For those who were disappointed by NHL refs putting the kibosh on Marc-Andre Fleury and Peter Budaj’s attempted goalie scrap the other night, here’s some advice: If you want to see men wearing comically large pads throw punches at each other, go find the nearest AHL franchise.
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Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella had to be restrained from going into the Calgary Flames’ locker room after a heated first period on Saturday.
A full-scaled donnybrook ensued after Flames coach Bob Hartley submitted his starting lineup of Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler and Brian McGrattan, a trio not necessarily known for its goal-scoring prowess. Tortorella responded by sending out Dale Weise, Tom Sestito and Kellan Lain, a threesome with a similar pugilistic skill set.
As soon as the puck dropped to open the game, a line brawl broke out with all 10 skaters joining in the fracas, which resulted in eight ejections and 152 penalty minutes. Tortorella was leaning over his bench toward the visiting Flames, screaming at Hartley, who did not respond.
At 20 games, give or take, into the 2013-14 regular season, it can’t hurt to pause for a bit of reflection on what’s come to pass so far.
We’ve already cast a cold, clear, beady eye at the players who have established themselves as the front-runners for the major NHL awards, so now we’re moved to assess those who have notably stepped up on the ice and in the front office during the early going…and some who were stepped upon.
What a great day it was for the anti-fighting brigade.
On Friday, Flyers goalie Ray Emery chummed the waters with his vicious assault on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. The one-sided bout sent the small but vocal group (mostly media-based) that is opposed to brawling into a frenzy of grandstanding and virtual ink spilling, not just about the beating, but also about the NHL’s inability, or unwillingness, to sanction Emery for his dirty deed.
The indignation pretty much leapt off of pages. On Twitter, Kevin Dupont, of The Boston Globe wrote, “NHL Player Safety has made huge strides last 2 yrs. It cannot allow Emery to skate on his Holtby beatdown. Travesty.”
“I love hockey, but the disgrace in Philly last night is a perfect example of why, to millions of people, the NHL is not a serious pro sport,” offered Steve Maich, the publisher and editor of Sportsnet.
They’re right to be appalled by this incident, of course. As far as optics go, watching one man pummel an entirely unwilling opponent is about as bad as it gets. Even a fighting advocate like myself is not conflicted on this point.
Emery vs. Holtby wasn’t what Brian Burke would have called a good fight. It wasn’t about accountability or The Code. It was about one frustrated man who had allowed four goals on 15 shots taking out his embarrassment on another player who wanted no part of it.
So yeah, it was a “bad” fight. And it might even precipitate a rule change, much the way Matt Cooke’s head shot on a defenseless Marc Savard led to new guidelines dictating where a player can and cannot be hit.
If you’re considering entering the NHL’s great fighting debate, save your breath for the eulogy — fighting’s already dying.
While head injury concerns fail to compel the powers that be, advanced player evaluation tools and a renewed emphasis on puck possession have already begun quietly eradicating hockey’s violent game within the game.
First, it’s worth delineating between fighting writ large and the rehearsed fighting that hockey fans find grievous in light of George Parros’ recent concussion. Most fans, I suspect, support fighting as the expression of a genuine and building frustration toward a rival team, or as a means of karmic retribution on the NHL’s worst pests.
But it’s the staged kind of fighting that Parros and the rest of the league’s supergoons practice — in which two mostly emotionless or sometimes even chummy behemoths add a fresh layer of scar tissue to each other’s heads out of ritual observance — that seems so outmoded.
The story out of Montreal last night should have been about James Reimer making his case to be the starting goalie for the Maple Leafs, or the beast-mode performance from Lars Eller, which seemed to hint at what might lie ahead this season for the Canadiens’ promising young center.
Instead, last night’s season opener between Toronto and Montreal was defined by a grim injury to Canadiens enforcer George Parros that left the veteran forward prone on the ice and sucked the air out of what had, up to that point, been a rollicking Bell Centre.
