At some point on Saturday night, after months of build-up and over-the-top press conferences, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are finally going to step in a boxing ring and chase each other around for roughly 30 minutes. They’ve known about and trained for this fight for months. Everything they’ve done for the last three months has revolved around this meeting. In exchange for all of their preparation, they’re going to receive many millions of dollars.
In hockey, fighting is not quite as lucrative. What few fighters are left in the league tend to gravitate toward the bottom end of the pay spectrum. Fighting itself is slowly leaving the game. According to HockeyFights.com, Cody McLeod ($1.25 million salary) led the league with 19 fighting majors in 2016-17. In 2009-10, Zenon Konopka was atop the league with 33. While the gradual elimination of fighting is good for the game, it still remains.
Hockey players don’t have the luxury of months of preparation for the fights that they get into. For example, on the morning of March 30th, 2017, J.T. Brown most likely didn’t think he was going to have to square off against Xavier Ouellet that evening. He was most likely enjoying some video games or doing his usual pre-game routines. Yet six minutes into the first period of the game, he found himself squared off against the young Detroit defender.
As far as hockey fights went it was a pretty standard affair. The two combatants happened to be on the ice at the same time that Andreas Athanasiou started pushing and shoving with Yanni Gourde. A crowd formed around the two. Both players have similar smaller builds, and neither one is really known as a fighter, but Ouellet and Brown decided to escalate it beyond pushing and shoving.
They skated away from the scrum while veteran linesman Pierre Racicot made a token attempt to prevent the fight (Ouellet knocked something out of Racicot’s hand, probably his whistle, and all of sudden linesman was more concerned with picking it up than preventing a fight).
With the authority figure conveniently distracted, both players prepared to engage in the time-honored tradition of fisticuffs. A nice aspect of this fight is that both players each followed at least one of hockey fighting’s unwritten rules.
As they circled each other they shrugged off their gloves, with Ouellet not quite managing to achieve it one attempt. They took another few seconds to discard their cumbersome elbow pads. Ouellet tilted the visor on his helmet back a bit, a small gesture to his opponent. The league doesn’t allow players to remove their helmets before a fight because (unwritten rule #1)…..well, because they’re the NHL and their adherence to safety is quite random.
Players can beat each other senseless, but taking their helmets off (and preventing a broken hand or two) is too dangerous because they may hit their head on the ice if they get knocked down. However, if the helmet comes off naturally it’s okay, somehow.
Brown’s headgear didn’t last long as Ouellet connected with a right to the side of the head that pops the strap and sent it flying. J.T. recovered nicely and grazed his opponent with a right of his own. It didn’t land flush because, well, Brown didn’t quite have a clear view of where he was throwing the punch as this photo by USA Today’s Kim Klement shows:
Both players were leveraging for position by grasping the jersey collars of their opponent. Ouellet managed to shove it up into Brown’s face, leaving the Lightning forward to swing based on instinct alone. The momentum of his punch took Brown off balance, and, with the help of Ouellet, he crashed to the ground.
Impressively, Brown was on the ice for just the shortest of moments, popping up so quick that Ouellet’s momentary advantage disappeared faster than a Stamkos slapshot. Brown drew back his fist, but hesitated, thereby checking off another unwritten rule. Ouellet scrambled back to his feet only to have the officials decide that that the fight was over. Both players were sent to the box for fighting with no lingering bad feelings.
Brown served his time and returned to the ice with time left in the first period. Which was nice for him as he broke a long goal-less drought by putting the puck past Petr Mrazek with just over a minute left to go in the period. The Lightning would come from behind in the game to beat the Red Wings 5-3 in a crucial game.
For Brown, it was his team-leading seventh fighting major of the season. Not bad for a player that is listed at 5’10 and 165lbs. Even as the Lightning evolved into a “grittier” team they are never going to be confused for a modern-day version of the Broad Street Bullies.
The photo shows some of the difficulties that hockey players face when they choose to square off against each other. The amount of energy they expend in jostling for position is amazing. They work and work to free up enough space to throw a punch with any amount of momentum and when they do chances are they are throwing it almost blind. Oh yeah, and they’re also doing all of this on ice skates.
The total time elapsed in this fight was six seconds. Yet they probably expended more energy than Mayweather will in an entire three-minute round against McGregor.