Friends, growing up a hockey fan in the 1980s and 1990s, I saw quite a few line brawls. Basically any Calgary Flames game against a Smythe Division opponent involved the benches clearing at some point. But hockey’s become more civilized these days, and line brawls are few and far between.
Nine years ago, on Jan. 18, 2014, we saw a heck of a line brawl at puck drop between the Flames and the Vancouver Canucks.
The 2013-14 Flames were a team lean on high-end talent but high on moxie, and they had begun to develop a reputation for themselves as a team that would make you work to beat them. Sure, you could still beat them, but having a semblance of an identity in a post Jarome Iginla season was a big step.
As had become somewhat traditional on the road, head coach Bob Hartley began the game with his fourth line and third defensive pairing. The starting quintet in Vancouver was forwards Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones and Brian McGrattan, and blueliners Chris Butler and Ladislav Smid. Vancouver coach John Tortorella, seeing Calgary’s starting five, countered with forwards Tom Sestito, Dale Weise and Kellan Lain, and blueliners Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison. Westgarth took the opening face-off against Bieksa – winger against defenceman, a natural fit – and all hell broke loose.
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Off the draw, Westgarth and Bieska grabbed each other but didn’t actually fight – the linesmen grabbed them before a fight could fully erupt. The first actual fight was McGrattan/Sestito, and they were soon joind by Westgarth/Lain, Smid/Bieksa, Jones/Wiese and Butler/Garrison.
Here’s all the penalties that were doled out, 152 minutes in total, just two seconds into the game:
  • McGrattan & Sestito (fighting majors & 10-minute misconducts)
  • Westgarth (fighting major, roughing minor & game misconduct)
  • Smid, Butler, Jones, Lain, Weise, Garrison and Bieksa (fighting majors & game misconducts)
Under the NHL’s rules, one fight at a time is fine, and McGrattan and Sestito got into the first actual fight. Westgarth got a roughing minor for trying to fight Bieksa off the draw, and everybody except McGrattan and Sestito got tossed from the game for being involved in secondary altercations. Again, one fight is fine, but every fight after the first one carries an automatic game misconduct.
Both teams finished the game with 14 skaters.
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During the first intermission, Tortorella tried to visit Hartley at the Flames’ locker room.
The following Monday, the league fined Hartley $25,000.
From the league’s release: “In issuing the suspension, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell stated: “We are holding Mr. Hartley responsible for the actions of Flames’ right wing Kevin Westgarth, who took the game’s opening face-off and attempted to instigate a premeditated fight with an unwilling opponent — the Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa.”
Tortorella was suspended for 15 days.
From the league’s release: “Mr. Tortorella’s actions in attempting to enter the Calgary Flames locker room after the first period were both dangerous and an embarrassment to the League,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. “Coaches in the NHL bear the responsibility of providing leadership, even when emotions run high, and Mr. Tortorella failed in his responsibility to the game.”
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The Flames and Canucks met twice more during the 2013-14 regular season. Mark Giordano fought Bieksa on Mar. 8, while their meeting in the final game of the regular season featured Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold’s NHL debuts, as well as Paul Byron getting ejected from the game for a boarding incident on Daniel Sedin.
The teams met again in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs which was another eventful affair, punctuated by Deryk Engelland fighting two Canucks players simultaneously.