Each year the NHL recognizes the most gentlemanly player in the league with the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. The New York Rangers’ Frank Boucher won it seven times in eight years. Wayne Gretzky captured it five times and Red Kelly four. But if the league ever decided to single out the all-time cleanest player in the game, I would nominate an unheralded former Red Wing, forward Val Fonteyne. Many fans won’t remember him but in my book he’ll forever reign as “Mr. Clean.”
Let’s check the facts. During one stretch in his 13 year NHL career, beginning in 1959-60, Fonteyne played in 185 consecutive games without serving any time in the penalty box. Later he compiled a second streak of 157 penalty-free games. Now there’s a player who never hooked, held, grabbed or clutched.
I recall Fonteyne as being a swift, lightweight winger–about 5’9”, 155 lbs. who excelled as a penalty killer in his Detroit days. He also played with the Rangers and the Penguins. In the course of his 820 NHL games he spent a grand total of 26 minutes in the box. Compare that to tough guy Randy Holt who once took 67 penalty minutes in one period! Or Chris Nilan, who once took ten penalties in one game! Or Tiger Williams who holds the record for most penalty minutes in a career–3,966 minutes.
Fonteyne is the only player to complete three consecutive seasons without taking a single minor penalty and the only one to record five penalty-free seasons during his career. Fight? Nah. Because he never fought, he never served a major penalty. Not one.
How come he never won the Lady Byng, you ask? Because there’s a proviso. The trophy goes to a player who is not only a gentleman but one who combines good conduct with a high standard of play. Top penalty killers are always overshadowed by top scorers. Fonteyene was in his 10th NHL season before scoring more than 10 goals. He scored 12 with the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins.
With today’s tighter refereeing, the game may never see another perfect gentleman like Val Fonteyne.