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August 24, 2015

Paul Baxter

Defenseman Paul Baxter once scored nine goals and 43 points, but the most amazing number he posted was his league-leading penalty minute total - 409!

409 penalty minutes is as amazing as it is scary as it is seemingly impossible. It is the second highest single season penalty minute total in history. And he still had time to score 43 points despite spending nearly seven hours in the penalty box.

Baxter fought sixteen times that season. Tiger Williams. Behn Wilson. Chris Nilan. Nick Fotiu. He took on hockey's toughest competitors, all in the name of team.

Baxter would total more than 2500 penalty minutes and well over 70 fights in a twelve year career - eight in the NHL and four in the World Hockey Association.

But for all those infractions, Baxter was never truly considered to be one of hockey's heavyweight villain but more of a disturber. He was really good at getting under people's skin but as a fighter he was better at receiving punches than giving them.

"I always played a pretty aggressive game and I was able to skate pretty well and I think I initiated a lot of contact with some pretty hard open ice hits," he said.

One thing that bothered Baxter - a lot - was being called a goon.

"The thing that bothers me the most is being clumped in with the 'goons.' That bothers me immensely. I'm afraid word is getting out. Baxter's a goon."

He may not have liked it, but it's not hard to see how he earned it.

He once infuriated Chris Nilan so badly that Nilan threw a puck at him from the penalty box, cutting him open. Needing stitches Baxter went to the medical room, only to find Nilan trying to get past security to get at Baxter!

Fortunately security kept that situation under control. But it goes to show how made opponents could get at a super pest like Baxter.

He also developed a reputation as a stick man. Just ask Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, who took several cross checks and high sticks from Baxter.

"He can do all those things with his stick but he won't fight back," Holmgren said.

Holmgren was so frustrated that he slugged referee Andy Van Hellemond, resulting in a weak five game suspension.

"I wound up hitting Andy because I was frustrated at not being able get back at Baxter."

Shortly thereafter, Baxter had Barry Beck of the New York Rangers all riled up.

"Baxter cut Jere Gillis for five stitches on the shift before, then he tried to spear Eddie Johnstone in the face. Eddie didn't even see it. He was skating to the bench and had his back turned to Baxter.

These incidents definitely gave him a reputation as a very dirty player - which did not sit well with Baxter.

"It's very disappointing and, to be honest, it's been depressing. It's bother me a lot and it's not the sort of thing I want to be known for," said Baxter back in 1981.

"I'm not saying I'm an angel. I like to play aggressive. God's blessed me with that quality that I can play aggressively. I like to play aggressively but I don't like some of the antics that have gone on this year. That's not my style."

"That's something I'm not very proud of, I'll tell you right now. It's something I'm ashamed of. That's not the way I play. I don't want the stigma of being known as a goon, because I'm not that type of player. I'm not."

But when it came right down to it, Baxter was not too apologetic about the way he played.

"It's disappointing to be labeled a troublemaker. I play aggressively and if that bothers some people, so what? That kind of criticism doesn't bother me."

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