MONTREAL – Forget Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao, the fight everyone wants to see involves two rivals who are hockey’s equivalent to featherweights – Mikhail Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn.
The two almost came to blows the last two times the Maple Leafs played the Canadiens. The next date is on Saturday night, when Toronto visits Montreal at the Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET).
“I don’t want to talk about him,” Kostitsyn said this week after a Canadiens practice.
But when informed that Grabovski would be a healthy scratch for the Leafs’ game Wednesday night in Buffalo, Kostitsyn grinned and said “Scratched tonight? Good.”
No one is quite sure why the blood boils between the two former teammates from Belarus, who are quick to point out they are not, and never have been, friends.
But the prospect of the two small, slick-handed forwards having it out with their fists was a source of much amusement among Kostitsyn’s teammates.
Hulking enforcer Georges Laraque, considered by many as the NHL’s heavyweight champion of hockey fights, broke up in laughter at the suggestion of a bout between what he called “two little midgets.”
“I think it would look really funny,” he added.
The tale of the tape has both players standing 5-11, with Grabovski at 179 pounds and Kostitsyn at 196 pounds, but the figures for both look to be exaggerated.
“They’re both competitive kids with a lot of fire, so if it happens, it would be quite interesting,” said Canadiens defenceman Ryan O’Byrne.
“It’s always kind of fun when you see a couple of skill players who never fight go at it. But in this situation, I’ve got to take Sergei. He’s the bigger guy, he plays a little meaner out there and, in a fight, I think he’d win.”
The feud apparently started during the Leafs’ 6-3 win in Toronto on Nov. 8, when Kostitsyn took a run at Grabovski and earned a 10-minute misconduct.
When the teams next met in Montreal on Jan. 8, there were less than two minutes to play in the Canadiens’ 6-2 win when the two Belarusians had to be restrained by the linesmen to keep from fighting.
Grabovski was suspended for three games for shoving linesman Scott Cherrey while trying to get at Kostitsyn, who somehow avoided suspension.
Afterwards Kostitsyn, the younger brother of Canadiens winger Andrei Kostitsyn, said yes when asked if the spat might resume the next time the teams met.
“He talks too much in the Russian newspapers about me and my brother,” was his only explanation for the rift.
Grabovski’s retort that night was that he was ready to have it out with Kostitsyn any time, any place.
“I think he is not Belarusian now, he is French, because I never fight with Belarusian guys,” he said. “I don’t know why he wants to fight with me. If he wants to fight, we’ll go in the street and, every minute of every day, I’ll wait for him and we’ll fight.”
But as O’Byrne said, when there’s hype about something nasty happening in an upcoming game, quite often cooler heads prevail and nothing occurs.
The suspension may have dampened Grabovski’s ardour somewhat, and being scratched from Toronto’s last game before the Montreal meeting may have him on his best behaviour.
Grabovski has only one point since returning from the suspension and Toronto coach Ron Wilson opted to sit him in Buffalo to wake him up, although he suggested it was for one game only.
“He’s pressing offensively and he’s a bit off defensively, so he can sit a night and that’s it,” Wilson said.
Or the players could do as Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse suggested.
“If they want to do it, just go to the faceoff circle, drop the gloves and then play hockey and forget about things off the ice,” he said. “Just have fun and let it go. After that, the page will be turned and we can play hockey.”
As for why the two players dislike one another so much, Latendresse added: “I don’t know and I don’t really care. It’s their business. If two guys hate each other, that’s good. It makes the rivalry with Toronto even better.”