Taking a couple days off

October 23, 2006

But to keep you entertained, Tony reminded me of this over the weekend and thought you might enjoy it.

Insight into a hockey fight
Swinging into action
There is often more to the average hockey brawl than meets the eye.

Date: Friday, January 26, 2001
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: 1S
Source: Blake Sebring, bsebring@news-sentinel.com
Illustration: PHOTO (8)

Mark Major and Jim Logan say they are simply working men who have jobs to do. Their work just happens to include fighting in a hockey rink in front of thousands of fans.

Thanks to stricter rules and continued debate, fighting is down throughout all levels of hockey.

Today’s fighters must be players first, able to effectively skate a regular shift. No longer are they specialists. Major has more than 3,000 career penalty minutes, but he’s also the Flint Generals’ captain. Logan is the Komets’ third-leading scorer.

There are unspoken rules to all fights, both for the combatants and everyone else on the ice. There is also a code among fighters that covers such things as how to start and end a fight. To their teammates, players who fight are honorable and viewed with respect.

No one thinks about getting hurt or worries that a fight might be coming up. They don’t expect to fight, but they are also not surprised when one happens.

Most hockey fights seem to happen spontaneously but there was nothing impulsive about last Sunday’s second-period bout between Logan of the Komets and Major of the Generals.

Sunday’s skirmish was not exceptional. It was a good example of a typical hockey fight, the type of action that could happen in any game. It is also is something that makes professional hockey unique in sports.

THE BUILDUP

The bad feelings start with incidents that involve other players. Halfway through the first period, Komets center Fred Slukynsky slashes Flint’s Kahlil Thomas with his stick and receives a two-minute stint in the penalty box, even though Thomas suffers a severely bruised hand.

Flint’s Gary Roach then retaliates, shattering the stick of Komets defenseman Frederic Bouchard with a slash. Roach receives a five-minute major penalty.

Those two calls set the tone for the game. Playing the last of a nine-game road trip and their fourth game in five nights, the Generals are short-handed because of illness and injuries, and now they are short-tempered.

Playing their fourth game in five nights and having returned from a six-game road trip at 7:30 a.m., the Komets are also grouchy.

When they feel Logan purposely goes after one of their players early in the second period, several Generals start yelling at him from the bench to wait until Major gets back on the ice after serving a misconduct for an earlier incident.

“We’re willing to sacrifice Major for the game to kick your ass!” one of them yells.

Logan says he’s willing to fight to stick up for his teammates, even if it means

taking on someone like Major, who is bigger and has a reputation for being a great fighter. Major approaches Logan at a faceoff and says if Logan wants to play tough, he’s there to play tough with him. That shift ends peacefully.

“It just came down to he was doing some things out there that were pissing us off,” Major said. “It just happened that we squared off on the next shift.”

THE START

The altercation actually begins without either Major or Logan being involved. Flint defenseman Lorne Knauft and Komets defenseman Igor Malykhin start pushing and shoving deep in the Fort Wayne zone.

Several teammates jump in to try breaking them up and a pile forms just as Logan and Major skate up. They turn around, see each other and start throwing punches.

“I knew we were going to fight as soon as I saw him going into the pile, because a few shifts before that he had said something to me,” Logan said. “You kind of know in the back of your head if you run into one of the guys, there’s a chance you’re going to turn the switch and fight.”

Logan and Major have never fought before and know each other only through playing games against each other and by reputation.

Sometimes players will say, “Do you want to go?” or “Let’s go!” to an opponent, but this time simple eye contact is enough for each player to toss his gloves and grab his opponent’s jersey. Logan is 6-3, 200 pounds, and Major is 6-4, 216 pounds. Both are experienced fighters.

There is also an ulterior motive. The Generals are trailing 4-1 at the time, and Major hopes to fire up his teammates.

“In our line of work, fights can change the tempo of the game,” he said. “I was hoping to give our bench a lift to get the guys pumped up. You stir the pot up to try to get some emotions out of the other guys.”

THE FANS

Sitting in lower Section 32 at the other end of the ice, 32-year-old Rich Burch elbows his girlfriend, Priscilla Stone, to alert her that a fight is starting. Then he yells to make sure the rest of the fans in the section see it.

“Most of the fights happen away from the puck,” Burch said. “If you are not a big hockey fan you are usually just watching the puck. As a season ticket holder, you know when they are yappin’, and when they are going to. It gets my blood thumping.”

As music roars through the Memorial Coliseum speakers, Burch and his friends talk about what penalty will be called.

