Game 2 was not pretty.
But okay, look. Here’s the thing. I’m all for class in sports. I must say I prefer when guys do not hurt each other as opposed to when they consciously try to. After all, is just game.
So why be mad? Because people play this game. In the exact same way you prefer guys don’t try to headshot one another because they have lives outside of sport, there’s something to be said for emotional blowups because human beings with feelings react based on what’s going on around them. Especially in a game as quick, chaotic, and physical as hockey.
Having pretty much lost a game just seven minutes in isn’t fun, and every additional minute that ticks on by without you doing anything about it only compounds it.
That’s not to excuse tempers. That doesn’t mean you instigate, or run goalies, or punch people down on the ice, or be the third man into a fight. And it doesn’t mean when the series goes to Calgary for game 3, all of a sudden this mayhem from the end of the previous game is somehow going to give the Flames a new tactical advantage. It’s not.
This did have a purpose, though. It wasn’t Brawl 1.0, in which idiots lined up against idiots before the game even started and just dropped the gloves because one coach decided to mess with another and the other bit, hard.
It was Brawl 2.0, born of a team pissed at both themselves and the opposition. They had a bad start, fell behind early, and couldn’t recover; that’s on them. They saw their youngest player temporarily leave the game with possible injury, and their smallest get roughed around excessively and not called; that’s on the opposition. And when you’re clearly going to lose the game and have at least another three to go against these same guys… why not? Playoffs are an entirely different animal. Not just because of the chance of a Stanley Cup, but because a best of seven series against one opponent breeds familiarity. More importantly, it breeds hatred.
Matt Stajan being the first to throw down was pretty surprising, though. Matt Stajan had played all of four NHL playoff games before game 2. Guess he’s making up for lost time.
And then there’s the force of a rookie
In lieu of all that, go big, or go home. And Michael Ferland is a pretty big kid.
One single moment that really exemplified that attitude – along with the anger and frustration that eventually led to Brawl 2.0 – was his charging penalty against Chris Tanev. He went in hard, yes. And normally his hits have had greater purpose, have forced turnovers and led to scoring chances. The charging call didn’t exactly do that.
And neither did what he did after: running Eddie Lack as Lack looked to be exiting the net for the extra attacker. A little extra physicality, a little extra delay as his team tried to touch up on the puck. He only got the one penalty for it, so hey, why not? Nobody got hurt with the extra little shot, and it helped Ferland establish his budding identity.
We’re going from a tough, physical kid with scoring potential to a player other teams are absolutely going to hate. And they might just be right to do so. But he’s also going to be the kind of player whose own team absolutely adores, and that’s the only part that’s going to actually matter.
I’ve generally always liked Ferland, but when he suddenly turned things on to end the regular season – making plays, throwing hits, and generally being all over the ice – that general liking and “I’m pretty sure he’s gonna replace Brandon Bollig” feeling switched over to a lot of love and “okay you’re replacing Bollig pretty much right now, that’s awesome”.
He was a wrecking ball, in a good way, in game 1. He threw seven recorded hits, separating Canucks from the puck by sheer force and will of his body, forcing turnovers and even helping his team capitalize off of one. He did exactly what he did to end the regular season: be everywhere at once, stick on the ice and shoulders level, ready to either make plays or get the puck back.
But his youth shows, and it shows big time. He’s inexperienced; he’s very emotional out on the ice. From taking a stupid penalty by prematurely dropping the gloves against Derek Dorsett to his most recent actions, Ferland is someone who’s going to need to learn to pick his battles. As it is, that Dorsett moment in the first game was telling; he wanted to fight, and he wanted to fight then and there, and he didn’t get it.
He got it in game 2, though, and that’s where we saw he was capable enough in that department. He isn’t someone who’s ever going to shy away; the trick is learning to be someone who isn’t going to go looking for it. That should come with time.
Here’s what I love about Ferland, though.
He can play. He’s a legitimate player. He isn’t Bollig, who couldn’t even score at the junior level and had his penalty minutes talk for him instead. He’s someone who has actually been able to contribute at the WHL level and, following some soul searching and personal improvement, at the professional level. He goes beyond goon and into the territory of being a player who can both fight and score.
Is he going to be a top six guy? Probably not. Is he going to hurt his team when he’s out on the ice? Aside from the short fuse – which has, at present at least, rendered him a ticking time bomb – no. Not at all.
He’s going to help them, because he can get the puck, and he can do things with it when he has it. From weight loss to overcoming addiction, he’s someone who clearly has incredible drive in his day-to-day life, and that’s something that’s going to aid him as he continues to develop into a professional athlete. The physicality won’t disappear. The puck skills will remain. And maturity will take care of the rest.
In the mean time, Ferland is exactly the kind of player the Flames need. Big, physical, willing to get in your face and stick up for his team. Complimentary, with scoring potential and an impressive drive to will his team to victory.
When I watched the Flames flounder against the Canucks and then fail to properly recover, it was Ferland who got me back into the game. Call what he did goonery if you want, but he had purpose. And when he was ultimately ejected, he still had purpose. And that purpose is going to continue throughout the series, and for however long he ends up playing.
He’s not going to be Sam Bennett or Johnny Gaudreau. He’s not going to rack up those kinds of points, and he’s not going to have the skill to singlehandedly take over a game both on the ice and on the scoreboard.
We’re witnessing the beginning of an entirely different kind of threat here, and I am beyond excited to find out what Ferland can really do. This is the depth you want, physical and emotional, and it’s coming in the form of a former fifth rounder.