There’s no doubt the most ridiculous thing in NHL hockey these days is the impromptu scrap that follows a nice open-ice bodycheck.
You know the kind. A player from Team White delivers a hit on a player from Team Red. A teammate from the Reds comes and pounces on the Team White culprit.
Doesn’t matter if the hit was clean or not. That’s vengeance in the hockey world. The harder the hit, the more immediate the response.
That’s what happened in Calgary Tuesday when Washington rookie Tyler Sloan – on the first shift of his NHL career, in front of his hometown fans – leveled Daymond Langkow with an open-ice hit. Rene Bourque dove to the rescue for the Flames and tried to inflict immediate pain on Sloan.
Just why players have started doing this in recent years is a mystery and defies logic. Understandably, no one wants to see a teammate, especially a star, get his bell rung. And sure, it’s noble to stick up for him and exact a measure of revenge. But instead of getting revenge the way Bourque did, take his number and return the favor with a clean hit of your own.
Hitting is allowed in hockey. It’s part of the game. Imagine if football players started doing this after the star running back or receiver was crunched with a hit?
With that off the table, Tuesday’s indiscretion actually had a much-needed team-building impact on the Flames. In dire need of an emotional jump-start – Jarome Iginla surely can’t drop his gloves to provide a spark every game, can he? – the Bourque retaliation may be the incident that saves coach Mike Keenan’s job.
Bourque picked up two minors, a fighting major and a misconduct for defending Langkow’s honor and Calgary faced a nine-minute Capitals power play. A couple of Washington goals would have put the Flames in a death spiral.
Instead, Calgary killed off the nine minutes and the Saddledome fans were responsive in noticing. The Flames fed off that adversity and rallied for a 2-1 victory.
It’s too early to identify this retaliation as the defining moment in a season that was ready to go sour, but wouldn’t it be honorable if that’s what it becomes?
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.
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