The NHL has definitely had it’s fare share of hated tough guys and Red Horner was one of the most noteworthy ones of the 30s. Horner, born in 1909, began his career playing for the Toronto Marlboros in the late 20s before beginning his NHL career in 1928 for the Maple Leafs. Horner was a reasonably big man at 6’0″ and 190 lbs and he took full advantage of his size. The defender didn’t manage any points in the 22 games of his rookie season, but he did make an impression with 30 PIM in those games. Fortunately, in an era where very few defensemen scored bundles of points, Horner’s lack of production was acceptable given his role. The 1928-29 season was also a famously defensive one with goaltenders setting many records still not beaten today.
The following season was one in which Horner began to take on a more active role with the Leafs. He played in 33 games and managed 9 points. Along with that, Horner also managed to rack up 96 PIM. Still a young man, the Leafs were patient with Horner as they knew he had much to learn at just 20 years old. Horner played 42 games in the 1930-31 season and set career highs with 11 assists and 12 points. A switch seemed to flick for Horner in the 1931-32 season as he exploded with 7 goals and a new best of 16 points in 42 games, tying Horner for 5th in both assists and points among defensemen. Horner finished the season off with a Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs after they swept the Rangers in the Finals.
For the first time in his career, Horner played every game in the 1932-33 season, all 48 games. This enabled Horner more opportunities to play rough and his PIM rocketed to 144, the highest the league had seen in five years and the third highest total all-time. Horner’s 1933-34 season was a very dramatic one. In December, teammate Ace Bailey was checked by Eddie Shore, causing Bailey to convulse and lose consciousness. Standing up for his teammate, Horner clocked Shore, who was a big man himself, and knocked him out cold. Horner would later go on to play in the Ace Bailey Benefit game that season, the beginnings of the annual All-Star games the NHL now has.
Horner would finish the season with career highs of 11 goals, 21 points, and 146 PIM. Horner finished at 5th in points and tied for third in goals among defenders while also leading the league in PIM for the second straight season. The next three seasons for Horner were relatively uneventful, with similar offensive totals of 11-12 points and leading the league in PIM during all three seasons. The 1935-36 season saw Horner managed 167 PIM, just two PIM above the record set by Eddie Shore almost ten years prior. That record would stand for 20 seasons until Lou Fontinato broke it in a 70-game season. Horner surprised the league in 1937-38 by assisting on 20 goals and scoring 24 points, good for 1st in assists and 2nd in points among all defensemen. This was also the first season after five in a row in which Horner did not lead the NHL in PIM.
In 1938, Horner was given the captaincy with the departure of Charlie Conacher. Horner returned more to his old ways, leading the NHL in PIM but still finishing 4th among defensemen in assists. Horner’s playstyle did not lend itself to a long career, and his last season would be the 1939-40 season, despite being only 30 years old. Horner led the league in PIM for one last time, with 87 PIM in just 31 games.
Horner retired with 1254 PIM in 490 games. His PIM total stood as the all-time record for 17 years until Gus Mortson surpassed it in the mid 50s. Horner remained the Leafs all-time PIM leader until Tim Horton surpassed him in the late 60s. Not just a penalty minute hog, Horner also retired as the all-time assists leader among defensemen for the Leafs and second in points. His all-time assist total of 110 assists was top of the charts until passed 12 seasons later. Horner was one of the longest living NHL stars, living for almost 96 years before passing away in 2005. Horner was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965.