December 08, 2011
Calgary defenseman Jamie Macoun had broken the jaw of Sabres star Pat Lafontaine in a Nov. 16 game. Revenge was in the air. At 17:34 of the first period, the teams engaged in one of the most chaotic and lengthy brawls ever seen in the arena -- which had seen its share of them. It wasn't so much a benches-clearing brawl than it was a brawl on the bench:
Nothing like a maniacal shirtless Rob Ray to break up a fight by starting another one …
LaFontaine had his jaw wired shut and would miss two months after the Macoun hit, which received a major penalty and a game misconduct but escaped supplemental discipline from the NHL, despite Buffalo Coach Rick Dudley calling it "a blatant misuse of the stick."
Leading up to the Dec. 8 rematch, the Buffalo media hyped up the revenge angle, going as far as to publish an image of Macoun with a target on it. "I heard lots of comments about how they were going to get Jamie Macoun, so I say that's premeditated," Calgary coach Doug Risebrough told the AP after the brawl.
The brawl itself was stunning for its location (the Calgary bench) and flashpoint moments of violence: Ray, shirtless, attempting to take on the Flames bench, and then rescuing Donald Audette from a fight with Gary Suter (this was before the Rob Ray Rule banned topless fighting); Rick Nattress punching from the bench; Tim Hunter breaking his leg in a fight; hell, even Christian Ruuttu and his goofy helmet got in on the chaos.
Referee Don Koharski handed out 147 penalty minutes in the brawl, including 10 game misconducts. (He also received an earful from a very perturbed future Hall of Famer named Doug Gilmour.) Risebrough called the brawl "an embarrassment." Columnist Alan Greenberg labeled the entire affair as a "D-I-S-G-R-A-C-E."
This brawl occurred during an 0-8-4 streak for the Sabres that cost Dudley his job, as he infamously met the media after a 6-3 loss against the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 11 with this message: "We lost, I'm out."
Were there better bench-clearing brawls? Of course. But this one was special because of the backstory and because it felt like it was going to boil over into a riot at any point. They don't make'em like this anymore, which is obviously good news for Brendan Shanahan(notes), whose suspension video would have been slightly longer than the director's cut of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.