TOP 100 OILERS: DAVE SEMENKO (32)

Years before I arrived in Alberta late in 1989, I remember thinking while watching Dave Semenko pummel anybody who even looked at Wayne Gretzky wrong, “Man, that dude is big and tough and mean.” When we eventually met, up on the catwalk at Northlands Coliseum in a corner where smokers gathered, I remember thinking the same thing. “You can’t smoke up here,” Semenko said straight-faced as I lit up. I was just about to stub it out and go wipe my ass when he laughed and took a drag of his smoke.

Yes, Semenko was as big and tough and intimidating as they come during his years playing beat cop for Gretzky and the Oilers during their final days in the WHA and entry into the NHL, but mean? No, not really. As a player and then a broadcaster and Oiler scout in his post-playing days, Semenko had a sharp tongue and a dry sense of humor, which he happily unleashed on the unsuspecting, like the night we met in the press box. He was also, for my money, one of the top-three enforcers to ever ply his trade in the NHL.

Dave Semenko

Left Wing — shoots L

Born July 12, 1957 — Winnipeg, MAN  

Height 6.03 — Weight 215 [191 cm/98 kg]

Drafted by Minnesota North Stars

Round 2 #25 overall 1977 NHL Amateur Draft

Drafted by Houston Aeros

Round 2 #21 overall 1977 WHA Amateur Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

Lg

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1977-78

20

EDO

WHA

65

6

6

12

-4

140

47

12.8

1978-79

21

EDO

WHA

77

10

14

24

-12

158

56

17.9

1979-80

22

EDM

NHL

67

6

7

13

-13

135

43

14.0

1980-81

23

EDM

NHL

58

11

8

19

-4

80

42

26.2

1981-82

24

EDM

NHL

59

12

12

24

7

194

54

22.2

1982-83

25

EDM

NHL

75

12

15

27

19

141

69

17.4

1983-84

26

EDM

NHL

52

6

11

17

9

118

39

15.4

1984-85

27

EDM

NHL

69

6

12

18

5

172

50

12.0

1985-86

28

EDM

NHL

69

6

12

18

-1

141

51

11.8

1986-87

29

TOT

NHL

56

4

8

12

-7

87

32

12.5

1986-87

29

EDM

NHL

5

0

0

0

0

0

1

0.0

1986-87

29

HAR

NHL

51

4

8

12

-7

87

31

12.9

1987-88

30

TOR

NHL

70

2

3

5

-8

107

12

16.7

8 yrs

EDM

NHL

454

59

77

136

22

981

349

16.9

2 yrs

EDO

WHA

142

16

20

36

-16

298

103

15.5

1 yr

HAR

NHL

51

4

8

12

-7

87

31

12.9

1 yr

TOR

NHL

70

2

3

5

-8

107

12

16.7

Career

NHL

575

65

88

153

7

1175

392

16.6

Career

WHA

142

16

20

36

-16

298

103

15.5

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

Lg

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1977-78

20

EDO

WHA

5

0

0

0

-1

8

1978-79

21

EDO

WHA

11

4

2

6

3

29

1979-80

22

EDM

NHL

3

0

0

0

2

1980-81

23

EDM

NHL

8

0

0

0

5

1981-82

24

EDM

NHL

4

0

0

0

2

1982-83

25

EDM

NHL

15

1

1

2

69

1983-84

26

EDM

NHL

19

5

5

10

11

44

25

20.0

1984-85

27

EDM

NHL

14

0

0

0

2

39

5

0.0

1985-86

28

EDM

NHL

6

0

0

0

0

32

1

0.0

1986-87

29

HAR

NHL

4

0

0

0

1

15

0

Career

NHL

73

6

6

12

14

208

31

16.1

Career

WHA

16

4

2

6

2

37

NOTABLE

Semenko

For those too young to remember Semenko during his playing days with the Oilers, here’s a clip of when the Battle of Alberta with the Calgary Flames really was a battle. When things got goofy against the Flames, as they often did, you didn’t have to look far to find Semenko. Sammy’s fistic handiwork in games against Calgary, particularly in scraps with Tim Hunter, was epic.

