VANCOUVER – It was an ugly throwback to another time.
The Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames engaged in a wild first-period brawl Saturday night which later carried over to Canucks coach John Tortorella being involved in an altercation in the hallway outside of the Flames’ dressing room.
The opening minutes of the NHL game, which the Canucks won 3-2 in a shootout, was like a scene from the movie Slapshot. It brought back memories of when teams like the Broad Street Bullies and Big Bad Boston Bruins waged wars on the ice.
“I don’t think anybody expected that,” said Flames defenceman Chris Butler, one of eight players ejected from the game.
“It’s been a while since something like that happened, five guys pairing off.”
The Flames raised a red flag by putting their fourth line on the ice to start the game. The Canucks countered with their tough guys.
Just two seconds had ticked off the clock when all five skaters from each team taking the opening faceoff dropped their gloves and began throwing punches. Calgary heavyweight Brian McGrattan was left bloodied in a fight with Vancouver tough guy Tom Sestito. After the fight Sestito patted McGrattan on the back of the head.
Minor league callup Kellan Lain’s first game as a Canuck was brief. He was tossed for fighting with Calgary’s Kevin Westgarth, who has no points in 21 games for the Flames.
Also receiving game misconducts were Vancouver’s Dale Weise plus defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison. Shown the door for Calgary was Westgarth, Blair Jones, Ladislav Smid and Chris Butler.
“They started their goon squad over there,” said Sestito, who leads the NHL with 167 penalty minutes in 47 games. “I just don’t think we’re going to be backing down from guys.”
Ironically, Sestito and McGrattan remained in the game.
In the aftermath of the brawl Tortorella could be seen yelling at the Flames bench.
Later in the period, Calgary’s Mark Giordano punched Vancouver’s Alex Burrows in the face. Burrows was wearing a facemask to protect a broken jaw. It was his first game since Dec. 1.
The bad blood wasn’t confined to the ice. At the end of the first period CBC cameras captured Tortorella attempting to go into the Flames locker room at Rogers Arena. McGrattan pushed him away.
Flames goaltender coach Clint Malarchuk came out of the Flames dressing room after Tortorella and McGrattan were separated. Malarchuk followed Tortorella, but was restrained by several members of Calgary’s staff and McGrattan.
Much of the altercation appeared off camera, but another camera showed Vancouver defenceman Chris Tanev pulling Burrows back toward the Canucks dressing room.
Tortorella refused to comment on the incident but made no apologizes for the lineup he started.
“I know the other guy across the bench,” he said. “It’s easy for people to say ‘well put the Sedins out there and it’s deflated.’ I can’t put our players at risk like that.
“With the lineup that he had, I’m not going to put those types of players at risk and that’s what ensued. I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don’t feel great about it at all.”
Flames’ coach Bob Hartley was left shaking his head over Tortorella charging his team’s dressing room.
“I just don’t understand,” he said. “I got out of there. I don’t need to get suspended or fined.
“There is nothing to be settled there. I just don’t understand what was going on.”
Hartley also defended his starting lineup.
“Those guys are playing well for us,” he said. “They got a goal last game. We’re not scoring many goals. We had zero intentions there.
“As far as I know they were the home team. They had the luxury to put whoever they wanted on the ice.”
The teams combined for 188 penalty minutes in the first period. Vancouver was called for 95 minutes in penalties.