For anybody who ever doubted the unbreakable link between the popularity of ice hockey and fighting, this spring provided something of an object lesson. The epic brawl between the Quebec Remparts and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens was a battle for the ages, electrifying the hockey world and the province of Quebec.
If you're a hockey fan and have an elementary understanding of the internet, you certainly have seen the footage from the fight.
For those who haven't seen the video, let's set the scene: With Chicoutimi leading Game 2 of the QMJHL playoff series, 7-1, all hell broke loose as all 10 skaters paired off for an old fashioned brawl that would have brought a smile to the face of Gordie Howe.
Jonathan Roy, son of the Remparts' coach and NHL Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, skated to center ice to challenge Chicoutimi's goalie, Bobby Nadeau. Though initially restrained by a referee, Roy got free as on-ice officials were overwhelmed in their efforts to quell the fights that had broken out all over the ice.
Roy skated the length of the ice and tore into Nadeau without mercy, even though Nadeau made it clear he did not want to fight. Having made short work of Nadeau, Roy skated to center ice and raised his arms in victory. He made obscene gestures to the home crowd before getting into yet another fight — with Chicoutimi defenseman Sebastien Rioux — before being escorted off the ice.
As reported in Canada's National Post, video of the brawl was in heavy rotation on all of Quebec's television sports programs. At YouTube, one clip of the fight was ranked as the service's most viewed sports video in Canada and the second most viewed video in the country overall.
But such antics come with a price: The QMJHL suspended the Patrick Roy for five games, Jonathan for seven. From that, we learn that flipping the bird is always worth an extra two games.
Predictably, plenty of hockey observers hemmed and hawed at the horror of it all. They have proclaimed with vigor and vehemence that episodes like the Roy brawl forever will keep hockey at the margins of civilized society, dooming it to a continued stretch of obscurity now and forever.
Yet, let's rewind the clock to March 26, 1997, a date so famous in hockey circles it merits its own Wikipedia entry. The site was Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings were playing host to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. It was the fourth meeting between the two clubs that season, but the first with Avalanche agitator Claude Lemieux in uniform since he had checked Red Wings forward Kris Draper face-first into the boards during the '96 Western Conference Final.
Draper suffered a broken jaw, shattered cheek and orbital bone, and he had to undergo extensive facial reconstructive surgery. Detroit winger Darren McCarty was enraged and looked for revenge, and he finally got his chance at the end of the first period in that March 26 game. McCarty eventually forced Lemieux to "turtle" and cover up for fear of McCarty landing more blows.
The McCarty-Lemieux fight was a mere appetizer. Roy, not wanting to be left out of all the fun, skated toward the melee looking to fight somebody, anybody. He was blindsided by Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan but recovered in time to get in a few shots against Detroit goalie Mike Vernon.
When the melee was over, the Red Wings went on for a 6-5 overtime victory. More than a few Red Wings credited that fight and that victory with bringing the team together in time to win the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Hockey fans in Detroit and Denver still talk about that fight, as well they should, because the brawl instigated one of the most bitter rivalries in the history of the sport — just the sort of bitter rivalry that draws hockey fans to the arena over and over again.
So tut-tut if you must, but there is no doubt that such brawls warm the hearts of hockey fans everywhere. Without the fights, hockey would be just another sport.
PHT: The Bruins try to complete their sweep tonight (7 p.m. ET; Live Extra, CNBC). On NBCSN, the Hawks and Wings play (7 ET; Live Extra), then the Sharks and Kings square off (10:30 ET; Live Extra).
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