I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since the most memorable regular season game of my sports writing career.

What happened in this game had never happened before in the history of hockey, and since the sport has almost completely gotten away from fighting, it’s likely it will never happen again.

But man, it was glorious.

After the jump is a copy of the story I wrote that night, back when I was just a freelance writer for ComcastSportsNet.com, which is now NBCSPhilly.com

The story is OK by my standards – but there’s some stuff that was left out. So, I’ve added some more details in bold text that will hopefully paint a fuller picture of that beauty of a hockey game.

What a night.

Feisty Flyers Beat Up Senators 

(This really needed a better headline, but SEO wasn’t really a thing then…)


Anthony J. SanFilippo

ComcastSportsNet.com Contributor

Martin Havlat has no one to blame but himself.

All the guy had to do was keep his stick down when the Flyers last met the Ottawa Senators in Canada’s capital city last month.

But instead, he mistook himself for an Iron Chef and Mark Recchi’s head for a nice pot roast.

(It was the second time Havlat had clipped a Flyer in the face with his stick and he was getting a reputation for being a bit too cavalier with it. He had high-sticked Kim Johnsson in the playoffs the season before and the high stick on Recchi certainly appeared blatant and infuriated everyone on the Flyers from the GM’s box on down.)

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock vowed revenge. (It was one of Hitch’s great quips – “Someone is going to make him eat his lunch.”)

What happened Friday night was not what he had in mind, but hey, he’ll take it and so will the sell-out crowd who witnessed one of the most memorable games in the history of the Flyers franchise.

What happened? Let’s see… where should we begin?

How about the end, where, when the game concluded, the Flyers had seven skaters and a goalie, and the Senators six skaters and a goalie — on the entire squad.

In a game fresh out of 1974, a combined 23 players were tossed from the game for engaging in several melees on the ice. The goalies went toe-to-toe, the coaches screamed unprintable words back and forth at each other across the bench, and blood was spilled. The gloves dropped after every faceoff in the game’s final minutes. Records for penalty minutes were shattered. After the game general manager Bob Clarke went head-hunting, looking for an Ottawa official to tear apart. Even the media from each country had to be separated following an incident.

All the while, Havlat dodged the combat better than President Clinton during Vietnam, hiding on the Ottawa bench or in the penalty box serving penalties for booted teammates.

(Oh, the days when you could inject a little political humor into a sports story. Such a bygone era.)

Oh yeah, the Flyers defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3. But back to the good stuff.

All told there were a combined 419 minutes in penalties, smashing the league record of 406 set by the Minnesota North Stars and Boston Bruins in February, 1981.

The Flyers obliterated their own team record of 194 penalty minutes set in March, 1979 against the Los Angeles Kings with 213 on Friday.

The two teams also broke a record for most penalty minutes in a period by amassing 409, smashing the league mark of 379 set in the same 1979 Flyers-Kings squabble.

And it all started when a frustrated Senators squad took a run at Sami Kapanen.

“(Rob) Ray went after Sami and started throwing punches at him,” said Donald Brashear. “If you want to screw around, we will take care of business.”

So Brash did. And he beat Ray to a pulp, leaving the Senators’ tough guy dripping blood drops on the ice.

A couple of Senators didn’t take too kindly to Brashear’s easy knockout and went after him as he was skating off the ice. A rumble ensued. Every possible glove and stick was on the ice.

“They were mad because their tough guy got beat up,” Hitchcock said. “Then their next two (fighters) go after two guys who don’t fight at all. That’s why what happened, happened.”

(This is partly true, but also partly disingenuous. Yes, the fighting went on longer than probably necessary because Ottawa coach Jacques Martin threw Chris Neil and Zdeno Chara onto the ice after the Brashear-Ray fight and they went after two non-fighters in Radovan Somik and Mattias Timander. But, in reality, the Flyers were looking for an opportunity to have Havlat pay for his actions, and Martin was rooting him to the bench. That’s what pissed off the Flyers most – a lack of accountability on the part of the Senators, so things got ugly.)

Even the goalies dropped the gloves, as Esche landed a couple of shots to Patrick Lalime’s head.

Brashear amassed 34 minutes of penalties all by himself. He was tossed along with Esche, Danny Markov — who dropped them with Todd Simpson — and Branko Radivojevic, who traded blows with Shaun Van Allen. Ray, Lalime, Simpson and Van Allen all got the gate for Ottawa. All this occurred at 18:15 of the third period.

