EDMONTON, Alberta — 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.

In an era where hulking enforcers roamed the ice alongside the league’s top stars, 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.

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

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, 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.”