By Brian D’Ambrosio
Ed Kastelic was a fervent 20-year-old winger when he made his NHL debut as a Washington Capital, a December 5, 1985 contest against the St, Louis Blues. Two days later he picked up his first fighting major against Vancouver Canucks’ well-prepared enforcer Glen Cochrane. Soon, he was challenging the positions of perennially top-notch heavyweights such as Dave Brown, Larry Playfair, and Joe Paterson.
Breaking Into The NHL 1985
“I was pretty well established in my role in junior hockey,” said Kastelic, who appeared in 220 regular season NHL games with the Washington Capitals and Hartford Whalers from 1985 to 1992, tallying 719 penalty minutes, 11 goals, 10 assists, and 21 total points.
“I went up against guys like Joey Kocur and Craig Coxe in the minors. And when I broke into the NHL, it was a much different game. There were more melees, and the games were more unpredictable. At the time Dave Brown was a rather seasoned fighter, and he was one of the most feared intimidators in hockey. He was a lefty and had a lot going for him. So I had to be mentally prepared as a 20-year-old to go against him and others. It was unnerving at times.”
As an unknown and aspiring NHL tough guy, Kastelic supplied the Capitals with grit and tenacity upfront and locked horns with some of era’s legendarily difficult enforcers, including Jay Miller and Dave Brown. At a game on October 16, 1987, against the Hartford Whalers, Kastelic tussled with Dave “’Tiger” Williams (1974-1988), a player in the twilight of a penalty-fueled career (he remains the NHL’s all-time penalty getter with 3,966 minutes), who Kastelic idolized as a teenager.
“I remember watching him play on television and even meeting him when I was a kid,” said Kastelic. “There was a bit of a scrum and he grabbed me around the face. I remember his glove aggressively washing my face and my instincts kicked in. I knew my role and we ended up going at it. In something of a surreal moment, I recall sitting on him, and looking face-to-face with ‘Tiger’ Williams. Years later, I ran into him after he had retired, and we said hello.”’
Washington shipped Kastelic and Grant Jennings to Hartford in exchange for Mike Millar and Neil Sheehy on July 6, 1988. Kastelic still holds the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes team record for most penalty minutes in one game. Kastelic amassed 42 penalty minutes against the Minnesota North Stars, November 10, 1990: he was assessed a minor, two majors (for a pair of fights verse Shane Churla and Mark Tinordi), a 10-minute misconduct and two game misconducts. “I honestly don’t remember the details. The North Stars were one of the toughest teams in hockey then, with (Basil) McRae and Churla.”
Hartford Whalers Days
“Hartford was a great place,” said Kastelic. “At Hartford, I tried to get better at my craft and get more technical. I studied guys and opponents as I got older. There is an art, skill, craft, and special mentality to hockey fighting. I really tried in Hartford to improve at my craft and improve my overall skills too.”
The path of the NHL tough guy is often potholed with bruises and X-rays. Kastelic missed the start of 1990-91 season with a cracked rib from a punch by Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Craig Berube, sustained during a preseason game in October 1990. “I liked the way Craig Berube played the game,” said Kastelic. “He was a tough guy in the old tradition, and he caught me with a hard shot in the ribs. I hadn’t realized how hard the punch was until the following morning when I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Over the course of the 1989-1990 (dressed in a career-high 67 games), 1990-1991 (registered a career-high 211 penalty minutes in 45 games) seasons, Kastelic picked up 32 fighting majors against many of the league’s most daunting resident tough guys, including Tony Twist, Ken Baumgartner, Craig Berube, Darin Kimble and Todd Ewen.
“Guys like Baumgartner played their way and I played my way,” said Kastelic. “Meetings were inevitable. It was an exciting time and era for me. I really respected those players and respected the business of fighting. It’s its own unique fraternity.”
Kastelic was suspended by the NHL for 10 games in 1990-91 for coming off the bench during a line change to fight Mike Peluso. During the first period of Hartford’s Feb. 10, 1991, game against Chicago, Kastelic came onto the ice for a line change after teammate Jim McKenzie scrapped with Blackhawk’s center Adam Creighton. Before the puck was dropped for the ensuing faceoff, Peluso – who was already on the ice – and Kastelic dropped the mitts.
“That suspension was more of an odd technicality than anything else,” said Kastelic. “It happened right after a television commercial and Peluso was on the ice after McKenzie got the better of the first scrap. I was put out there with Ron Francis and Pat Verbeek, and I knew what to expect. Peluso started it and I obliged him. In fact, he more or less lunged at me. With the suspension, I lost a lot of my momentum as a player at the most important part of the season.”
Kastelic also sat out three other games during the 1990-91 season as automatic suspensions for having taken too many game misconduct penalties. After playing in only 25 games for the Whalers in 1991-92, Kastelic signed with Los Angeles as a free agent. He never played for the parent club, courtesy of the knee injury he suffered during the Kings’ 1992 training camp. “I was coming across the blue line and I took a low check to the knee. I heard the pop of torn ligaments.”
Kastelic never played another game in the NHL. After playing for teams in Slovenia, Germany and the AHL, he retired from professional hockey, and moved to Arizona, where he works as a youth hockey coach and physical fitness instructor. He cultivated a fitness program based on European and Russian training methods he noted while playing in eastern Europe.
“I have a patent on a multi-configurable fitness training tool,” said Kastelic. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll become independently wealthy because of it and then retire.”
Physical, Character Player
Ed Kastelic was a reliable role player, a determined fourth-liner who stuck to the integrity of the NHL heavyweight’s traditional function and responsibility. Despite the league’s obsessive rule clampdown on the brand of physicality that made players such as Kastelic valuable, NHL fans articulate nightly that they like a good, honest donnybrook. That enjoyment of hockey fights is often superseded by the fans’ esteem for players of Kastelic’s variety – resolute battlers who have been disappearing from league rosters over the past ten to fifteen years.
“In my opinion, the game could use more really physical, character players,” said Kastelic. “It could use more of the tougher, role players common when I played the game.”
About the Author: Lifelong hockey fan Brian D'Ambrosio lives in Missoula, Montana. His latest book about the life of Montana boxer "Indian" Marvin Camel is due out in mid-2013. D'Ambrosio writes widely for multiple publications. D'Ambrosio has worked as a marketing and media consultant to newspapers, businesses, and magazines, as a social media manager and instructor, and as a journalist. D'Ambrosio's book about the lives, fights, and careers of some of the toughest guys in the NHL, titled 'Warriors on the Ice,' will be available in December 2013.