By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Fighting is down in the NHL this season, there's no doubt about it. Run the numbers and you'll find around a 25 percent drop of activity in the neighborhood of the rough guys. And you don't have to be a member of Mensa to figure out why: rule changes.
The number of minor penalties being whistled for obstruction has transformed the NHL experience into the power-play experience. Quicker line changes and shorter overall game lengths have kept teams from milling around on the ice surface, eliminating those opportunities for less-than-casual conversation among the league's premier pugilists. But there's a plus side for those who can't get enough of the grill-denting: While saber rattling has taken an overall hit around the circuit, the rule changes have at least brought back the heavyweights.
Fighting this season has fallen almost exclusively into the ready and able handsor fistsof the league's legion of nasty boys. A glance through the nightly penalty summaries reveals the usual suspects: Worrell, Cairns, Stock, Ray, Low, and Shelley, to name just a few.
So while the hockey gods have heard fewer pundits of pummel preaching to the choir, they've also got to be smiling wide at the Return of the Heavyweights and of old-time hockey on the physical side. Until next time, see ya in the Sin Bin!
More of the year's best bouts:
November 23 Eric Boulton (BUF)vs. P.J. Stock (BOS) These two titans have squared off before, and it just keeps getting better and better. A late-game encounter here sees plenty of punching prowess and reflects chins of granite to boot, with Boulton getting a slight nod in an old-fashioned Beantown barn burner.
November 27 Georges Laraque (EDM)vs. Jody Shelley (CLB)The budding rivalry between these two germinates with a wild free-swinger of a soiree, both bruisers landing a bevy of blows before ending things on even terms with nods of respect.
November 28 Ryan Vandenbussche (CHI)vs. Andrei Nazarov (PHO) A little bit of the Naz and Vandy Show breaks out off the draw, but it ends just as quickly with the Phoenix fighter on his rump and looking skyward thanks to a lethal left-handed Scud from the Vandy-man. Someone should have yelled, "Duck!"
November 30 Darren Langdon (VAN)vs. Peter Worrell (FLA)They don't come any bigger and badder than Worrell, but don't tell Langdon that. The Langer is as game as they come, so he takes the opportunity to square off against the hulking Florida strongarm. Do-si-do and away they go along the boards, both landing shots in a crowd-pleasing punch-up.
December 10 Stephane Quintal (MON)vs. P.J. Stock (BOS) Is there a tougher pound-for-pounder than Boston's Stock? Not in this league! The diminutive one stands in with the Habs' hulk Quintal, and they exchange toe-to-toe lefts and rights in a terrific draw behind the net.
December 12 Tie Domi (TOR)vs. Todd Fedoruk (PHI) If there's anyone tougher than the aforementioned P.J. Stock, it's Toronto titan Domi, who revs it up big-time with Flyer forward Fedoruk in a center-ice match. They each get their hands free and do some damage, pounding away in front of a raucous crowd in Philly. In a gritty go, give it to Domi on points.
December 19 Eric Cairns (NYI)vs. Matt Johnson (MIN) Talk about some beef on the pond! Two of the NHL's largest mammals shed the mitts and have at it. Flailing away, both find the mark until they fall to the ice and the zebras break 'em up. A pretty good and even encounter, with Cairns tweaking his knee in the process.
January 4 Darcy Hordichuk (PHO)vs. Jody Shelley (CLB) A couple of young guns get the juices flowing off the face-off, and each hands out a couple of lumps to the other guy. Shelley skates away with arms raised in victory.
January 7 Rob Ray (BUF)vs. Todd Fedoruk (PHI) Call this one the old guard against the new guard. Ray has been throwing down for more than a decade, while Fedoruk is just cutting his teeth in the ice ring. They greet one another at the blue line and proceed to dance away, right arms a-flailin'. Fedoruk lands a few, and then Ray follows suit until the latter's right hand explodes on the chin of Fedoruk, sending the youthful yahoo down to his knees. Call it a learning experience.