There was sad news in Oil Country Thursday morning. The kind of news that makes complaining about trades and signings seem completely insignificant. Legendary Oilers enforcer Dave Semenko passed away from cancer at the far too young age of 59.
Semenko is widely regarded as the intimidating force that allowed the more offensively talented members of the ‘80s Oilers to operate freely, without fear of being intentionally injured by an opponent’s cheap-shot.
Semenko was an Oiler before Gretzky, Messier, or any other eventual Hall of Famer joined the team. He made the jump from junior, directly to the WHA, early in the 1977-78 season. Semenko scored ten goals and 15 points in his first seven games with the WCHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, during his age-20 season, before making the leap to the Oilers.
Semenko would go on to have an 11-year professional career, which included nine seasons in the NHL. He was also a member of the Oilers’ first two Stanley Cup winning teams.
The highlight of Semenko’s hockey career was likely the 1984 playoff run, which led to the Oilers’ first cup in team history. Semenko dressed for all 19 games during that cup run, and scored five goals, ten points and had 44 penalty minutes.
Semenko was much more known for his fighting than his offensive contributions. However, he never had 200 PIM in a single season, despite playing in an era when it was common for tough guys to rack up over 300 PIM a year.
Semenko was more of a bodyguard and less of a pure goon, compared to many of his contemporaries. He didn’t need to fight as often as many other 1980s enforcers, because his presence was considered intimidating enough to dissuade others from picking a fight with him, or doing something that would require him to fight them.
Perhaps the best testament to Semenko’s legacy, is that he was widely considered to be a great teammate by those who played with him. Furthermore, the way he performed his role as enforcer of those early 80s teams is considered by many fans to be the ultimate example of selflessness and bravery, sacrificing his body for the good of the team, so his teammates didn’t have to.
Rest in peace, Dave Semenko. You will be missed.