May 09, 2008
We've had about as many memorable fights this postseason as we've had Ottawa Senators games. Yet there have been two stories dominating the Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburgh Penguins news cycle, and one of them is a celebration of potential pugilism: The Big Georges Laraque effect, and how Flyers players like Riley Cote will have to counteract it. (The other big story, of course, is the loss of Kimmo Timonen to a blood clot in his left ankle; as devastating an injury as the Flyers could possibly suffer, considering how dominating he's been defensively and on special teams. This is a loss on the "Forsberg out for Colorado" level; a complete game-changer.)
Tecmo from Pittsburgh Sports and Mini Ponies (awesome) frames the Laraque v. Flyers narrative with this memorable fight between BGL and Cote from just over a month ago:
That April 2nd fight allowed BGL to get in Cote's head (and nearly knocked that head off). Sure, Cote is pretty fearless and will fight anyone, but his inexperience (compared to guys like BGL) causes him to bite off more than he can sometimes chew. Should the two players fight in order to sway momentum, Cote goes into the brawl knowing that the last time the guys tangled, Cote's helmet went into orbit. Sure, hockey players are tough, but something that extraordinary has to leave some doubt in a guy's mind.
So is BGL really inside Cote's head already? And does Laraque expect the same kind of bloodbath the media seems to anticipate?
First of all, it appears Cote may be a Game 1 scratch as this series gets going tonight. But when he does play, Cote told Sun Media that the helmet-launching fight hasn't rattled him, and that his impact in this series will come from more than his fists:
Cote's 202 penalty minutes this season included a pair of tilts with Pittsburgh's Georges Laraque, probably the most respected heavyweight in the game. After the second one, early last month, Laraque told reporters how much he respected Cote, which was, admittedly, a bit of a thrill for a 26-year-old rookie trying to make a name for himself.
Cote had his helmet knocked off in the scrap, but he has his head on pretty straight about how much of an impact he can have in the playoffs. "The playoffs is not about making a name for yourself, fighting-wise," he said. "It's more than that. Get on the forecheck, wear out the defencemen and just keep guys honest.
"I can definitely play the game. I wasn't a meatball my whole life. In juniors I put up some decent numbers. But I've accepted my role. I can be responsible and I can skate. You can't play in the NHL if you can't skate."
(Sometimes you just wish stories had run in the NY Post instead of other newspapers. "COTE: I'M NO MEATBALL" would be hanging on our office wall right now.)
The idea of Cote and the Flyers trying to counteract the force of nature that is BGL, or using their physical play to snuff out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin makes many a hockey fan drool. But as Laraque told ESPN, that idea was floated before the series against the Rangers, too; and Sean Avery ended up being a non-factor. "People, they want it so much ... Everybody's going to be so disappointed," he said.
BGL detailed that thought further in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Now, it's entirely possible that some players will have a lapse during the series, that there will be times when anger overrides sound judgment. Still, knowing an ill-considered or selfish penalty could cost one's team the chance to compete for a championship should be a powerful deterrent.
"I don't think it will be a circus at all because you get a bad penalty and it can cost you a game," Penguins right winger Georges Laraque said. "Look at [Ryan] Hollweg's penalty on [Petr] Sykora [in Game 3 of the second round]. That gave us the game in New York that we needed to finish it in five.
"One penalty can be the difference. We're thinking about the Stanley Cup. If we win this series, we go to the Stanley Cup final. What's bigger than that?"
So many times in hockey, we're ready for fire and we don't even get smoke. It could happen again here, which is a damn shame; because in many ways, players like Steve Downie and Cote and Laraque are more interesting and compelling than the offensive stars in this series. We want to know about the Pittsburgh Penguin who's the best fighter in hockey that doesn't really want to fight. Or Cote, the Philadelphia Flyers brawler who is currently under fire by the media for having banners that support the Winnipeg chapter of the Hell's Angels on his MySpace page. (Although glancing at it today, did he remove it?)
Here's hoping the series lives up to its brutal hype.