Others are not quite as passionate about the fighting aspect of hockey. Dan Wyatt, 51, has been a season ticket holder for 10 years in Section 30. Like Burch, Wyatt is experienced enough to watch the rest of the ice when an altercation starts, because usually that’s a trigger to something happening somewhere else, such as the Logan-Major fight.

“I can’t say as I go to see the fights, but once they start, I like them,” Wyatt said. “With Mark Major it can happen at any time. I think he’s kind of dirty myself. Maybe it’s just because he plays for the other team. If he played for the Komets, I’m sure I’d be cheering for him.”

THE COACH

While Logan and Major are squaring off, Komets coach Greg Puhalski starts yelling from the bench. It’s his responsibility to control the rest of his players, even those 80 feet away on the ice. He’s screaming at them to come to the Fort Wayne bench so there’s no temptation to push the one fight into a brawl where the Komets could lose players to further penalties.

“I just want to make sure we don’t get any more misconducts, and then I’m cheering for Jimmy like everybody else,” Puhalski said.

THE LINESMEN

Because Malykhin and Knauft started their shoving match seconds earlier, as Logan and Major start fighting, United Hockey League linesman Wade Stuckey is skating in the middle of the other altercation. He quickly skates over to the fight to help fellow linesman Glenn Anderson when it’s time to break up Logan and Major. Both officials stay out of the way early in the fight, skating on the perimeter.

“Basically we’re trying to make sure the fighters don’t get hurt and that we don’t get hurt, because we have to stay out there until the end of the game,” Stuckey said. “It’s only when you or they are careless that you get hurt.”

Stuckey has had his nose broken a few times by poorly aimed punches, and earlier this year suffered a black eye. Anderson received a shiner earlier during this game. To help prevent that, the linesmen talk to the players, essentially letting the players know the officials are there when needed.

The players don’t hear them.

THE FIGHT

Both players reach to grab on. Unlike fighting in street shoes, it’s difficult to get a solid base for throwing a punch with any power while wearing skates. They grab for an area that will protect them while at the same time restraining their opponent a little bit. Usually that’s around the shoulder area of the player’s dominant hand.

Logan lands the first haymaker, a solid left that splits Major’s nose.

“I didn’t even know he was a lefty until we started throwing them,” Major said. “That got me ticked off a little more.”

The incensed Major retaliates with two right crosses. The fighters don’t hear the roar of the crowd or the music. They don’t notice where they are on the ice or who is around them. They only experience what they are doing, mostly reacting on instinct.

“I don’t think, I just do,” Logan said. “There’s a time when you do have to think, though. You can’t go into every fight just throwing bombs and not thinking because then you’ll be getting beat up a lot. There are times when you have to be more technical.”

Though their knees may buckle slightly, neither feels a thing physically as the adrenaline hides the pain.

“I’ve had some fights where I hit the guy’s helmet or his head 20 times and then I come back to (the penalty) box and my hand is all cut up,” Logan said. “I can swing as hard as I can and punch him, and I won’t even feel it in my hand until after the fight.”

Sometimes, Logan said, if a punch gets him in the nose he can taste the blood, but that’s rare. Major said he knows he’s been hit in the nose when his eyes water.

Neither player wastes the energy to talk because each is physically focusing his strength on holding on and throwing punches.

Every bit of strength they have is going into one thing in a very short time period, completely draining the players. The fight ends with Major standing over a kneeling Logan, fist cocked to throw one more punch. Major finally releases his fist.

The fight lasts 25 seconds, but to the fighters it seems like two.

THE LINESMEN

While Stuckey and Anderson wait for Logan and Major to exhaust themselves, they watch to make sure the players stay away from the boards where the smaller player is at a disadvantage because he has less room to maneuver. They also look to make sure a player doesn’t get hurt too seriously and to keep teammates away. Their next job is all timing.

As soon as Logan drops to his knees, they jump in to grab Major to try preventing more blows. The linesmen talk to the players to let them know the hands grabbing them are those of an official. This keeps a player from thinking it is an opponent who is looking to get in an uncontested punch.

“Most of the time it comes down to technique,” Stuckey said. “If you have a partner who is on the same page with you, you can just look at each other and know what to do. Then it comes down to how willing the combatants are.”

Major and Logan are exhausted and too tired to make promises about what will happen next time. Major doesn’t hear Stuckey talking to him until after he stops throwing punches. Then he lets go of Logan’s jersey and starts skating toward the Flint bench with Stuckey slightly behind.

