I am sure I’ve referenced the following scene before: Scut Farcas terrorizes his school. His crummy little toadie, Grover Dill, can be counted on to do the same. One day, they throw a snowball at “four-eyes” Ralphie Parker, and tease him verbally.
He snaps, rushes Farcus, who is way bigger than he is, and beats the living S$%T out of him. And the whole neighborhood looks on and cheers, because he deserves it. This, of course, from one of the greatest movies of all time, A Christmas Story.
Chris Versteeg didn’t deserve the beating Rickard Rakell gave him Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, unless he started the fight with Rakell with this in mind: “This Swedish patsy isn’t going to respond. And since everyone else on the ice is fighting right now, I’m going to give him a go.”
Before it was over, Rakell was unleasing lefts and (mostly) rights, uppercuts, body shots, and head shots. He put Versteeg on the ice twice, and they got up the first time and continued, Rakell of the Ducks continuing to pummel the Kings’ player.
Where did that come from? Rakell’s Swedish. And before you get all upset, let’s be real: if you had to bet on a guy from Lethbridge, Alberta, against one from Sundbyberg, Sweden, in a hockey fight, where would your money be? On the Prairie boy, despite a 3-inch and 25-pound deficit, right?
Well, I don’t know who taught little Rickie to fight, but he acted like a machine out there, the lefts and rights, but as was said, mostly rights, going right where they needed to. Honestly, it was an a$$-whooping of the first order. I mean, listen to me: it’s an hour later (period two just ended), and I’m still thinking about it. Is there a lesson here?
Don’t count on Ralphie, I mean Rickie, taking your crap. He might just have some skills you didn’t know he had.
Wait. That’s classic Sun Tsu, or Tzu if you prefer, The Art of War—something about underestimating your opponent or whatever.
OK, OK, but what about the hockey? (Never fear. I’m coming back to the fighting in a moment.) Max Pacioretty said after the Kings-Habs game the other night that the LA team hits, hits, and hits again. “Every time I had the puck all night, someone hit me,” were his words, a little bit paraphrased. This Saturday afternoon contest was no different, except now you had two big, skilled teams, and add in the fact that, as Boudreau said after their game last Sunday in Anaheim, “They don’t like each other.” No kidding. That melee in period one produced 66 minutes in penalties.
Here’s a good one, though: Kyle Clifford was on the ice for this event, and his part in the whole thing was a 2-minute minor for roughing. Andreoff and Bieksa also got fighting majors and game misconducts, because they started things up after the initial fracas was settled down. McGinn and Schenn also got 10-minute misconducts.
The mess had started when Perry responded with a high hit to Clifford and then thrown a gloved punch at him. I wasn’t watching my wristwatch, but the event probably took five minutes of real time.
When all was said and done, then, the Kings had a man extra for two minutes. They didn’t score. Nobody did in P1.
Anaheim got two goals in period two, with the Kings responding with one of their own to tie it at ones. The first, for Anaheim by Kesler, was even-strength, and the other two, LA to tie and Anaheim to go ahead, were on assorted power plays. By the end of two periods, there were 74 PIMs on the board. A further scrum ensued behind the net when King knocked down Perry after the whistle and then punched him. No calls came from that encounter.
Five goals ended up being scored on the day, the last four on the power play. Of those, two went to each side. The third period saw Anaheim pull out to 3-1, then had the Kings back within one at 3:27. Lots of time, lots of time. And they gave LA one more chance on the PP when Manson got called for holding at 5:51. No goals. The shots were all Kings almost all night, with the tally early in the third at 24-16 and the ending numbers 34-22. Both goalies were good, and if one goal on each side was a bad one, then call the netminding even.
One thing to note is that the goalies—Quick and Andersen—were steady, but neither had to be spectacular. Perhaps that’s a measure of the quality of team D played both ways. The pucks that did get through generally came off of screens, with one going into the Anaheim net low and one roofed on the LA net.
Quick left the net, after waiting for the call for maybe 30 seconds, at 1:15 left in P3. Neither side had a dangerous chance on the six-on-five situation, and the game ended with the Ducks winning their 11th straight on the strength of a power play that has been around 45% in the past few weeks. Unheard of numbers, those.
Coach Boudreau of the Ducks, asked after what it means to now be leading the division, downplayed the impact, saying, “We know that whatever happens in the Pacific Division, you’ve got to go through LA or San Jose to win, and those teams are great, so whether you end up first, second, or third, both of those [other] teams are two of the best road teams in the league, so if we’re first, I don’t think it matters so much.”
But what you really want me to talk about some more was that fight, right? OK, so the reporters gathered around Rakell after the game. His face, smooth and youthful, looked entirely unmarked, except for what you might call the classic fat lip on the lower left. He discussed the fight, and his history of never fighting before, at length, and only near the end did he smile as he said that he enjoyed it.
