As the nickname suggests, he was a tough customer in his day. He regularly was among the penalty minute leaders wherever he played. And he was big. Very big. The defenseman stood 6'1", which in the 1930s and 1940s had him towering above many players. He weighed in around 250 pounds!
The hefty Hibbing, Minnesota native mostly played for teams in Minnesota, such as the Hibbing Maroons/Miners, Minneapolis Millers, and, for four seasons, the Saint Paul Saints.
Though he was noted for his size, the big man could skate and liked to rush the puck, much to the excitement of the fans. He once even finished second in a state speed skating championship.
Art Ross was impressed. He invited Bretto to the Boston Bruins training camp in 1934, but he would have to wait another decade before making his NHL debut.
In 1942 Bretto hung up his skates and reportedly was working in the iron ore mines up north. But he made an unlikely return in 1945. The Chicago Black Hawks of the National Hockey League signed Bretto - who was reportedly slim and trim at 225lbs at this stage - to start the season as a depth defenseman. However after only three games played (and two minor penalties taken) Bretto was done and soon re-retired.
Bretto returned to Hibbing where he ran his own mining equipment sales company. He was also known for breeding show horses and for racing cars.
Joe Bretto died in Hibbing, Minnesota in 2007. He was 94 years old.