When Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley elected to start noted tough guys Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, you had an idea of what could be looming for their contest against the Vancouver Canucks. The Flames had won just two of their last 11 contests and were coming off a listless home effort in a 5-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets. As a result, Hartley opted to go with his energy line in the hopes of providing a spark on the road against a bitter rival. He made no apologies for his decision.
Hartley’s move left Canucks head coach John Tortorella with a decision to make — he could choose an immediate skill advantage by putting out his top line for the opening faceoff, or he could fight fire with fire. He chose the latter, including starting top Vancouver pugilist Tom Sestito, and the result was reminiscent of the old time hockey the league was known for back in the 1970’s and 80’s. The line brawl featured five fights and eight player ejections just two seconds into a game that the Canucks would eventually win 3-2 in a shootout. Tortorella stated that he wasn’t about to put his more talented players into a potentially volatile situation.
The feisty Tortorella was furious with his counterpart and exchanged heated words with Hartley and the entire Flames bench while the fights were taking place and in the aftermath of the melee. However, it didn’t end there as at the end of the opening period television cameras captured an enraged Tortorella trying to work his way down the hallway towards the Flames’ dressing room. He was turned away by McGrattan, but the situation again nearly escalated when Flames goalie coach Clint Malarchuk emerged from the room and seemed intent on getting involved. Fortunately, he was restrained and the tense situation was defused.
Tortorella has a history from a similar incident during his tenure behind the bench of the New York Rangers. Back in March of 2012, when New Jersey Devils bench boss Peter DeBoer started a rough and tumble lineup in a game at Madison Square Garden, Tortorella took a similar approach by starting his best fighters. Not surprisingly, just seconds after the drop of the puck, the ice was littered with gloves and the punches were flying in another high-profile line brawl. Although on that occasion, while there were heated words between the coaches, Tortorella didn’t venture down to the Devils’ dressing room area.
The league frowns upon such incidents and will no doubt conduct a full investigation into what went down at Rogers Arena. Don’t be surprised if Tortorella winds up much lighter in his bank account, and there also exists the possibility of a suspension for the fiery Vancouver bench boss for his actions.
Rick LaFitte is an NHL writer for Rant Sports.