Biting the hand: An NHL tradition

Vancouver forward Alex Burrows is the latest NHLer to be embroiled in a Bitegate incident. We provide a list of not very toothsome displays stretching back decades.
Did he or didn't he? Vancouver's Alex Burrows, left, stands accused of biting the finger of Boston centre Patrice Bergeron. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The beginning of the Stanley Cup Final had some bite to it, with an eventful first game that included allegations from Boston centre Patrice Bergeron that Vancouver forward Alex Burrows put teeth to his finger during a scrum.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the notable incidents in NHL hockey where allegations of biting surfaced.

The incidents at first glace seem to increase in recent years, but it would probably be a mistake to presume biting is a new phenomenon. In the Original Six era, hawk-eyed fans weren't taking to the internet after rewinding their DVRs to point out incidents after seeing multiple angles provided by broadcasters presenting each and every game played, which numbered in total to about a quarter of today's slate.

In those relative hand-to-mouth days for NHL players, something tells us the sandpaper likes of Ted Lindsay and Lou Fontinato probably experienced a scrum somewhere along the way that left someone champing at the bit.

Old-time hockey

The 1977 first-round playoff series between Atlanta and Los Angeles got a bit out of hand, devolving into the kind of shenanigans depicted in a feature film released just six weeks earlier, Slapshot.

During one game at the old Omni, Atlanta players Willi Plett and Dave Shand and Kings forward Dave (The Hammer) Schultz were all given the gate, according to wire reports, after engaging in the Trifecta of 1970s NHL fighting: biting, scratching, and hair pulling. (For the youngsters out there, yes, grown men often used to pull each other's hair in hockey fights back then).

Schultz's later comments arguably had more teeth as he deemed the Flames, "pansies on the road, brave at home."

The Kings eliminated the Pans-, er Flames, in three games.

Apparently not road roommates

Boston Bruins centre Ken (The Rat) Linseman was fined — only fined! — for allegedly biting and leaving teeth marks on the cheek of Edmonton Oilers captain Lee Fogolin.

Linesman and Fogolin dropped the gloves twice that night. The game in question was on Oct. 16, 1984.

Just five months earlier, the pair were teammates.

If you can't bite 'em, join 'em

More recently, the opposite dynamic from Linesman-Fogolin played itself out in the state of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Arron Asham claimed after a January 2010 contest that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke bit him, which raised the question of which of Cooke's three teeth were used in the attack.

Much like boxers who hug each other after raining concussive blows on each other for 12 rounds, Asham and Cooke were able in training camp eight months later to put actions and recriminating words like "garbage" and "chicken" behind them.

As an aside, the alleged incident occurred on a Sunday afternoon, which strangely seems to be like a full moon for Cooke, a player many feel is as subtle as a werewolf on the ice.

Other afternoon delights from the Cooke canon: The end of Marc Savard's career as we knew it, and a knee-on-knee tango with Alex Ovechkin. 

Dave Manson, then with Montreal, contemplates what infraction to commit against San Jose's Mike Ricci, left, during a 1997 game. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Helter Skelter

Dave Manson of Chicago was given a three-game sitdown for biting Washington defenceman Scott Stevens in a Feb. 27, 1990, contest. Manson arguably had a defence: Stevens was given three games himself for an enthusiastic gouging of Manson's eye.

Manson apparently fell into recidivism in a 2000 pre-season game while with Toronto, with the end result being a tetanus shot for Detroit forward Martin Lapointe.

Manson was notorious for going over the edge, but that's not exclusive to so-called "goons." One of today's more skilful players has also been tagged with the repeat offender label.

Marc Savard was suspended for biting Darcy Tucker in 2003 and was accused of the same crime seven years later while with Boston by Philadelphia choirboy Dan Carcillo.

The Big 'B'

If you drew up a list of 10 players most hated by fans circa 1997, Philadephia's Eric Lindros and Marty McSorley would probably be featured.

They paired off in a tussle that year while McSorley was with the Sharks, but the league ultimately cleared Lindros of allegations of biting.

2005-2010: The Golden Era of NHL biting

Getting away with a chew or two proved more difficult as every bit of every game was now scrutinized, it seemed.

One couldn't help recall the old chestnut from Hee Haw between Grandpa and Junior.

Junior:  "I found my wife in bed with another man"

Grandpa: "Bitter?"

Junior: "Yeah … bit him, too."

Frankly we don't have the stomach to digest every little morsel in specific detail, but here's a menu of some of the items.

Scott Hartnell, PHI Kris Letang, PIT 
Derian Hatcher, Travis Zajac, NJ 
Brooks Laich, WAS Sean Avery, NYR 
Shaone Morrisonn, WAS Brandon Dubinksy, NYR
Jarkko Ruutu, OTT Andrew Peters, BUF
Jordin Tootoo, NAS  Tyler Wright, CLB 


  • Ruutu was suspended two games.
  • Re: Avery-Laich: The Washington Post produced a photo from the same game that appeared to show Avery with the jersey of Matt Hendricks in his mouth.
  • Hatcher expressed his version of regret, saying Zajac's glove entered his mouth and caught his eye tooth: "If he's cut, good, but I didn't bite him."

Coming clean (sorta)

In the wake of the Ruutu-Peters incident, NHL greybeard Chris Chelios showed courage by admitting to his own canine culpability ... in an incident that occurred about 15 years earlier.

"I bit Tomas Sandstrom when I was in Montreal," Chelios told the Detroit News. "We were in a fight and he tried to gouge my eyes. It was just a natural instinct to do that.

"Plus the fact it was him."