MAKICHUK: Puck drop brawl at MSG rocks the NHL

Rangers Matt Rempe is quickly establishing himself as a tough hombre in the NHL.
Rangers Matt Rempe is quickly establishing himself as a tough hombre in the NHL.YouTube TNT screengrab

"You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free."

— Goalie Denis Lemieux in Slapshot

It was Easter Sunday, in 1967. Olympia Stadium.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

My Dad was able to snag some last second tickets, which put us only about five rows up from the Chicago bench — best Original Six tickets, ever!

And all for just $5 each!

How lucky we were to see such greats as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and others on the ice.

But the moment I will always remember (Wings won 4-2), was a brawl. Brian “Bugsy” Watson was shadowing and tormenting Hull all night.

And finally he had enough. But as soon as Hull went after Watson, none other than the hitman, Wings’s enforcer Howie Young came in. One of the toughest guys in the league.

To the bloodthirsty screams of the crowd, they rolled on the ice, pummelling each other with punches. Violence in the extreme.

And all in the name of NHL hockey. But it was considered normal then. I just thought this was what grownups do and I accepted it.

After the game, I saw Howie in a suit, talking with fans. He had a big bruise on his face and a patch over his eye.

Bobby had landed a few, obviously.

And then, we waited for Bobby at the Hawks’ exit. To his credit, he came out and signed every autograph even though we booed him every time he touched the puck that night.

Talk about class. And get this — not a single scratch on his face. Nothing.

Stan Mikita, meanwhile, hated Detroit and the fans, and walked right by us kids, totally ignoring us. This was the NHL, circa 1967.

Now fast-forward to March 3, 2024, Madison Square Garden.

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers. A night that could be called, ‘There Will Be Blood.’

As soon as the puck was dropped, just seconds into the game, all players on the ice suddenly dropped the gloves and went at it. Mano-a-mano.

It wasn’t a game anymore, it had turned into a violent slugfest. Payback, if you will, against a player named Matt Rempe, whose previous actions angered the Devils to no end.

Thankfully, the two goalies didn’t get involved — but everyone else on the ice did. And so did the MSG fans.

The pugilistic Hanson brothers in Slapshot.
The pugilistic Hanson brothers in Slapshot.Universal Pictures

In the end, because all fights finally do come to an end, some 166 penalty minutes were awarded, along with eight ejections, the most combined PIMs in the league since January 18, 2014.

That’s more than 10 years ago when the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks had a fight between themselves that amounted to a staggering 188 PIM.

Even the two coaches got into it, heatedly chirping at each other — Rangers coach Peter Laviolette and Devils interim coach Travis Green.

Here were the matchups:

Kurtis MacDermid vs Matt Rempe
Kevin Bahl vs Barclay Goodrow
John Marino vs K’Andre Miller
Chris Tierney vs Jacob Trouba
Curtis Lazar vs Jimmy Vesey

Ironically, Vesey and Lazar were the only skaters not ejected because officials determined that their bout was the first to begin. Per NHL rule 46.7, any players who fight after an original altercation are ejected.

Now look, there are fans who like it and fans who don’t like it. And this one was worthy of the Hanson brothers in the classic hockey movie, Slapshot.

But nobody got hurt. Maybe some cuts and bruises and lost chiclets. Some equipment got messed up.

It’s nothing more than a show. A WrestleMania show. So take a pill, you hockey purists out there.

The NHL used to be for blue-collar, hard-working folks, but now, only rich corporate types can afford the tickets. Them and their blousey women.

Real fans have been left out of the game, thanks to Mr. Gary Bettman.

One NHL commentator said, it’s a choice between two things. Marketing the game to try to give it more respectability or just allowing nonsense like this to continue, to keep mainstream fans happy.

I mean anybody who walked out of MSG the other night got his money’s worth. Plus, a Rangers’ win. It does not get any better, or does it?

One can only imagine what the young MSG fans thought of it and will they imitate or copy it on the ice? On the street, in their neighbourhood? Not exactly a great example, eh.

Red Wings Bob Probert, one of the toughest skaters in his day.
Red Wings Bob Probert, one of the toughest skaters in his day.YouTube screen grab

In NBA, opposing players often hug each other, or congratulate each other, after the game. Despite going tooth and nail, on the court, they often show great sportsmanship.

I mean, that is one tough sport. During the game, no prisoners are taken. But afterwards, all is forgiven.

Same thing in soccer. Who can get over the time that Neymar Jr congratulated Messi with an emotional hug after Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America final.

Neymar was in tears, but Messi held him like he was his own son.

It’s still a sport, folks. Yet, that would never, ever happen in hockey. Where fighting and feuding is part of the game, whether we like it or not.

As the great Gordie Howe once jokingly said, "It is better to give than receive."

The NFL? Yes, there is some jostling now and then, some pushing, some helmet bashing, but nothing like the NHL. And the MLB has the occasional bench clearing altercation.

But none of those sports feature fighting, like the NHL does. In those sports, it’s very frowned upon and rightly so.

Meanwhile, the bout was Rempe’s fourth fight in the five NHL games he’s played.

The 21-year-old has also tussled with the Islanders’ Matt Martin, the Devils’ Jonas Siegenthaler and the Flyers’ Nicolas Deslauriers.

As such, he’s become the darling of MSG fans. Not exactly Bob Probert scary, but he’s fast earning a rep for fisticuffs.

The calm before the storm.
The calm before the storm.YouTube screengrab

Here is a sampling of the reactions:

“How awesome is hockey?” Colby Armstrong said during TNT’s intermission.

National hockey writer Shayna Goldman of The Athletic shared a message about the game including a meme reading “No soap operas, just hockey,” while calling this season “the most dramatic yet.”

NHL Network reporter Anna Dua shared a simple but pinpoint-accurate description of the beginning of the game, calling it “the most insane start to an NHL game I have ever witnessed.”

“We’re not trying to make a mockery out there,” Rangers defenceman Adam Fox added. “It’s just guys having each others’ backs.”

“I had no idea that was going to happen,” MacDermid told reporters as documented by’s Emma Lingan. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

Devils defenceman Brendan Smith told reporters after the game, “The fans got what they wanted out of that. Good atmosphere, it’s a good game.

“It gets the blood boiling, the fans enjoy it. I think everybody got their dollar’s worth. And it’s an expensive building.”

P.K. Subban tweeted, ITS A BRAWL FOR IT ALL!!!!! Fighting in hockey is the best entertainment in sports! PERIOD!!!

“Our guys were reacting to what was happening on the ice,” coach Laviolette said postgame, per New York Post reporter Mollie Walker. “I thought they did a fantastic job, all five of them.”

And what did Rempe the instigator say, of this gladiator-fest?

"That was a banger," he told USA Today.

Strangely enough, the two now have nothing but respect for each other.

"He's a real tough customer," Rempe said of MacDermid. "That guy is a big boy. Strong, been one of the toughest guys in the league for a long time, and he has his job to do. You gotta respect that."

According to MacDermid, the respect is mutual.

"I'm always going to have a lot of respect for him," MacDermid said post-game. "He's a young kid just trying to do his thing to stay in the league and I understand that."

There you go, honour among brawlers.

Just the same, maybe they shouldn’t turn the sport into a mockery. Play the game to win guys and come what may.

As one unknown hockey fan once said, “Hockey is our national religion: We have ice in our blood and blood on our ice."

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