Hockey tough guy Semenko dies at 59

In this Feb. 24, 1983, file photo, Edmonton Oilers' Dave Semenko makes a fist in front of a poster of boxer Muhammad Ali, in Edmonton. 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. (Charlie Palmer/The Canadian Press via AP)

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Dave Semenko, the Edmonton Oilers tough guy who protected Wayne Gretzky during the 1980s, has died.

He was 59.

He died in Edmonton after a short battle with cancer, the team said Thursday.

“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.

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.

“One of the first Oilers I met in 1978, I didn’t know at the time the impact he would have in my life and my career,” Gretzky said. “He was the toughest player I knew and yet the biggest teddy bear you would ever know. A beloved Oiler that will be missed dearly because of his kind heart and funny sense of humor. He made us all better people.”