The Calgary Flames played the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver this past Saturday, and fell by a score of 3-2 in a shootout. The Flames have been playing the worst hockey I’ve ever seen them play, but you can’t expect much more from a talentless rebuilding group. Still, the team is hardworking, which is great to see. State of the team aside, Saturday’s conclusion to Hockey Day in Canada was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever seen played.
The game began with a line brawl two seconds into the first period. Everyone except the goalies got into a fight. It was really exciting to see; the Flames still play with a lot of heart. The game was full of bad blood, and finished with over two hundred penalty minutes. Both coaches have received punishment for their actions; I’d like to share my thoughts on the brawl.
Bob Hartley, coach of the Flames, has gotten a lot of criticism for starting the game with a fourth line containing two enforcers. It’s a move that usually means a fight (or more) is going to break out, and it isn’t seen very often. Still, I argue that Hartley was not wrong in beginning with those players. The fourth line scored a goal late in their last game, and maybe Hartley wanted their momentum to carry though to this game. They’re also an energy line who play hard and tax the opponents, so there are merits to starting the game at a fast, grinding tempo. Finally, as I said, only two players out of the five on ice can be considered as enforcers. Vancouver’s complaints that Calgary sent out their goons seems empty to me when there are only two players who might even have the title “goon” bestowed on them.
Calgary being the visiting team also had to submit their starting line first, and Vancouver had the chance to put whoever they wanted against it. When John Tortorella saw that Calgary was starting with enforcers, he was enraged, thinking that the Flames wanted to start a line brawl. I agree with him that he couldn’t have put out his skilled players to try and get a goal, because they would be targetted physically. Still, that doesn’t mean he had to match with his enforcers, which basically confirmed any thoughts of a line brawl. He could have put out his third line; not the most skilled players, but also unwilling and unlikley to engage in a brawl. Tortorella could have avoided the brawl by not putting on his enforcers, but he did; I am at a loss to see how he can complain about the opening lineup in this case.
While both Hartley and Tortorella may have been wrong in their choices for the opening lineup, what Tortorella did at the first intermission was unacceptable. He stormed down to the Flames locker room in an attempt to confront Hartley, and was restrained by most of the Flames team before he regained his sense and left. There is no place for that in the game. No matter how angry you are, you can’t attempt to instigate an altercation during an intermission. It is simply unacceptable to try and confront the other coach; it’s brash, violent and disrespectful. You just cannot do that. Tortorella has been involved in more than one line brawl as a coach, and everytime he loses his temper and blames the opposing team vehemently. I really believe he’s a hypocrite when he calls out the opposing team for their lineup, while matching it with players that only confirm the possibility of a brawl. Still, he’s never lost his cool so far as to try and confront the coach physically. You just cannot do that, and Tortorella will learn that with the punishment the NHL has doled out on him.
Hartley has received a $25 000 fine for his player selection to begin the game. Again, I don’t see how Hartley was wrong here, although the argument can go both ways. If the NHL is trying to shy away from line brawls, then the fine is appropriate, but the leauge doesn’t want to take fighting out of the game, which only makes this fine seem hypocritical. As for Tortorella, he’s been suspended without pay for fifteen days. This seems like an appropriate measure taken by the league; his actions were unacceptable, and a sharp message needed to be sent. Hopefully Tortorella will learn from this punishment.
While the brawl and subsequent incidents may have been troubling and concerning for the league, as a fan, it was the most exciting game I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing gets fans going like a good old-fashioned brawl. Before you accuse the pugilists as classless and cheap, most of them do follow a respectful code when engaging in a fight; it’s a lot more civilised than what is plainly visible. It’s good to see the Flames playing with heart, because the fans are clearly losing all hope for this season. Brawls and bad blood rile up fans like nothing else – except for the Olympics, and with only a month until they begin, I can hardly wait!