The real Heritage Classic

 

Canucks-Flames tilt was real old-time hockey at its best ... or worst

 
 
 
 
Vancouver's Kellan Lain and Calgary's Kevin Westgarth battle in the first period of Saturday night's fightmarred clash at Rogers Arena.
 

Vancouver's Kellan Lain and Calgary's Kevin Westgarth battle in the first period of Saturday night's fightmarred clash at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG, The Province

This day is one that many fans look forward to all season but it should have had a different name this year: 'Old-time Hockey Day in Canada.' Say all you like about March 2 at B.C. Place Stadium coming up, this was the real Heritage Classic.

When Vancouver coach John Tortorella finally exploded - who had Jan. 18 in the pool? - and went into the Calgary dressing room tunnel area allegedly to confront his old friend and fellow bush-leaguer Bob Hartley, the evening was made something special.

Prior to that it was a full line brawl when Hartley started every tough guy in his lineup and rather than risk the clearly injured Henrik Sedin and his brother along with Alex Burrows being manhandled by these goofs, he responded with his fourth line and his two toughest defencemen.

The group had enough time at centre ice to discuss what was going to happen - and all the forwards involved are essentially paid by the penalty minute - so the die was cast.

The last time there was a five-aside brawl to start the game in 2012, there were no game misconducts appropriated, but on this night, Rehman and Jackson decided they didn't feel like working and threw out four players from each team.

This meant that after another couple of early fights, everyone else on each team was so tired (given they were down to three lines and four defencemen they didn't have the energy to do anything), the evening's entertainment in terms of quality hockey for 18,000-plus Vancouver fans just snatched away because two guys who answer to nobody but their union confreres decided to take the easy way out.

NHL officials simply do what they want, evidently. If you feel like assessing seven consecutive minutes of 5-on-3 advantage to one team in a game that was already over, as was the case with Paul Devorski Wednesday in Anaheim, go right ahead. A coach storms into the other team's locker-room area and you deem that perfectly OK, then fine, he returns to the bench and finishes the game even though he's entirely likely to get a suspension from the league sometime this week for his temper tantrum.

The officials do as they please. How you preach discipline and self-control to your players when you're doing something like go into the other team's dressing room is a total mystery to anyone in a position of authority, although there were probably 20 people in Flames jerseys who would also enjoyed having a go with Hartley.

But how do you call it spur-of-themoment rage? Tortorella had the whole first period to cool down and realize there really wasn't much he could have done other than start his fourth line.

He couldn't risk the Calgary goons rag-dolling the Sedins and Burrows who was making his first appearance after missing 20 games with a broken jaw. And what was he going to do if he had made it to the Flames room? "I couldn't put the Sedins at risk like that, I just couldn't take that chance" said Tortorella. "I've apologized to all the players involved and my big mistake was putting Lainer (Kellen Lain) in the starting lineup. I feel very badly about that."

Tortorella has had a run-in with Hartley in the past. In Atlanta in 2005, the then-Tampa coach Torts went off verbally on one of Hartley's Atlanta players after a contentious, fight-filled game and the then-Thrashers coach went into Tortorella's office looking for him. Evidently he was just returning the social call Saturday night.

Through all the old-time fun, the Canucks nearly managed to find a way to lose to the Calgary Flames at home, which would have been a tour de force in the inept. Consider this visiting assemblage of AHL talent had lost its last seven straight games at home in regulation and had scored just 12 goals in their last 11 games coming in. But Chris Higgins, who has done very little in his past five games for the Canucks, salvaged the Vancouver win with a shootout goal, while Roberto Luongo stopped three of four Calgary shooters.

"I thought about it," said Luongo when asked if he thought about joining the fun with a goalie brawl. "But it was my first game back, so I decided against getting involved in something like that."

Don't forget to check out The White Towel

They are the survivors. Players who served in depth roles for the Vancouver Canucks and are now doing so elsewhere in the NHL. Foremost among them: the popular Canuck Tanner Glass.

That story from Ben Kuzma is one of several treats in today's White Towel, which you can find at section B. Among other stories: Tony Gallagher chats with North Vancouver's Bracken Kearns, who's with the San Jose Sharks, and his dad Dennis, who played for the Canucks; Jim Jamieson looks at the NHLers who are going to Sochi - and suggests which teams in the league might suffer post-Sochi (and no, it doesn't look like a promising re-entry for the Canucks).

And Jason Botchford serves up a report card on most of the Canucks. He doles out four A's - and one sad F.

Plus, head to thelegionofblog.com for Jordan Bowman's full-length Q&A with Zack Kassian.

 
 
 
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Vancouver's Kellan Lain and Calgary's Kevin Westgarth battle in the first period of Saturday night's fightmarred clash at Rogers Arena.
 

Vancouver's Kellan Lain and Calgary's Kevin Westgarth battle in the first period of Saturday night's fightmarred clash at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG, The Province

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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