“Was that your first fight in a hockey game?”
“Ever?” and then heard from another reporter right after, “Ever?”
“How did you learn how to fight? Did you watch fighting tapes? Tips from teammates?”
“No, I’m usually a pretty nice guy. I just tried to stick up for the teammates. It all happened so fast, I didn’t really think too much.”
The conversation went to how the Ducks are doing, his shot which went off Silfverberg for the third goal, then the power play, but then veered back to the fight.
“Having finished your first fight, are you ready for another one?”
Here the smile. “No, I’m gonna, if it happens it happens, but I don’t, I’m not going around looking for fights.”
“Had you got in a lot growing up, or were you a little bit more of a fighter?”
“No, not really. No, not at all.”
“How’d you learn those skills?”
“I don’t know. I just tried to hit him and not get hit.”
He was asked whether the start was hesitant, and he said, “I saw him drop his gloves, and kind of had my head down, and I just tried to get my gloves off too. My left glove got a little stuck there in the beginning, but, yeah, I just tried to hit him before he hit me.”
Oh, and someone came into the scrum very, very late and said, “When was the last time you had a fight, because someone in Plymouth [Junior] told me you barely . . .” to which Rakell jumped in, “I wasn’t even close, maybe a wrestling match.” When that person said, “As a ten year-old,” he said, “not even.”
When asked about the adrenaline, he said, “I was shaking throughout the whole, the rest of the period, and I was playing on adrenaline throughout the rest of the game, I think.” He added in response to a question that he appreciates what the tough guys do on a team. He also said that maybe he got some respect from the team.
When asked “Would you do it again?” Rakell said that he would stick up for a teammate, but then seemed to hear the pitter-patter of tough guys’ feet in his mind (or see them in his mental rearview mirror, if you like that image better), and kind of downplayed it. But still, that smile.
“Everybody on the team liked it, and so I mean, obviously, they have never seen me fight before, and it’s just fun to get noticed for it, a little bit. Not that I’m going to do it a lot, but, whatever.”
Again the pitter-patter of tough guys’ feet sounding in background. On Rakell, smile with dread commingled.
He said, “We were all kind of laughing about it a little bit after,” when a reporter said, “Corey Perry looked amused.” And here’s he’s bordering on breaking the respect code. This isn’t supposed to be about fun, it’s supposed to be about honor, as silly as that ends up being when you’re talking about hockey, rather than, say the Great War.
The coach later said, “That was awesome. We were all cheering pretty hard from the bench for him, because we knew he’d never fought, and you could see when he came back to our bench from the penalty box, you could see the smile; it was from ear to ear.”
When asked whether he would prohibit his offensive star from fighting in fear of a hand injury, Boudreau said, “I could venture that he’s not going to do it for a while. I just think that will be a story that he’ll be phoning home about and everything. It’s good.”
So sure, smile, though Ralphie didn’t when he beat the heck out of Farcas. He dissolved in tears and was taken home by his mother. And really, this isn’t funny. Let’s not forget that this could have gone so wrong. Rakell could have broken a hand. He could have had his jaw broken, orbital bone, nose, lost teeth, had a concussion when they went to the ground, or given one, and on and on.
The fight went on so long that they went down and got back up, and I asked him about that. “It just happened,” Rakell commented. “If I wasn’t going to get back up, he was going to hit me, so I mean, I didn’t think too much. It just happened, and I can’t explain it.” He said he was pretty tired after. But then he spun it back to the cliché, “We’re a team that sticks up for each other, and if it happens again, I’m there for my teammates.”
Watch that, kid. You don’t know who’s listening. Or maybe, you do.
This was entertaining. But it was also very, very stupid. And, apparently, harmful to Versteeg, who did not return and was said to have an upper-body injury.
I asked Rakell about that, and he said, “I kind of noticed that he came back and then left again. I don’t know what happened, and I think I got him with a pretty good one, one time, and I hope he’s doing alright.”
Watching video this evening, I notice two things: the fight lasted, at max, about 24 seconds. Sure seemed like longer than that live, though. And Versteeg got up looking quite undamaged and skated to the penalty box with no problem.
But this has to come with a warning: Don’t get to confident, Rickard. You have them guessing now, and thus somewhat fearful. Don’t tempt fate.
The two teams play Washington, Anaheim Monday and LA Wednesday. The Ducks, for now, sit atop the Pacific, unbelievable a month or two ago. But the Kings also have Vancouver on Monday evening.
With the win, Boudreau is the quickest coach in the league to 400 wins. Of course, this stat is somewhat meaningless given that every game now has a winner, with no ties.