Despite a reputation for mindless violence, the NHL did make bench-clearing brawls a thing of the past. Here’s a look at the last one.
Our buddies over on the baseball side of SI.com took note of a prominent anniversary on Wednesday, reminding us that it’s been 31 years since the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres emptied their benches and threw down in what is fondly remembered as the “bean-brawl game.”
“The Padres decided to throw at Braves starting pitcher Pascual Perez after he hit San Diego’s leadoff man, Alan Wiggins, in the back on the game’s first pitch. Not only did they throw at Perez, but to get the point across, they did so four times. However, they didn’t actually hit him until his last at bat, in the eighth inning, leading to the day’s biggest fight.”
As anyone who’s watched a baseball skirmish can attest, “biggest” is a relative term. Still, what started off as a standard slap-and-tickle get-together on the mound spawned two fairly significant dust-ups, including one that involved fans coming out of the stands to join in the festivities. No telling if one of those spectators did anything as bold as throwing a tire iron, but several were hauled away in handcuffs, capping off an incident that “set baseball back 50 years,” according to the games’ head umpire, John McSherry.
Although this particular brawl earned a place in history, a similar sort of all-hands-on-deck silliness remains a fairly regular feature in baseball. A quick check online revealed at least 14 incidents so far in 2015 alone.
Meanwhile, the NHL, a league that has been vilified as a cesspool of mindless violence, has seen fewer than 200 of these every-man-in donnybrooks since the 1917 season. And many of those occurred either post- or pre-game when players already were milling about en masse. The truth is, it’s been decades since players last hopped over the boards in the midst of the action to engage in some family-style rough housing.
The most recent in-game brawl took place on Feb. 26, 1987, between the Bruins and the Quebec Nordiques. The Adams Division rivals were engaging in a typically spirited game, with several hard hits culminating in a wrasslin’ match between Gord Donnelly and Jay Miller late in the first period. The animosity only ramped up in the second as Boston ran up a 4–0 lead. Things finally came to a head nine minutes into the period when Nevin Markwart and Randy Moller threw down in front of the Nordiques’ net. As the two started trading punches other players immediately began to pair off. Miller grabbed Basil McRae, while Dale Hunter chased Ken Linseman, with Normand Rochefort and Ray Bourque running interference.
Seeing his captain (and the Bruins’ most important player) involved, Bob Sweeney led the charge from the bench with Quebec following suit a heartbeat later. Sweeney, Cam Neely and several other Boston players keyed in on Hunter, but more battles broke out over the next four minutes, including one in which Dwight Foster and Bruins backup goaltender Doug Keans traded punches with Donnelly.
When order finally was restored, referee Terry Gregson assessed game-misconduct penalties to six players from Boston and and three from the Nordiques, along with 11 fighting majors and six minor penalties. The Bruins ended up with 96 penalty minutes to Quebec’s 71. Although the Nords were energized by the contretemps, the B’s were able to close out a memorable 6–2 win.
It’s no accident that there hasn’t been a fight quite like it ever since. That summer the NHL imposed Rule 70.1, which mandated 10-game suspensions and maximum $10,000 fines for any player who left the bench for the purpose of engaging in a fight.
There have been individual players tagged by that rule—most recently, David Clarkson in the 2013–14 preseason—but it has worked to keep most players planted on the bench and has essentially put an end to bench-clearing brawls in the NHL.
• Triangular stick shafts? Clear helmets? Here are five hockey equipment innovations that missed the mark.
• Proponents of analytics have to learn that just because you have a number doesn’t mean you have insight.
• Here’s one thing the new NHL-ready arena in Las Vegas will have that can make it better than every other building in the league.
• Is this man the oldest hockey player in the world?
• Former Ranger great Bill Fairbairn checks in with remembrances of his long and successful career in New York.