(I was in the arena, so I didn’t get to hear Jim Jackson and Gary Dornhoeffer call this action until a few days later. Comcast Sports Net re-aired the game as an “Instant Classic” five days later and it drew a higher rating than most live Flyers regular season games at the time. The NHL was not happy with this because they were on a crusade to curb fighting, and replaying this game was promoting it. But Dorny and J.J. were great calling this game. Some great moments including Dorny saying, “Fans can’t stand this though. They don’t like this at all,” as the Wachovia Center was in a frenzy.

It was the best brawl of the season. But that was just the appetizer for a seven-course meal.

Three seconds later, on the very next faceoff, secondary fighter for Ottawa, Chris Neil, jabbed Radovan Somik in the groin with his stick. Somik jabbed back. Then Neil punched him, and every player on the ice went at it again.

More penalties. More ejections. (One of my favorite moments here is poor public address announcer Lou Nolan trying to announce the penalties when another fight broke out and he stopped reading the penalties and let out an exasperated “Oh, boy” over the mic.)

Good-bye to Somik, Neil and Mattias Timander and Zdeno Chara, who also went at it on the same faceoff.

(While this was going on, the players who were ejected were standing in the hallway just steps from the tunnel, watching the feed on a mini TV that Comcast Sports Net had set up in the hallway where reporter Matt Yallof was able to interview players between periods and postgame. When Markov and Brashear saw Neil and Chara jump a couple of non-fighters, they darted back up the tunnel and started screaming at referees Marc Joannette and Dan Marouelli. Brashear even sent one of the equipment guys back into the locker room to get his helmet and gloves – even though he had already been kicked out of the game! At this juncture Hitchock started chirping at Martin. He was telling the Sens coach that all he had to do was put Havlat on the ice and this would all come to a conclusion. Instead, Martin responded by sending Havlat on the ice – to go to the penalty box and serve a teammates penalty. Hitchcock was steamed and directed his players to keep up the physical play. He was going to send a message to Martin for his coaching cowardice.)

Fast forward another three seconds. Michal Handzus, one of Somik’s good friends on the Flyers, attacked Mike Fisher as soon as the puck dropped.

Thanks for playing gentlemen.

By this point, the crowd was in a state of euphoria.

The officials seemed to plead to the benches to end the chicanery.

Oh, but they were far from done.

A mere 23 seconds later, as it appeared cooler heads had prevailed, Recchi drilled Wade Redden into the boards. Redden turned around and attacked John LeClair. Recchi grabbed Brian Smolinski.

More gloves, more penalties, four more players shown the door.

Two seconds later it was Patrick Sharp pounding on Jason Spezza.

Adios Amigos.

Ten fights in 32 seconds. Must be another record.

All the while Havlat just watched from his island.

“My team didn’t forget what Havlat did last game,” Recchi said. “I’d be pretty upset if I were his teammates, I’ll tell you that.”

(Here’s the reference to being accountable for your actions when you do something like high stick an opponent. You need to be prepared to face the consequences – and Havlat never did.)

And if the show of sportsmanship on the ice wasn’t enough, what happened off of it was just the cherry on top.

First, Brashear allegedly was making gestures down the hallway between the two locker rooms, mocking slitting his throat at Senator player Todd Simpson.

When asked about it, Brashear said, “No comment.”

(Brashear later admitted that he did make the gesture, but it was just in conversation, not really reported anywhere. But he was pissed at Simpson because Simpson and Brian Pothier were the guys who jumped him after fighting with Ray. The shouting in the hallway between the two locker rooms was insane. I was on the elevator with Bob Clarke and he was cursing the Senators the whole way down. He was walking with a purpose toward the locker room area and when he didn’t turn to go where he usually would to go into the Flyers locker room, it dawned on me that he was heading toward the Ottawa locker room. So I followed…more on this later… )

When peppered by a Canadian reporter as to why he sucker-punched Ray, Brashear said “I didn’t sucker punch him. If I’d have sucker punched him he would be laying on his back.”

Brash then said he started the whole bru-ha-ha.

“Of course I started it, why wouldn’t I start it?” he said. “Did you watch the last game? You figure it out.”

(Brash was always a great quote. Always.)

(Yes that’s 30-year-old me in the shot with Brash the whole time.) 

It was the same Canadian television reporter who crashed into a Comcast SportsNet reporter (not this one) during an interview with Senators coach Jacques Martin.

