re going to change it. We’re going to do a bobblefist. So, I told my kids and they just started to laugh. They just thought that was hilarious. We opened up the box when we got here and took a look at it.” [MM: So you didn’t see it until tonight?] “Until tonight, right, I didn’t see it. It’s quite cute. I don’t think it’ll sit on my mantelpiece as a center feature, but it’s certainly a funny conversation piece. I’ll bring it out at the odd party or odd gathering and let them look at it. It’s quite an honor and emotionally, it was tough standing out on that ice and speaking. You don’t realize how special it is to be recognized. I consider myself just a plumber, meat and potatoes type of player. I went out, I loved playing and the do anything to win kind of thing. I enjoyed that and I was very comfortable in my skin. Guys like Luc [Robitaille] and Marcel [Dionne], they thrived to score goals and there was pressure for them to score goals, game in and game out. There wasn’t that much pressure just to defend, block shots. You just did your thing. It was just an everyday job kind of thing I really enjoyed. To get recognized for the type of career that I had, the type of player that I was…it’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty awesome.”


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