TORONTO – It was an old-school scene that is a rarity in today’s NHL, a wild rock-’em, sock-’em melee that included a player leaving the bench to join the fray and even a goaltender fight.
The pre-season scrap between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night brought back memories of hockey yesteryear, when players dropped the gloves first and thought about their actions later.
The rumble was the main talking point when the Maple Leafs resumed training camp with a one-hour practice Monday at the MasterCard Centre.
Tension rose a night earlier when Toronto’s Jamie Devane emerged victorious in a fight with Buffalo’s Corey Tropp. John Scott then dropped his gloves to tangle with Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who didn’t engage and instead swung his stick at the Buffalo enforcer’s ankles to fend him off.
The Maple Leafs quickly moved in to protect their teammate—including David Clarkson off the bench—and the melee was on. A mildly interesting pre-season game suddenly had hockey fans circling Nov. 15 on their calendars for when the Atlantic Division rivals next meet.
Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle said he erred by putting Kessel on the ice after the Devane-Tropp fight.
“Obviously I made a mistake but I never believed in my wildest dreams that the attack would come directed at that type of player from the opposition,” Carlyle said. “But I was wrong.”
Scott is a mountain of a man at six foot eight and 270 pounds. It didn’t take long for the Maple Leafs to move in and prevent their sniper from feeling Scott’s wrath.
“I think every single guy on our bench was looking to jump out there,” said Toronto centre Joe Colborne. “You see a mismatch out there and you don’t want to leave your teammate out to dry. I think there was about 15 of us sitting on the bench who were trying to climb right over.
“But then you have to sit back and kind of grab each other and collectively try to hold back. It’s an unfortunate situation for sure. Nobody wants that but it’s done now and we’re just going to have to accept whatever the league says and move on.”
Clarkson didn’t hold back and was automatically suspended 10 games without pay Monday. He’ll forfeit $269,230.80 of his salary and won’t make his regular-season debut until Oct. 25 in Columbus.
“In the situation I think that he felt that there was an advantage being taken by their player,” Carlyle said. “It was of poor judgement and he did what he did and there’s no way to defend it. You just accept what went on and move forward.”
Kessel, who was issued a match penalty, was likely to receive further discipline for his stickwork.
“It’s self-defence really,” said Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. “What’s he going to do, (Scott’s) a pretty big boy. He dropped his gloves right off the draw so Phil had to defend himself. I’m actually surprised he didn’t whack him a little higher.
“Phil’s just trying to defend himself and put himself in the best position possible for someone else to get in there. I think we stood by each other pretty well.”
Neither Kessel nor Clarkson spoke to reporters after Monday’s skate. Clarkson was the team’s big free-agent signing in the off-season, inking a seven-year deal worth US$36.5 million.
The obvious negative from the incident is that the Leafs will be short-handed when the regular season begins Oct. 1. The potential positive is the galvanizing effect a brawl like that can have on a team.
“I think it’s good,” said Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. “Obviously we don’t want any suspension to start the season. But the main thing is that everyone stepped up for each other. That’s the main thing.”
Bernier and Sabres netminder Ryan Miller capped the proceedings with a rare goaltender bout. They exchanged punches away from the main scrum as the Air Canada Centre crowd roared its approval.
When order was finally restored, gloves, sticks and equipment were strewn across the ice and the team benches were noticeably depleted. When all was said and done, the teams combined for 239 penalty minutes and Toronto won 5-3.
The 25-year-old Bernier said his last fight was back in his junior hockey days. He felt a need to do something when he saw Scott make a move on Kessel.
“When a play like that happens on a faceoff—a tough guy against a skilled player—I don’t think it’s acceptable,” Bernier said. “I just think it was the right play for me to do.”
Kadri said it was hard to stay put on the bench with everything that unfolded on the ice.
“I guess emotions just kind of flare,” he said. “Loops (forward Joffrey Lupul) actually had to drag me back on the bench. I tried to get a hold of Clarky (Clarkson) but he was up and at it. So it was a bit of a tough play, tough decision-making, and we all understand it happens sometimes.”
Line brawls are rare at any time in the regular season. A pre-season melee complete with a goalie scrap is even more uncommon.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s pre-season, regular season or the playoffs,” Kadri said. “We still go out there and approach the game the same. We’re a competitive group and we want to win and we’re not going to sit back and let people take liberties.”
Later Monday, the Maple Leafs signed forward Mason Raymond to a one-year deal worth $1 million. Raymond, in camp on a pro tryout agreement, had 22 points in 46 games last season for the Vancouver Canucks.
Defencemen Stuart Percy and Andrew MacWilliam were also sent to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. That left the camp roster at 31 players (19 forwards, nine defencemen, three goalies).