“The guys who are fighters know what they are doing and are usually easier to deal with,” Stuckey said. “It’s the guys who don’t fight as much who you might have problems with. They might get into one fight a year and are really upset and usually want to keep going.”

As Stuckey leads Major to the Flint bench, Anderson guides Logan to the Fort Wayne bench.

THE COACH

When the fight breaks up, Puhalski starts planning his line combinations. His lineup has just lost a player for at least five minutes and eventually longer by the time the penalties are announced. This time it’s a big deal because the Komets are left with seven forwards and four defensemen for the last half of the game because of previous penalties.

“So basically things were not too difficult for me,” Puhalski said, knowing he has few options.

Most often a fighter only has to sit in the penalty box for five minutes and it only affects his line. That’s one reason teams have 10 forwards in a lineup.

THE FANS

Sometimes a fight is almost cathartic for the fans, especially if their team is losing the game, there’s a history with the players or a hometown hero sticks up for a teammate. The loudest times during a game are after a fight and not after a goal.

“It was a pretty good fight,” Wyatt said. “I think Major for his age (30) is a pretty good fighter, still a very smart fighter. He’s got the experience. I thought it was going to turn out the other way, but then all of a sudden Major overwhelmed him.”

Major has been a player Komets fans love to hate for many years from his time in the International Hockey League with Muskegon, Cleveland and Detroit.

Some of his battles with Fort Wayne’s Steve Fletcher are legendary.

“I think fighting definitely needs to be in hockey,” Burch said. “These guys aren’t getting hurt. Guys get hurt more off body checks and weird things than they do off of fighting. Usually these guys are pretty gentlemanly about it. They fight, they break off and they go unless they’ve really got a hatred for each other.”

Both Wyatt and Burch say Major won the fight decisively. They’ll be surprised by how the fighters judge the bout.

THE COOLDOWN

It usually takes two or three minutes of sitting in the penalty box for a player to suck enough air into his heaving chest to calm down. Major said he takes all five minutes, drinking as much water as he can. Eventually, the player almost casually starts re-adjusting his equipment and thinking about the fight. Most of the time the previous few moments are a blur.

“Sometimes you can remember them if they are a slow fight and a very technical fight,” Logan said. “This one happened so fast I’d have to watch the tape.”

Major has learned not to think about past fights, even the one just ended.

The only time he thinks about them is during the few days when different parts of his body throb.

“If you start analyzing what just happened, you are throwing too many things around in your head instead of concentrating on what you need to do for your team,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the way I fought, and I’ll fight him the same way the next time. I’m not going to change my style because of one fight.”

THE AFTERMATH

Both players are ejected for being the third man in’ for the altercation. Logan goes to the Komets locker room where he ices his fists and eventually peels his equipment off for a shower. It’s a long process.

“I took a couple of lumps and my hand is a little bit sore, but give it a few days and it will go down,” Logan said. “I think I won the first half of the fight, and he won the second half. I don’t know if it’s a win or lose thing because you can’t always determine who won, but you can say whether you did well. I’ve been in a lot of fights where I may not have won, but I didn’t lose by any means. I gave a good effort in this one.”

Major heads to the Flint locker room, where he receives five stitches in his nose. He’s so pumped up he declines pain medication before the doctor goes to work.

“The fans sometimes have their own perspective of who won and believe the guy who finishes on top is always the winner. That’s ridiculous,” Major said. “Between me and him, I thought I got the better of him, but it was a pretty good fight. Who knows who won that fight?

“I’ve played with some big boys and he surprised me. I didn’t think a whole lot about him, but he gave me a good fight. He earned some respect from me. I don’t have too many battle scars, but he gave me one.”

THE FUTURE

The Komets and Generals play one more time this season – March 30 in Flint. Again, neither player wants to talk about what might happen.

“I don’t think they’ve resolved anything,” Stuckey said.

“I think there will be some carryover the next time. They’ll probably come out with some spirit.”

Which means Logan and Major will probably still have a job to do.

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4 Responses to “Taking a couple days off”

  1. Hoss Says:

    Very cool story! It’s nice to hear what goes onin the players head and compare that to how we all think they play. Very different!

  2. Greg Says:

    I still remember that fight and I gave credit for Logan to stand in there as long as he did. Major was one of the best heavyweights in the minors.

  3. ilovehockey Says:

    Good story.

  4. Hit Somebody!!! Says:

    That was long!


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