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There’s no ignoring the elephant cracking its knuckles in the corner: Hockey fighting is in a weird place in 2011.
The player safety debates all track back to fighting and its place in the game. The summer tragedies involving hockey fighters put the tradition on trial. The voices of media, doctors, former players and fans to ban it from the NHL has grown louder.
The hazards are well-known and the criticism is constant … but players are still fighting. Often times for a purpose; sometimes as a sideshow.
Our list of the top 10 fights in hockey for 2011 spans beyond the NHL. Context, in many cases, is as important as the quality of the fights. This list wouldn’t be possible without the input or the efforts of David Singer of HockeyFights.com, to whom we’re grateful.
What was the best fight of 2011?
10. (tie) Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price, Feb. 9/Brent Johnson vs. Rick DiPietro, Feb. 2
Was it a quality fight? Not at all. But the sheer novelty of an NHL goalie fight combined with the Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens rivalry combined with the chance to see Timmy Thomas drop the mitts made this an instant classic in its own way.
Price called it “play fighting'” after the bout. Thomas? He had strategy!
“I thought I could do a better job throwing lefts in him and when I went to grab he got a good hold on my right arm and I got nothing. So then I was like, oh now what do I do? Because I know he’s got a big right cocked and ready to come so I tried to switch arms and get my right free and I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and when he threw the right I pulled on…I was trying to pull him off-balance and his shirt came off his head and then I fell and…actually as I was falling my left arm came free and but then it was over. He fought with the fighter’s manners as far as not hitting when you’re down.”
A few months later, he’d win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe to go along with his memorable NHL fight.
Of course, this was actually the second goalie fight in February, coming a week after Pittsburgh Penguins backup Johnson answered New York Islanders goalie DiPietro’s challenge.
Johnson’s one-punch special fractured DiPietro’s face and put him on the shelf for over a month.
9. Zack Kassian vs. Matt Martin, Nov. 29
While not a classic fight, a notable one given the context and the choreography. Remember: This was after the Buffalo Sabres‘ fortitude was challenged for their lack of response to Lucic’s run at Miller. Fans were calling for Kassian to add toughness; this fight off of a leaping hit by Nino Niederreiter of the New York Islanders meant something to those fans. Plus, the sight of Kassian hulking out like Rob Ray sans jersey and Martin saying “no mas” was exceptional.
The Winnipeg Jets forward and the Buffalo Sabres pugilist tangled and landed some quality shots, one that cut McCormick.
“Tanner Glass is lucky is jaw isn’t made of glass.” We’re sure that’s the first time he’s every heard that …
7. Jay Rosehill vs. Brian McGrattan
Punishing series of punches from McGrattan, one of the best pugilists in the game today. Rosehill answered gamely to make this a contest, but as McGrattan’s “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?” pose at the end showed, this one was his. The first of two Rosehill fights on the list.
6. David Broll vs. Justin Sefton, March 2011
The most infamous knockout of 2011 (non-DiPietro division) was probably Arron Asham’s with Jay Beagle, leaving him bloodied and concussed in a nasty scene. (Why didn’t it make the list? Too short, not enough action.)
This scene is also nasty: David Broll of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds had the advantage in his fight with Justin Sefton of the Sudbury Wolves, until Sefton rallied with one of the most wicked punches of the year. From the Sault Star at the time:
He crashed to the ice, needed assistance to return to the dressing room and suffered a concussion.
The second-year winger has been out of the lineup since, but is slated to return Saturday night when the Hounds visit the Saginaw Spirit.
“I thought the fight was just about over,” said Broll, acquired at the trade deadline in a deal with Erie that sent Sault native Brett Thompson to the Otters. “But then I realized it wasn’t. So I tried to throw more punches and that’s when he popped me.”
Boy did he.
5. Mason Geertsen vs. Andy Blanke, Oct. 9
Great fight from the WHL, as Geertsen of the Edmonton Oil Kings (in white) took on a real bruiser in Andy Blanke of the Swift Current Broncos.
The reason this fight was remarkable: Blanke was 19.
Geertsen was 16 years old.
4. Francis Lessard vs. Jay Rosehill, Feb. 19
These guys have had more matches and rematches than Hogan and Piper, but they rarely disappoint. This battle during an Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs game featured a preposterous punch-per-second count.
This was the sixth time in three years (they’ve since had a seventh) that Barch, then of the Dallas Stars, and Janssen, then of the St. Louis Blues, had fought each other. (Please recall they once booked a fight over Twitter.) Janssen apparently wanted to have a little fun with this one, giving a few shoulder rolls to loosen up before the bout, giving Barch the “c’mon bring it” hand motion during the fight, chirping throughout. Best of all, at the 1:27 mark, he punches himself in the face.
Fun fight, but also a really good one between accomplished pugilists.
2. Eric Neilson vs. Steve MacIntyre, Nov. 12
The heavyweight battle of the year from the AHL, as Eric Nielson from the Norfolk Admirals and Steve MacIntyre from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins (and formerly of the Edmonton Oilers) throw down in an epic battle. MacIntyre won the fight; but the real winner was the announcing, that gave us such declarations as:
“This is Saturday night stuff. This is King Kong vs. Mighty Joe Young.”
“MacIntyre two bruisers in a row!”
“MacIntyre is teeing off like it’s a PGA golf exhibition!”
“He is just throwing cinderblocks!”
“His nose looks like a stick of butter in July!”
“You just saw him give a five-knuckle tango exhibition!”
1. Brett Gallant vs. Joel Rechlicz, Feb. 19
This AHL fight between Gallant, a winger for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and Rechlicz of the Hershey Bears tops the list for two reasons: First, because the undisputed fight of the 2010-11 season between John Erskine and Eric Boulton occurred in 2010; and second, because this fight was a [expletive] marathon. The amount of quality punches thrown and the rally by Gallant to extend the fight were fantastic.
The context: This is actually Rechlicz taking a “victory lap” after scoring his first professional hockey goal since the 2007-08 season. On the faceoff following that goal, he and Gallant dropped the gloves. “That was a really long fight,” Rechlicz said to the Patriot News. “I give credit to the other guy on the other side. He’s a pretty tough kid. He looks small, but he throws pretty hard.”
Their follow-up fight from Dec. 17 probably could have made the list as well.