One of the guilty pleasures of summer to me is the crowd-pleasing, popcorn-thriller action movie. So in these dog days of the hockey off-season, I thought I'd throw out a topic that is one of the most crowd-pleasing (like it or not) parts of hockey: the good ol' fashioned hockey fight.
Having been an avid Caps fan since the late '80s, I've grown to appreciate the beauty, skill, and intracacies of the game. But I'd be lying if I said that as a 14 year old that had never played the sport, fighting wasn't one of the reasons hockey drew me in as a fan. That's why I was so thrilled when Alan May rejoined the organization a couple of years ago. #16 in red, white, and blue was one of my favorite players back then. In an era much more conducive to 300+ PIM seasons, I always respected the job he was asked to perform, along with the likes of Neil Sheehy, late 90s fan faves Craig Berube and Stephen Peat, all the way down to the current line of enforcers.
I think we all can acknowledge some of their limitations in terms of natural hockey talent, but we should also acknowledge that they are often the most popular players in the locker room, amongst the fan base, and even the local community. Their contributions to wins and losses aren't significant, but I feel that their contributions to a team's identity, swagger, and to some extent, cohesion, are significant.
Nobody likes the sports-to-battlefield comparison, and for good reason. But I grew up in a military environment, and also spent a good bit of time on active duty myself. At the 50,000 foot-level, a hockey fight has a lot of similarities--brutal, unforgiving violence but with an underlying code of honor and respect. You need to study, understand, and respect your opponent, lest you get severly burned. I don't want to stir up a debate on "The Code" and whether it exists or not. There will always be idiots that prove to be the exception to the rule, but I do believe that the players ultimately respect each other and the courage it takes to stand and throw punches toe-to-toe. More times than not at the end of a hockey fight, you'll notice a subtle, mutual head nod or shoulder tap between the two fighters. That's respect.
And now......poll time. In an effort to keep the timeframe somewhat focused (in addition to the availability of online videos), the question is this: What is the most memorable Caps fight since the lockout (2005-06 season and beyond)? Whether it's a good old fashioned heavyweight battle, or someone fighting you didn't expect to, or one that just left a bloody mess on the ice, which fight still sticks vividly in your mind?
Here are my candidates, from most recent to oldest:
Alex Ovechkin vs Brandon Dubinsky, 12/12/2010
Alex Ovechkin vs Brandon Dubinsky Dec 12, 2010 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)
Let's face it, this was Ovi's first real regular season fight (I don't count the "fighting major" he got against BUF his rookie year). To me, this was a long time coming. Not because I want Ovechkin to fight on a regular basis, but because I think he needs to show the league that he can stand up for himself and do his own dirty work. He finally did, and while the decision went to Dubinsky (no slouch), Ovi stood his ground and did well enough. Capturing this fight and the on-ice commentary for 24/7 only makes it more bad-ass.
John Erskine vs Eric Boulton, 11/14/2010
Eric Boulton vs John Erskine Nov 14, 2010 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)
Wow. Just, wow. In what was easily voted hockeyfights.com 2010-11 Fight of the Year, this heavyweight battle was haymaker after haymaker, many of which actually connected with face. Bonus points here for the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from the crowd watching the replay while Erskine admires himself on the Jumbotron from the penalty box. Due to his concussion history, Big John is one glancing blow away from forced retirement, but you absolutely have to respect the way he fights. He's gotten very smart at picking his battles, and he limits himself to maybe half a dozen fights a year.
Matt Bradley vs Steve Downie, 1/12/2010
Matt Bradley vs Steve Downie Jan 12, 2010 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)
Amazing move by an amazing teammate. From the way Brads' sprinted from the bench to get to Downie, you could tell he was watching this unfold from the moment Downie and Ovi left the penalty box. This only adds to the Bradley legend, despite his ridiculous-looking helmet. On a side note, you could kind of sense this coming from Ovi. He had just been named team captain days prior, and about two weeks before this Downie incident he dropped his gloves and went after Dan Boyle (who didn't oblige) in a game at San Jose.
Donald Brashear vs Wade Belak, 3/10/2009
Donald Brashear vs Wade Belak Mar 10, 2009 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)
This was an absolute stunner. I may actually be leaning towards voting for this one, only because the image of Brash being crumpled to the ice sticks with me to this day. In my opinion, this fight essentially marked the end of his career. Even though he had been sort of going through the motions in this final year with the Caps, he was still a feared fighter. I think any swagger Brash felt that he had left disappeared with one left from Belak. I don't remember seeing one of the best fighters in NHL history ever being tagged like that.
Alexander Semin vs Marc Staal, 1/3/2009
Marc Staal vs Alexander Semin Jan 3, 2009 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)
One word: bongos. And a lifetime of gifs, photoshops, and merciless ridicule.
So, which one is most memorable to you? There were a few others I thought of that didn't make the cut. The Brashear-Shanahan fight from several years back was certainly unexpected. Personally, I love the one where Ersky broke Milan Lucic's nose too. Or, maybe one of the Bradley bloodbaths?