Gene Collier: Goalie fight being broken up is big news in NHL

So it turns out there were a number of compelling reasons Pittsburgh’s hockey audience was denied a real live goalie fight the other night, a real live goalie fight being, in the words of one national hockey writer, “a rare delicacy.”


Two grown men beating each other about the face and head.

Two-Minute Warning: Richard Sherman; one-word weather

PG columnist Gene Collier opines about Richard Sherman's post-game rant, baseball's mega-million deals, and then introduces a new segment that gives you a weather report in one word. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 1/23/2014)

A delicacy.

What prevented it isn’t terribly flattering to anybody either, and the crowd Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center reacted with rich hostility when it became evident referees Kyle Rehman and Francois St. Laurent would not be allowing Marc-Andre Fleury and Montreal Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj to just go ahead and play concussion roulette.

Rehman essentially smirked at Fleury when he intercepted him near the Penguins blue line, telling Flower that he’d had more than his fill of mayhem for one week. Rehman had been on stage for the Saturday atrocity in Vancouver, when all 10 Canucks and Calgary Flames skaters dropped their gloves to fight exactly two seconds after the opening faceoff.

Was that even in “Slap Shot”?

So it wasn’t that Rehman had any particular objection to a goalie fight on its own merits. Perhaps, he even considers it a rare delicacy. But his motivation was personal as a recent victim of mayhem overload.

He remembered that, after the first two seconds in Vancouver, or when a hockey game finally broke out, Rehman and his crew assessed 12 misconduct penalties, 10 fighting penalties, 6 penalties for roughing, 1 for hooking, 1 for holding and 1 for unsportsmanlike conduct.

And that’s when the first period ended.

Someone from the Canucks bench tried to invade the Flames dressing room between periods and drew a 15-day suspension without pay for that display of galloping idiocy.

An immature miscreant with perhaps some strain of pathological aggression disorder?

Well yes, or, coach John Tortorella.

And, of course, you’re right the answer is ‘B’.

But Rehman was not the only NHL official on the ice Uptown the other night who’d had it up to his whistle with gratuitous hockey violence, you’ll excuse that redundancy. St. Laurent was in the house for the most recent NHL goalie “fight” that lasted at least one round.

That was in November in one of those Philadelphia episodes where the brotherly lovers find themselves getting thrashed, 7-0, and suddenly feel as though it’s prudent to “send a message.” Goaltender Ray Emery, therefore, left his station and skated the length of the rink to engage Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who put up about as much resistance as a mugging victim on the Broad Street subway.

“I told him to protect himself,” Emery said.

Oh, you’re completely absolved then.

St. Laurent had done little if anything to prevent that mugging, and, as a result, the next few weeks at NHL hindquarters included a bit of soul searching, but in a typically minimal dose.

Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned that the league’s general managers would kick around a rule against goaltenders fighting (you mean there isn’t one?) and maybe even vote on it one of these years.

Bettman long ago joined the dark side on this issue, letting himself become persuaded that fighting is simply an evitable part of the game’s physical politics, a view shared by too many executives, coaches, players, broadcasters and writers for the league to fully yank itself from its own black lagoon of violence.

“Does fighting have place in the game? Fighting has [always] been part of the game,” Bettman said in an audience Q&A at a recent Canadian trade show. “I think fighting acts as a thermostat to keep other things [orderly]. I’d rather them be punching each other than swinging the sticks at each other.”

This argument pretty much reduces the athletes to animals, doesn’t it?

It’s a bit like saying, ‘Look, these guys can’t be controlled. You’d better let them hurt each other once in a while, or they might get frustrated and kill each other.”

Fortunately, hockey has enough cooler heads, a ready euphemism for superior brains, that the game needn’t be swallowed by its own violent tendencies. Congratulations to Rehman and St. Laurent for stopping the Fleury-Budaj bout.

“I guess maybe [Rehman stopping him, the willing combatant] was a good thing,” Fleury said.

“I’ve heard he’s a good guy,” Budaj told writers afterward. “It was nothing personal.”

It rarely is in the NHL, a league with a dark ethos that’s hard to translate and somehow inextricable from the inevitability of blood on the pond.

This simply needn’t be.

Watch the hockey that starts in two weeks and culminates in a gold medal game Feb. 23. If there’s blood, it almost assuredly will be accidental.

It’s past time the NHL embraced that Olympic example.

That would be your rare delicacy right there.

Gene Collier:

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