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Cal Clutterbuck(notes) is currently leading the NHL in hits with 227 (shout out to Jackée), one year after the Minnesota Wild forward led the League in that nebulous stat as a rookie (356 total). Clutterbuck was credited with six hits last night in the Wild's 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, including this crushing check on Jamie Benn(notes) minutes into the game:

That was the appetizer. The main course would arrive later in the game, with one of the best hits of the season on Brad Richards(notes). The Versus announcers said Clutterbuck "took a liberty" with Richards, which is evidently what they call finishing a clean check moments after a pass attempt these days. Anyhoo, Steve Ott(notes) rushed in in order to play the enforcer role, pounding Clutterbuck after the hit:

As you heard: That was Round 2 for Ott and Clutterbuck. Coming up, Round 1 and reaction to yet another fight after a good hit; was Ott out of line here?

Here's Ott vs. Clutterbuck I, exactly eight minutes into Tuesday night's game:

The HockeyFights.com judges panel scored this fight as being the better of the two, and awarded it to Ott rather emphatically. They also gave Ott the big win in Round 2, with one anonymous poster named "Keredz" writing: "Clutterbuck ate some knuckles twice tonight, great hit though."

The first fight was a classic energy fight by both players in a 1-0 game. The second fight ... what was that Bob McKenzie was saying about fights after clean hits on TSN?

I must be getting old. I've never fully embraced or understood the concept of not being able to hit a star player on the other team. I mean, isn't that the point? Make the stars earn their ice. Isn't that what makes hockey great - that even the star players have to take some physical abuse to do their job.

[...]

The truth is if we actually fear "taking hitting out of the game" we wouldn't allow a player to start a fight over a perfectly clean hit in a game that is suppose to encourage body contact. Unless, of course, the desire for fighting in hockey trumps bodychecking.

It's a fascinating debate, because it isn't an easy one. We're all tired of players jumping in to enforce good checks; yet at the same time, there's an undeniable jolt for a fan watching emotions boil over in such a chaotic way. We don't want to see clean hits "enforced" out of hockey; yet during what is a split-second incident, sometimes teammates believe they see a head-shot or an opponent leave his feet when replay may show otherwise.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News has a great take on that very dichotomy after the Stars' win and the Clutterbuck hit, getting Ott on the record about his enforcement philosophy:

"I was actually watching some stuff from the 60s and 70s today and they used to have bench-clearing brawls, so I don't think it's something that we should take out of our game. It was a situation where I'm right there and you just can't hit Brad Richards like that. That can't happen without some kind of response, so I responded."

Ott had seen a bunch of the discussion spurred on by the Mark Stuart(notes) fight and subsequent injury, and it's pretty obvious which side of the debate he falls on. And after Tuesday, I kind of agree with him. The Stars have been missing this element for much of the season. They need to be tight, and they need to protect each other.

"I definitely think we need that element, but it can't just be certain players, it has to be everybody. Every player has to bring that toughness in some form or another, and I think we are starting to do that."

"You just can't hit Brad Richards like that. That can't happen without some kind of response." You have to respect that kind of old-time hockey thinking in today's game, which is one of the reasons why Ott sometimes goes beyond being a simple pest.

Not to say he isn't a pest and more than a little annoying, as Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reports:

The Wild also can't figure out a way to neutralize Steve Ott. Two meetings ago, he concusses Petr Sykora(notes) with a hit that most people (minus Colie Campbell) felt was dirty. Last game, he runs around, sits on top of Harding, hits Derek Boogaard(notes) hard and then laughs at the Wild bench. Tonight, with Boogaard injured and John Scott(notes) scratched ([Coach Todd] Richards considered dressing him but chose to play James Sheppard(notes) instead), Ott ran around, talked smack, took a run at Brent Burns'(notes) head and fought Cal Clutterbuck twice in one-sided decisions.

Clutterbuck said afterward dressing Scott wouldn't have mattered. Ott's run around every single game he's ever played the Wild with Boogaard and Scott playing, including two weeks ago, and it's never stopped him. Last month, Boogaard challenged Ott. He won't fight those guys.

Russo points out that Ott didn't receive an instigator penalty for his "enforcement" on Clutterbuck's hit, which is of course an absolute joke.

We've seen this time and time again from the zebras on the "fight after clean hit" incidents, and every time it exposes the instigator as a pointless relic of a rule that attempted to inject pacifism into a violent game. If it's not going to be enforced, dump it. If it is going to be enforced, then perhaps these fights after clean hits decline. As it stands, it's as toothless as many of the fighters it was enacted to demonize.

Hearty stick-tap to Peter Prose for its coverage of the hits.

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