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How Matt Rempe is Single-Handedly Reviving the NHL’s Forgotten Enforcer Role

Credit: Jim Sheridan/AP


Matt Rempe, a 6-foot-7, 241-pound forward who is only four games into his NHL career with the New York Rangers, has already made a name for himself across the league by bringing back a forgotten role that was once so popular and sought after in the hockey world.


The 21-year-old was called up to the big leagues a few weeks ago, following a two-year stint in the American Hockey League (AHL), with the Hartford Wolf Pack. With the Wolf Pack, Rempe played a total of 96 games over the course of two seasons in which he racked up 22 points, alongside an astounding 183 total penalty minutes. Essentially, Rempe averaged at least one two-minute minor per game in the AHL, seemingly prioritising brute force and toughness over scoring as many points as possible.


After a span of a few good games in the AHL, Rempe was called up to the Wolf Pack’s NHL affiliate, the New York Rangers. Originally, he was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL entry draft with the 165th overall pick. However, after failing to demonstrate the necessary skills in a few consecutive training camps, Rempe was moved down to the AHL to develop and get some ice time in the second-best hockey league in the world. After a few seasons of development, Rempe finally got his shot, playing his first game in the NHL on February 18th, 2024. 


Rempe’s first-ever game was part of the NHL’s stadium series, making him the first player in league history to play their debut in an outdoor game. Just four seconds into the game, Rempe dropped the gloves with Matt Martin of the New York Islanders, after the two were seen jawing at the red line in the pregame warmups. Rempe then went on to spend the first five minutes of his NHL career in the sin bin. In his third game with the Rangers, Rempe received a match penalty just 13 seconds into his first shift, for a hard check on New Jersey Devils’ forward Nathan Bastian. Saturday's Game against the Philadelphia Flyers saw Rempe drop the gloves again with Nicolas Deslauriers, where the two delivered possibly one of the greatest scraps in NHL history, exchanging constant blows for a minute straight. To top it all off, Rempe got in another scrap today against Mathieu Olivier of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  


Rempe is only five games into his NHL career and has already racked up 32 penalty minutes, a game misconduct and three fights. He’s basically tripled his ice time with the amount of time that he’s spent in the box, which is a testament to his willingness to bring an edge to this Rangers squad that is currently on a ten-game winning streak. Through this, Rempe is single-handedly putting some praise and value back on to a role that was lost in the league so long ago - the enforcer.


Bob Probert

Credit: The Detroit News


Throughout hockey’s history, there has always been an infamous and notable trend: certain players would always get on the ice and start a fight with an opposing player. The role of the enforcer in the hockey world developed out of necessity. Hockey is a high-speed, contact sport, and it distinctly allows for in-game fighting. The team needs big, strong and rough guys on their roster in order to maintain physicality and protect star players.  


Guys like Bob Probert, who was dubbed hockey’s “heavyweight champion” for the sheer amount of fights and brutality he brought to the game, really made the enforcer role a staple in the league. He was easily the “baddest” guy on the ice at all times in a golden age of tough guys. Probert, over the course of 16 seasons spanning from 1986 to 2002, dropped the gloves around 232 times and finished his career with an even 3,300 penalty minutes, the fifth most in NHL history. In a total of 935 games played, he racked up a total of 964 penalties, the ninth most in NHL history. Probert put fear into his opponents, protected his teammates, and truly embodied the spirit of an enforcer. 


Another guy who exemplified the spirit of an enforcer was Tie Domi: a true hard-nosed, iron-fisted player who put his life on the line for his teammates every game. Domi racked up a total of 333 fights in the NHL, the most in league history. His most infamous fight, however, was when Domi was sitting in the box and an opposing fan started yelling at him. Domi in retaliation sprayed his water bottle over the glass, which the fan took particular offence to and tried to jump the glass. The glass gave way, and the fan fell into the penalty box and Domi then grabbed the fan and punched him several times. His short temper and willingness to scrap left Domi’s name in the rafters as one of the best enforcers of all time.


Matt Rempe

Credit: Kyle Ross/USA Today Sports 


Despite these players making a name for enforcers in the league, the position seemingly fizzled out as time moved on and the game became more skilled. Less and less teams signed guys solely for the purpose of fighting and protection for star players, which eventually scratched the position from the league entirely. In today’s modern hockey era, maybe two players are known for being agitators and fighters, Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane. 


However, Matt Rempe seems to be putting the enforcer position back on the hockey map. Rempe may not be as active as Bob Probert, or anywhere near as dirty and aggressive as Tie Domi, but he sure knows when and where his size and aggression are needed on the ice. 


He scored his first goal the other day for the Rangers in the same game that he and Deslauriers put on a show, but he offers minimal offensive production from what he has shown so far. Despite this, if he maintains this level of aggression and continues to bring this aggressive edge to not only the Rangers but the entire league, Rempe should hopefully be signing a contract pretty soon.


He adds something to the sport that has been missing for years. As long as he keeps his aggression somewhat under control, and plays somewhat clean hockey, he should expect to spend at least the next few years in the league, protecting star players and bringing a level of toughness to a team and league that needs it.



 Edited By: Josh Reidelbach


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