Semenko was also a central figure as the upstart Oilers of the early 1980s bumped up against the powerhouses of the day, the New York Islanders, eventually claiming Edmonton’s first Stanley Cup in 1984, ending a string of four straight Cups by the Islanders. I’ll never forget Semenko going after Billy Smith or his dismantling of Gary Howatt.

Teammate Kevin Lowe, who had a front row seat for Sammy’s tenure in Edmonton from start to finish, summed up Semenko this way: “He was in a class of his own. He didn’t beat guys up, he destroyed them. He employed a combination of sheer strength, sheer power, and sheer quickness, but mostly power. He wasted players with just two or three punches.” And Semenko did it during an era when the rosters of opposing teams were loaded with a depth of toughness we don’t see today.

THE STORY

Semenko

The Oilers of the Boys on the Bus era weren’t only known as having some of the best players in the game – Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and the rest – they had a string of guys who ranked among the toughest in the league at any given time like Semenko, Kevin McClelland, Marty McSorley and Dave Brown. I don’t think, given how the game was played then, that’s a coincidence.

Gretzky and the other future HHOF players on those great Oiler teams have said more than once in the years since the glory days they were able to do what they did because guys like Semenko took care of their end of the game – the fighting, the intimidating, the bloody knuckles work. That role doesn’t hold the same importance now, but it damn sure did then. I really can’t think of anybody who understood his role better than Semenko, who chronicled his career in the book Looking Out For Number One.

Semenko won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers, in 1984 and 1985. Even in retirement as a player, intimidation was part of Semenko’s game as a member of Edmonton’s scouting staff. When the Oilers hockey-ops staff would interview prospects leading into the Entry Draft, they’d often have Semenko lean in with a question or two to see if the kid got rattled. “Why should we draft you?” Kind of like “You can’t smoke up here.” I’m guessing most of the kids did better than I did.

This series will look at the top 100 Edmonton Oilers from the NHL era 1979-80 to 2014-15, starting with 100 and working up. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

PREVIOUSLY:

    • @Hallsy4

      I agree. Hockey is for sissy’s now, unfortunately. Tough and toughish guys are getting phased out of the game. Lucic, Kassian, Nurse and Hendo are a rare dying breed. I wouldn’t be suprised if everyone has to wear a full cage like the NCAA in 15 or 20 years. Bettman is ruining the game. With the diving and the way the game is going, lots of younger guys are whiny babies. It’s only going to get worse, it’s sickening. A guy like Johnny hockey or EBS would have had no chance to be in the league in the 80’s, unless they played like Fleury or the like. Hockey is no longer a tough sport by any means in my opinion. Almost like watching Soccer.

  • @Hallsy4

    Fighting is more or less out of Jr A now, and I’d guess the WHL will eventually follow. Attendance at Jr A games in most cities I believe is way down. The economy gets some blame deservedly so, but I think a lot of fans don’t go because they games aren’t exciting anymore. No fights, teams don’t dislike each other as much as they used to. Heck, there’s barely even hitting anymore because of the way the rules are. Whether fighting in hockey is good or bad is debatable for sure. I understand both sides of the argument. Fans as a whole like watching fighting though, it makes the game more exciting. If hockey keeps going the way of the SISSY, I wouldn’t be suprised if Junior teams start folding due to lack of support, as the games are now a snooze fest.

  • The older I get, the better I was...

    You reference it, but my favourite memory is still the Billy Smith event. Smith gave big Dave a whack, like he’d been doing to everyone, and Dave turned around and punched him in the head so hard his helmet exploded off his head. EPIC!

  • Spydyr

    I miss old time hockey and Semenko was a beaut.

    One of my favourite memories of big Dave starts with him on a two on one with Gretzky. Semenko is so focused on a possible pass from Gretz that he skates forehead first into the crossbar. Now this was before magnets and those old posts do not give much. Semenko gets knocked down but bounces right back up and makes a beeline to the bench. Even iron could not knock old Cementhead out.

