Much breath has been wasted debating the merits of pugilism in hockey. And when we say wasted, we mean that both the Let ‘Em Go crowd and the Won’t Somebody Think of the Children faction have dug in their heels pretty deeply on the matter and no amount of Don Cherry knuckle-dragging propaganda nor holier-than-thou tsk-tsking will change a single mind on the subject.
But within that largely silent segment of the population that can take it or leave it when it comes to knuckle-chucking, the discussion can be very worthwhile because it avoids the debate-killing mindets of pure blood-lust and absolute pacifism. Wednesday night’s scrap between Calgary’s Curtis Glencross and Atlanta’s Colby Armstrong, for instance, will tend to sway the uncommitted group towards the pro-fisticuffs camp. There was a certain purpose to the scrap, even if that purpose was as basic as Glencross wanting to permanently wipe the smirk off Armstrong’s face.
Visits by the Atlanta Thrashers to the Saddledome are almost as rare as visits by the Atlanta Braves, so a goodly portion of the Flames fanbase may not be aware that ex-Red Deer Rebel Armstrong is one of those guys who makes enemies quickly and easily. He hits to hurt and doesn’t always put on the brakes after two steamboats have passed since the intended target of a check has ride himself of the puck. Sure enough, he wasted little time getting on Flames players’ nerves on Wednesday and Glencross in particular was looking for 454 grams of flesh.
So when the gloves finally came off, there was a fury — almost a joy — in Glencross’ punching that spoke volumes about his feelings for Armstrong. One is tempted to add that the linesmen’s slow reaction to enter the scene when Armstrong got into sweater-over-the-head trouble is testament that the Thrasher winger’s unpopularity goes beyon the opposition, but perhaps this was only a coincidence. In any event, Glencross was very pleased with himself when he was finished throwing haymakers and he even spastically dusted his hands on his way to the penalty box. No doubt there were also many smiles on the Flames bench and, for that matter, in the living rooms of NHLers across the continent.
Will Glencross’ decisive win deter Armstrong from future head-hunting and annoying? Not bloody likely, but this particular example of frontier justice still seems to be an infinitely better vindication for the tolerance for fighting than the orchestrated and highly predictable tussles between the four-minute-game dancing bears most teams keep on their rosters for mostly dubious reasons.