Sports Hockey

Fight night between Flames-Canucks


Calgary Flames' Brian McGrattan (left) and Vancouver Canucks’ Tom Sestito fight during the game-opening line-brawl in Vancouver on Saturday. Photo by Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency

Calgary Flames' Brian McGrattan (left) and Vancouver Canucks’ Tom Sestito fight during the game-opening line-brawl in Vancouver on Saturday. Photo by Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency

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VANCOUVER — Hockey Day in Canada turned into Fight Night.

Calgary Flames boss Brian Burke has been adamant that he wants more grit, more gusto and more hostility from this rebuilding bunch, and he got all that and more in Saturday's scrap-fest against the Vancouver Canucks.

There was a line brawl just two seconds after the opening faceoff.

There was an altercation at the first intermission, with Canucks bench boss John Tortorella trying to get to the visitors' quarters in the bowels of Rogers Arena.

There was, when all the damage was added up, 204 penalty minutes doled out, including 178 — 93 for the Flames, 85 for the Canucks — in a wild opening frame.

Oh yeah, there was a hockey game, too, with the Canucks registering a 3-2 shootout victory in a bitter battle that will be remembered for everything but the end result.

In fact, all the hockey world will be talking about is the five-on-five free-for-all just two seconds into the game.

“I don't think anybody expected that,” said Flames defenceman Chris Butler, who swapped punches with Jason Garrison, two of the eight players tossed from the game after the donnybrook.

Added Flames winger Kevin Westgarth, who was also banished after a tussle with Canucks callup Kellen Lain: “Obviously, it doesn't happen every day, so it was a little surreal to see, especially to have four guys kicked out of the game right off the bat.”

You had a hint that there would be some early ... uh ... pleasantries, when the starting lineups were announced, with enforcers Brian McGrattan and Tom Sestito headlining a group of guys rarely on the ice for the anthem.

At exactly the same time the puck hit the frozen surface, the gloves did, too.

McGrattan and Sestito renewed acquaintances.

Westgarth, Butler, centre Blair Jones and blueliner Ladislav Smid were also throwing haymakers for the Flames, while Lain, Garrison, Dale Weise and defenceman Kevin Bieksa provided the dance partners.

“Our tough guys fought their tough guys,” shrugged Flames defenceman Shane O'Brien. “There's worse things that happen in the game of hockey than two tough guys going at it. Obviously, you don't see five-on-five very often, but it is what it is. I'm sure the fans enjoyed it. I know it got us going.”

Flames head coach Bob Hartley will be scrutinized for sending his muscle out for the opening faceoff, but he insisted he just wanted some energy for the first shift.

“We had absolutely zero intentions there,” Hartley said. “Those guys are playing hard for us. We're a disciplined hockey club and, as far as I know, they were the home team, so they had the luxury to put whoever they wanted out on the ice.”

In his post-game address, Tortorella argued that he was left with little choice.

“I see the starting lineup and I know the other guy across the bench, and it's easy for people to say put the Sedins out there and it's deflated,” Tortorella said. “With the lineup he had, I am not going to put those type of players at risk. And that's what ensues. I'm not proud of it. I've apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don't feel great about it at all.”

There were no fighting majors over the final 59:58 of action, but the fun didn't end with the brawl.

At the first intermission, Tortorella stormed down the hallway that leads to the visitors' locker-room, and CBC's Hockey Night in Canada telecast showed Flames goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk being restrained by McGrattan as tempers flared.

“We were walking back and I was talking to (assistant coaches) Marty Gelinas and Jacques Cloutier, and suddenly I lift my head and here he was. I just don't understand,” Hartley said. “I got out of there. I don't need to get suspended or fined or stuff like this. There's nothing to settle there.”

There will likely be fines and suspensions anyway.

Mark Giordano and Matt Stajan provided the offence for the Flames, while Ryan Kesler and Yannick Weber replied for the Canucks.

Joe Colborne was the only Flames skater to score in a skills competition that required five rounds, while Weber and Chris Higgins beat Calgary's Karri Ramo at the other end.

The Flames, who have just five points to show for the past dozen outings, continue their two-game trip with Monday's meeting with the San Jose Sharks (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet West, Sportsnet 960 The Fan) in the Silicon Valley. 

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