Early in the third period of the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 win, Parros was doing what he gets paid to do: trading punches with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr. It was their second fight of the night. As the brawl wound down, Orr lost his balance and fell to the ice. On the way down, he grabbed Parros’ jersey and pulled him down. It was the sort of tumble you see all the time at the end of a punch-up, when both parties are usually exhausted. Only this time, Parros was unable to get his arms up and brace for impact. He fell hard, unprotected, face-first on the ice.
At first, Parros appeared to be unconscious. Soon, he was moving. The nine-year veteran attempted to get up after receiving medical attention, but the trainers advised him to lay back down as they called for a stretcher. Parros was then taken to a hospital, where it was reported that doctors had diagnosed him with a concussion. It’s unknown at this point how long he’ll be out of the Canadiens lineup. He is, however, out of the hospital.
It was a horrifying moment. And it’s not surprising that it quickly ignited another chapter in the endless debate on the place of fighting in hockey.
But as bad as it looked — and as much as the anti-fighting advocates might hope otherwise — this incident won’t change anything.
By Allan Muir
It’s been a long time since fight fans have been treated to a good, old-fashioned bench-clearing brawl, but we got one on Wednesday night after the buzzer sounded to end Game 4 of the heavily hyphenated Baie-Comeau Drakkar-Blainville-Boisbriand Armada QMJHL semifinal playoff series.
This one started not with a bang, but with a gesture. Though it’s hard to tell from the video, Cédric Paquette of the victorious Armada taunted the Drakkar’s Raphaël Bussières with a dismissive wave as he headed off the ice. No surprise that it was not well received. As the two started jostling, the Armada players who had been skating toward winning goaltender Étienne Marcoux changed direction and headed to the scuffle. The Drakkar then hopped the boards in search of dance partners. The Armada obliged, and the next thing you know, we have a full-on brawl, highlighted by all four goalies squaring off.
It was a big night for the Everett Silvertips, who managed to claw back from a pair of deficits to earn a 4-3 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds that pulled them within one point of their rivals for seventh place with just three games left in the Western Hockey League season.
With so much on the line, it was no surprise to see emotions boil over after Everett took the lead with less than three minutes remaining. Evan Wardley of the T-Birds took a charging major, leading to a wild melee to the left of Everett stopper Austin Lotz. When Lotz ventured out of his net to join the fray, Seattle’s Brandon Glover roared down the ice to even things up.
Here’s where it got goofy. Linesman Ryan Gibbons tried to collar Lotz, but that just allowed Lotz a few free shots. Gibbons then tried to correct his mistake by stepping in between the two. That didn’t work out too well either, with both goalies all but climbing over him to get at each other.
Glover picked up the instigator and the game misconduct, but that probably just made the win a little sweeter.
By Allan Muir
At last we know where Alexander Semin learned to play the bongos.
We’re still trying to figure out all the details on this one. Best we can tell, this clip is from the end of a lopsided game between Tyumen and Kazan from the 2013 Russian Winter Student Games, and it appears that the Tyumen girls didn’t take too kindly to having the score run up on them. Punches are thrown, the benches clear, adults pour onto the ice and chaos ensues. Funny stuff.
By Allan Muir
A guide to this morning’s must-read hockey stories:
• In Philly, they’re calling it a huge bolt of energy. But did Zac Rinaldo go too far in his fight with Tampa Bay’s B.J. Crombeen? Looks like it to me.
• The Washington Capitals gave away Nicklas Backstrom garden gnomes to fans and two points to the visiting Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. The Caps now “boast” a league-worst 2-7-1 mark after their 3-2 loss. There already are calls for Adam Oates’ job, but I have to believe that GM George McPhee makes a personnel move before canning the rookie coach.
• Maybe the Leafs should barnstorm the rest of the season because they’re historically (and hysterically) bad at home.
• I mean, yeah, it has the makings of an epic steal, but was the Phil Kessel trade really the best in Boston sports history?
• SI.com’s own Adrian Dater has the latest on the Ryan O’Reilly contract talks.
• David Clarkson scored twice in a 3-1 win over the Rangers, giving him seven on the season. Maybe that 30-goal campaign wasn’t a fluke after all.