Dave Semenko, at 59; Gretzky’s on-ice enforcer

FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2016, file photo, former Edmonton Oilers hockey players Wayne Gretzky, left, and Dave Semenko joke around during a practice for the NHL's Heritage Classic Alumni game in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Former Edmonton Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko, who protected Wayne Gretzky in the 1980s, has died. He was 59. The Oilers say Semenko died after a short battle with cancer. A team spokesman said Semenko died in Edmonton. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
AP FILE/2016
Mr. Semenko (right) and Wayne Gretzky shared a joke during a practice for an old-timers’ game in Winnipeg.

EDMONTON, Alberta — Dave Semenko, the Edmonton Oilers tough guy who protected Wayne Gretzky during the 1980s, died in Edmonton after a short battle with cancer, the team said Thursday. He was 59.

‘‘His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor,’’ the Oilers said in a statement.

Mr. Semenko was the bodyguard for ‘‘The Great One’’ for parts of 10 seasons with the Oilers in the World Hockey Association and NHL. He helped Edmonton win the Stanley Cup in 1984 and 1985.


In an era where hulking enforcers roamed the ice alongside the league’s top stars, Mr. Semenko was one of the toughest. And he had plenty of competition, often going toe-to-toe with the likes of Bob Probert, Basil McRae, and Tim Hunter, who served a similar role for the rival Flames.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Oilers executive Kevin Lowe, a star defenseman on Edmonton’s Stanley Cup champion squads, called Mr. Semenko the ‘‘Wayne Gretzky of the tough guys’’ in his book ‘‘Champions.’’

Mr. Semenko spent the bulk of his career with the Oilers, finishing with the Hartford Whalers and Toronto Maple Leafs. The 6-foot-3 winger from Winnipeg had 65 goals, 88 assists, and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 regular-season NHL games.

He had six goals and six assists in 73 playoff games.

‘‘I loved Semenk like we all did,’’ said Hall of Famer Mark Messier, a longtime teammate. ‘‘He was a great teammate, a loyal friend, a loving father, and a worthy champion.’’