Hockey Fights
Screenshot: Bleacher Report Youtube

Towering Rookie Notches Three Epic Fights In His First Five Games

The New York Rangers‘ 21-year-old rookie Matt Rempe is an imposing figure on the ice. Standing at 6’7″ (and that’s without skates) and 240 pounds, he casts an intimidating presence whenever he hops over the bench. While he has shown a moderate scoring touch in the minors, it’s no secret that the Rangers called him up to the NHL not for his scoring prowess, but for his physicality.

Rempe made his NHL debut under a pretty glaring spotlight: the NHL Stadium Series game, outdoors and under the lights, against the New York Islanders on February 18. And he did not disappoint. A few seconds into his first shift as an NHL player, Rempe squared off against the Isles’ veteran enforcer Matt Martin.

From that moment, a legend was born.

Rempe Drops The Gloves Twice More In His Next Four Games

Rempe quickly became the talk of the hockey world after his debut and follow-up fights against Mathieu Olivier of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nicolas Deslauriers of the Philadelphia Flyers. But it wasn’t just that he was fighting. It was the nature of the fights.

Most hockey fans are familiar with how the majority of fights go in the NHL in 2024. The players drop the gloves, they trade a few blows, and then they lock up so the linesmen can separate them. This is not how Matt Rempe’s fights go. They last for minutes and they are true brawls.

Even ESPN announcer Sean McDonough was floored at the fight with Deslauriers, exclaiming, “I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a scrap like that.”

The fight with Olivier was no less brutal. And even though Olivier got the better of Rempe during that scrap, it was very clear that both players were looking forward to the bout.

There’s no question that Rempe very quickly has become a folk hero among hockey fans. He has even talked about how some fans have come up to him wearing fake “black eyes” to honor his on-ice antics.

Even Nick Fotiu, a Rangers folk hero from the 70s and 80s, also known for his fighting, took notice of young Rempe. “He’s made a name right away. When they play Washington, I don’t think [Tom] Wilson will do s–t against this kid. He’s young, he’s hungry and he’s going to say nobody is going to push the Rangers around while I’m here.”

Is Rempe Good Or Bad For The Game?

While fans love the physicality and energy Rempe brings to the Rangers, some have questioned whether his presence is good for the NHL and the overall game of hockey.

It should be noted that fighting is not all that Rempe does on the ice. In his brief couple of weeks in the NHL, he also has scored a game-winning goal (against the Flyers) and an assist. He has a positive plus/minus rating — an important measuring stick that all players use to gauge their benefit to their team. On the other hand, he also received a match penalty 13 seconds into one game for an illegal hit to the head of the New Jersey Devils’ Nathan Bastian.

Matt Rempe Levels Nathan Bastian With An Illegal Hit To The Head
Matt Rempe Levels Nathan Bastian With An Illegal Hit To The Head (Credit: Screenshot – Sportskeeda)

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In a recent profile about Rempe, the Wall Street Journal (yes, that’s how big a name for himself that Rempe has quickly made), outlined both the positives and negatives of Rempe’s impact:

“This might be not correct to say anymore,” Rangers left winger Jimmy Vesey said, “but I think people like violence.”

Hockey doesn’t feature nearly as much as violence as it used to, making Rempe a rare representative of a dying breed. In 1990, there was nearly one fight per game in the NHL, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a contest devolve into a series of retaliatory throw-downs. This season, there has been roughly one fight every four games.

In previous decades, players like Rempe could forge entire NHL careers on the basis of their willingness to frequently thump opponents on the head. Not anymore.

The result is a game that revolves much more around speed than power, but Rempe is a throwback. He’s so big and strong that he can make his NHL name—for a short time, at least—on the strength of his ability to intimidate.

The Value Of An Enforcer

Fighting does serve a strategic purpose in hockey. It is usually not just fighting for fighting’s sake, something non-fans never seem to understand. First of all, players rarely get seriously injured in fights, so it is (mostly) harmless. It also serves as a rallying point to energize a team (not to mention fans) if they may be struggling. Finally, fighting does provide a warning to other teams not to target star players.

The NHL surely does not want to bring back fighting the way it was in the 70s, reminiscent of Slapshot. But Rempe has shown there is still a place for enforcers in the game … assuming they can also play.

It remains to be seen whether Rempe has the skill to stay in the league. The Rangers are in first place in their division and poised for a Stanley Cup playoff run. Rempe will only make that run with them if he contributes more than fan-favorite fights.

For now, he is just enjoying every minute he can in the league. “I’m getting to live my dream playing in the NHL. Got a goal, got an assist, winning hockey games, had some good fights and I’m just playing hard. It’s been good.”

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