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Fine for fighting

It's hard to beat a stirring, classic hockey brawl

Posted: Tuesday December 19, 2006 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday December 19, 2006 4:10PM
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The more the merrier, but melees such as this one between the Devils and Lightning in 2005 are rare these days.
The more the merrier, but melees such as this one between the Devils and Lightning in 2005 are rare these days.
E.M. Swift will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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It pains me to admit it, but I miss the good old-fashioned hockey brawl. The bench-clearing melee. That intellectually indefensible, primitive, testosterone-laced donnybrook that on a nightly basis used to separate hockey from all other sports. I miss the passion on display when you mix skateblades and fists.

This, of course, came to me after watching replays of the recent dust-up in Madison Square Garden between the Knicks and the Nuggets, which resulted in Commissioner David Stern suspending seven players for a total of 47 games and fining both teams $500,000.

For what?

It looked to me like a headlock, a wrestling match and a roundhouse slap leading to a chase. Playground stuff. That's roundball for you. Back in the day, such a set-to would have represented little more than a tussle in hockey, something to get the blood flowing before the opening face-off and the fans primed for the real fisticuffs to come.

Heck, I was a participant in a hockey brawl in college that would have made the Knicks/Nuggets fight look tame. Princeton-Colgate, no less. 1972. It started in the penalty box and ended with the game being suspended and one of my Princeton teammates charging into the locker room with a fistful of hair from a Colgate scalp.

"Look! Bloody roots!" he cried triumphantly. Who cared that we lost the game? The Colgate athletic director at one point was leaning over the boards whacking a Princeton player with a stale Italian sub. No one on either team, or in the stands, ever forgot the spectacle we created that night.

Ah, sweet youth! Mike Milbury was on that Colgate team. He wasn't a particularly talented college player, but he fought his way onto the Boston Bruins' roster, stuck around, and in 1979 distinguished himself by beating a Rangers fan in the stands with the man's own shoe.

One of Milbury's Bruins teammates was John Weinsink, who in 1977 memorably challenged the entire Minnesota North Stars bench to fight after he'd drubbed one of their teammates to a pulp. There were no takers, and Minnesota became the laughing stock of the NHL.

Show me the passion! I'm not suggesting that the NHL bring back goons, the thugs like Broad Street Bully Dave Schultz of the Flyers or Detroit's Joey Kocur, who could be counted on to mug opponents a couple of times in every game. But there can be no denying the entertainment value of watching genuinely angry men, guys who could play and fight.

Ted Lindsay. Tiger Williams. Bobby Nystrom. Wayne Cashman. Thy kept the bad blood flowing from one game to the next, leading to a delicious sense of anticipation that is utterly lacking in today's cleaner/faster/safer NHL.

Rivalries were fierce, and no rivalry was more intense than the one between the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques. I once saw those two teams brawl before a playoff game. . .during warmups when player crossed center ice to retrieve a puck.

On YouTube, you can still watch the timeless 1984 Good Friday bloodletting between those two Quebec rivals, nearly 10 minutes of mayhem that ended the second period and resumed before the start of the third. Mark Hunter led the Canadiens into battle, while his brother Dale was the chief warrior for the Nordiques. At one point, 14 fights were going on simultaneously. It was a visual feast.


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