Fighting is and always should be an integral part of hockey.
It keeps star players safe. It sells tickets. It should never be forced out of the game no matter what.
But something that happens a lot -- albeit less so these days -- is the selling of the idea that fighting bears with it some sort of honor.
It takes a certain amount of guts, one supposes, to willingly allow a 200-pound man who does this kind of thing professionally to punch you in the face for 30 seconds or so, but what happened Wednesday night in Buffalo wasn't about honor.
On Milan Lucic's first shift against the Sabres since the end of the game in which he flattened Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad dropped the gloves with him and got beaten up pretty good. "This," everyone nodded in assent, "was honorable stuff."
But it's difficult to understand why.
Apparently it was important that it be Gaustad, who has fewer fights than Lucic in an NHL career about twice as long, that got into the scrap, since he was one of the guys on the ice for Lucic trucking into Miller. He was also perhaps the most vocal about how wrong it was that he and his teammates didn't try to exact some frontier justice on a man considerably bigger and tougher than most of them.
And so, when Gaustad got his face beaten in, as everyone had pretty much been saying he would for the previous 11 days, there was a lot of talk about "answering the bell" and that "he had to do it," which is really stupid.
It wasn't honor or a sense of duty to teammates or the desire to give Lucic what-for that drove him to drop the gloves early in the first period of that game. It was 11 days of being shamed by countless column inches, blog words, and quotes from around the league.
Yeah, Gaustad had to fight Lucic. But it was because of a sense of obligation, and because the Bruins don't play Buffalo again until February 8. Gaustad couldn't take another 77 days of getting scolded for not having fought him.
Gaustad also noted after the game that he thought it was good of Lucic to drop the gloves at all, noting that he was under no obligation to do so. But the difference is that Lucic knew he could pretty easily handle anyone the Sabres sent over the boards to "get" him, so why not engage in a bit more theater over it? It costs him nothing.
Fighting Lucic alone wouldn't prove how honorable the Sabres could be after 11 days of being chastised. That's why they turned the rest of the first period into a penalty-filled gong show, where the Sabres took swipes at the Bruins' best players (bumping Brad Marchand from behind during a scrum after the whistle and later, slashing Tyler Seguin on the hand away from the play), presumably because they wanted Boston to know what it felt like to have its stars targeted.
The Bruins, for their part, didn't care. Zdeno Chara fought in response to the Marchand thing and fed Robyn Regehr a series of big punches until he fell down. They were just playing one of 82 hockey games. Clearly, the Sabres had blown this up into some sort of Rallying Point for the season, since they came flying out of the gates and staked themselves to a lead of 2-0 in the first and 3-1 in the second.
Didn't hurt, either, that the refs were calling anything even remotely resembling a penalty against both teams to make sure things didn't get ugly.
But because so much talk of what it meant to be accountable to your teammates was in the air, the Bruins weren't immune to being extra-sensitive, either. Late in the second period, when Drew Stafford innocuously bumped Tim Thomas while driving hard to the net — a play that happens quite a bit around the National Hockey League — Andrew Ference decided that his only recourse was to try to fight the guy.
And while there was, officially, no fighting major handed out, this was a gross overreaction to the type of "honorable" B.S. that had been kicked around for the last week and a half. Where the Sabres had to let the Bruins know that it wasn't okay to run Ryan Miller at 600 miles an hour and hit him with the force of 10 atom bombs, the Bruins were out to make sure that the Sabres were aware that incidental contact with Tim Thomas would result in a nonproportional response against a guy who hasn't gotten into a fight in two years.
The fight with Lucic, the preening tough-guy façade put up in the early stages in the game -- that wasn't the Buffalo Sabres. That was a bunch of school kids saying "NUH UH!" when they were called chicken, and trying too hard to overcompensate. There's nothing to be proud of in striving to be honorable when you're only doing it because someone said you weren't.
And they lost anyway, after coughing up a pair of two-goal leads lead. Not much to be proud of there, either.
Pearls of Biz-dom
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- Paul Gaustad
- Milan Lucic
- Buffalo Sabres