Looking like Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone in “The Mark of Zorro,” the two reporters, wielding microphones, nearly killed each other.

(The CSN reporter was Yallof. I don’t want to make this sound like a stereotype, because it certainly doesn’t fit the bill for all Canadian TV employees, but, when it comes to hockey, both the Canadian TV guys and their cameramen have shown a propensity over the years to be a little more bullish when it comes to getting into position for a media scrum. The energy was so high that night that a little effort to create elbow room led to tempers flaring in the hallway between TV guys. It was just like this:

It was a lot more exciting than what Martin had to say, which was nothing.

Maybe that’s why Clarke called Martin “a gutless puke.”

Wait, when did that happen?

Oh, yeah. Clarkie stormed downstairs from his cozy perch atop the arena and had to be restrained from going after Martin in the Senators locker room.

He later eyeballed Senators G.M. John Muckler in the hallway before voicing his displeasure with NHL supervisor of officials, Claude Loiselle, who happened to be in attendance for the game.

Clarke said a lot more that can’t be reprinted here, but it was yet another priceless moment in the middle of a priceless turn of events.

(This was Clarke at his best. He made it all the way down the hall just outside the Senators locker room and was calling for Martin to come out. Some Flyers employees were holding him back as he yelled to Martin, “Come out here now you fucking gutless puke!” Muckler came out instead, but Clarke was already on his way back down the hallway and he just stared at Muckler the whole time. It was so WWE. Clarke addressed reporters afterwards. He said he wasn’t going to hit Martin if he came out of the locker room – although it sure looked like he wanted to – but rather wanted to challenge him for sending Neil and Chara after Somik and Timander. “Their tough guy [Rob Ray] got beat up and then their next two lines fought guys who don’t fight,” Clarke said.  “I understand Rob Ray fighting Donald Brashear. That’s okay. […] But don’t go after guys who don’t know how to defend themselves like Somik and Timander.”

Lost in all of this translation was the fact that the Flyers dominated Ottawa for the game’s first 55 minutes.

After allowing Neil to score the first goal of the game 4:07 in, Claude LaPointe, Recchi and Markov all put the puck past a shaky Lalime giving the Flyers a 3-1 lead after one period.

Kim Johnsson and Alexei Zhamnov also scored while Chara and Petr Bondra added goals for the Senators.

The win and the fights didn’t come without a cost, though. The Flyers lost three defensemen in the game and will have to make due with minor leaguers for at least Saturday’s game in Washington.

Chris Therien and Joni Pitkanen both left the game in the first period with injuries. Therien suffered a strained left shoulder, and Pitkanen was listed as having his “bell rung,” although Hitchcock later said it was a concussion.

Markov will also be out of the lineup serving a one-game suspension for picking up his third game misconduct of the year. This leaves the Flyers with Johnsson, Timander and John Slaney as the only blue liners remaining on the roster.

Kapanen was an emergency fill-in on defense for the last two periods against Ottawa and may see some time there against Washington.

Hitchcock also said Phantoms defenseman Freddie Meyer and Joey Hope could see time.

Of course, there’s also the possibility of Clarke pulling off a trade once he calms down.

With the win, the Flyers (35-16-12-6, 88 points) remained tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with Tampa Bay and moved seven points ahead of New Jersey in the Atlantic Division.

(Final notes: The only Flyers who were left available for the final minute of the game were Johnsson and Slaney on defense, Zhamnov, Simon Gagne, Tony Amonte, Kapanen and Lapointe with Sean Burke in goal…. It’s amazing the Flyers made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite all their injuries. They were without Keith Primeau, Jeremy Roenick, Eric Desjardins and Marcus Ragnarsson in this game alone – Todd Fedoruk and Dennis Seidenberg were healthy scratches. Chris Therien and Joni Pitkanen got hurt in the first period of this game. Clarke went out and traded for Vladimir Malakhov at the trade deadline three days later, but he also traded Therien, which proved costly because in the playoffs, Hitchcock had to frequently play Sami Kapanen as a sixth defenseman because of how injured they were… These two teams met again one more time on April 2 that season at Wachovia Center. Everyone was looking for a sequel – it turned out to be a dud. The Flyers lost 3-1 and the teams combined for 10 minutes in penalties total as neither team wanted to lose anyone to injury or suspension since it was the penultimate game of the regular season and the playoffs were around the corner. )