  • positivebrontefan

    “I was just about to stub it out and go wipe my ass when he laughed and took a drag of his smoke.”

    Loved this. Sounds like a heart jump into your throat as your stomach was going the other way kind of a moment.

    Kevin McClelland was one of my favorites growing up. I picked #24 because of him as a kid. Never quite grew big enough to fit the profile though.

  • Cletus Spuckler

    This is what the Oilers need more of, in game retribution for liberties taken with Star players (read McDavid). Love that MacT and Lumley teamed up to give it back to Taylor in an even dirtier fashion than the original cheap shot. That’s team toughness!

    https://youtu.be/WWwotOz3dN0

    Yes, I am a dinosaur an this is not what happens in the No Hit League any more, but it sure was a lot more entertaining and took care of the cowards when they had to answer for their actions.

  • @Hallsy4

    What years was Semenko a scout? Judging by results, the scouting staff as a whole did not do a good job in the past. To me, the organization was mickey mouse from around 2000 until recently with the exception of a couple months in 2006. Friends doing friends favors, only watching players that were convenient, resulted in 10 years with no playoffs. Let’s hope Chia gets away from that business.

  • T Ambrosini

    I have a collection of game worn Oilers jerseys… My Semenko jersey is the only one that is framed and hanging in the Man Cave on permanent display. Hard to ignore the effect of having a nuclear deterrent or two on your bench in that era.

    I’m really enjoying this series of Oilers bios!

  • fran huckzky

    Sammy could play the game. He had a real good shot and was a fast skater except he could only go in a straight line. He was nicknamed cementhead but he was no fool. I like to think it was because he could take a punch before delivering two and ending it. Definitely he deserves to be mentioned when discussing all time Oilers. Thanks Robin.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Sammy didn’t win them all. As a rookie he took a run at Mark Howe, as the play went the other way Semenko was down in the corner as Gordie slowly skated away.

      Best fight he did win was against Ron Delorme; hit him so hard that Delorme’s helmet popped straight up 10 feet. Like Rockem Sockem Robots, he knocked his block off.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    So many great Oilers. Hard to believe he’s 32 on the list.

    What a role playing, heart and soul guy he was. The stuff cups are made of.

    I owe my handle to him.

  • KevCantDance

    If Semenko was playing now, he would never fight, because he would never have to. There would be ZERO (sane) takers for him from todays players. Well, there would be one…then none.

  • O.C.

    Met Dave a couple weeks back for the first time. I expressed my immense pride and respect for who he was and what he means (yes still) to the organization.

    He is really and truly a class act, and bleeds Oil.

    I tried to find the story online of a game I remember where he skated by the bench after everyone on the other team was berating him for laying a beating on someone who frankly deseved it. I’m sure it was Detroit, but it might have been the WHA and the Jets.

    Anyway, if I remember right, it was Mr. Semenko who skated by the bench, picked up a glove from the other team, and threw it like a fastball, hitting the Head Coach in the head. Might have been Tom McVie? Maybe I’m confused.

    Anyway, here’s a 13 year old post I found that gave insight on the fights. The early Gretzky years are amazing.

    http://www.hockey-fights.com/forum/showtopic.php?tid/250134/post/250521/

    I have him in the top 20 all time.

  • XL Lebowski

    I was fortunate to play goal and go as high as College and AAA Senior hockey. I was afforded the luxury of playing against many guys who either played in the NHL or were on their way there. In my younger years, I was on the ice at a hockey school with Sammy and I asked him to shoot as hard as he could from over the blue line. After getting tired of me bugging him, he relented and let a slap shot go that physically hurt me…and I was in Jr. at the time. I never faced a shot that hard from anyone ever. Although he didn’t shoot as hard as Chara, he still had a tremendous shot–a really heavy slap shot. Sometimes I feel Semeko’s skill gets overlooked by his ability to fight. He deserves a high ranking.