Red Wings hope to feed off brawl buzz awhile

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
The two teams ended up with 12 penalties after a lengthy third-period fight.

Detroit – The victory was nice, and the Red Wings will never get bored with earning two points.

But you couldn’t dismiss after Wednesday’s fight-filled victory over Calgary the unmistakable buzz in the Red Wings’ locker room because of the brawl.

Something about hockey and its relationship with that mayhem that unites teams and brings players together.

“Guys stood up for each other and sometimes that (a brawl) happens,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ll probably have to see what happens in the aftermath (suspensions), but I’m proud of all the guys.

“It’s part of hockey and I’m pretty sure fans enjoyed it.”

The aftermath Thursday turned out to be a 10-game suspension for forward Luke Witkowski for his role in the ruckus.

Witkowski was sent to the locker room after getting into a fight with Calgary’s Brett Kulak. Witkowski said he was speared by Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk – who’ll have a hearing with the league Friday – as Witkowski was headed to the tunnel. Witkowski returned and stepped back on the ice.

Section 70.6 of the NHL Rulebook states: “Any player who has been ordered to the dressing room by the officials and returns to his bench or to the ice surface for any reason before the appropriate time shall be assessed a game misconduct and shall be suspended automatically without pay for the next ten (10) regular League and/or Play-off games.”

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General manager Ken Holland had no issue with the decision against Witkowski.

“The way it was explained to me, everything is in black and white,” Holland said.

Still, there’s no question fans enjoyed what they saw during Detroit’s 8-2 triumph.

Little Caesars Arena has been fairly quiet most of the season – and even was Wednesday during the rout – but the noise meter rose considerably during and after the fisticuffs.

“It was pretty boring, although it was fine with me, by the way,” said coach Jeff Blashill of the third period. “It (the fights) certainly gave a lot of life to the building. This town embraces blue-collar toughness, no question about it.

“I grew up in the Bruise Brothers (Joe Kocur, Bob Probert) era. That’s (the fights) something that can give life to a building.”

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A key figure in Wednesday’s excitement was Witkowski (Holland/Western Michigan), who was signed by the Red Wings signed last summer for just these sort of situations.

Witkowski doesn’t shy away from physical play, and is more than willing to protect his teammates.

“I can tell you I hear it on the bench,” Blashill said. “When Witter is in the lineup, they’re glad he’s in the lineup. I can hear their chatter. They know there’s an element of physicality and toughness.

“He’s a good hockey player but he’s always tough. Our bench knows it when he’s in the lineup.”

Wednesday’s antics basically started with Witkowski and Kulak engaging, but things apparently ending rather orderly.

Witkowski was barking at Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic, as they had all game, after Witkowski had finished with Kulak.

As Witkowski headed to the locker room, though, he was speared in the back of the legs by Tkachuk.

That ignited matters, with Witkowski coming back to challenge Tkachuk, even after being sent to the Red Wings’ locker room.

“Somebody speared me in the back of the legs,” said Witkowski. “I wasn’t really thinking about it too much. I felt somebody (spear) me in the back of the legs. Emotions were running high.”

Tkachuk didn’t think highly of Witkowski’s actions. As a matter of fact, he had trouble remembering his name.

“Wisniewski, or whatever his name is, was just an absolute wrecking ball trying to start stuff, starting a complete circus with how many minutes left,” Tkachuk told Calgary reporters. “It's a joke that a guy like that would kind of go after one of my best buddies, come across the whole ice and stick his elbow in and just do something pretty stupid that kind of started everything.

“And then goes into the bench, turns back and chirps our whole bench, didn’t want to go anywhere, so I just went over there to give him a little poke and tell him just to get out of here. He was just looking for an excuse to come back. It was just a little poke on the skate.”

While Witkowski was doing his thing, Mantha was suddenly brawling with Hamonic along the Red Wings bench.

Mantha landed several punches as they spilled onto the floor near the tunnel after the bench door opened.

“He (Hamonic) was throwing punches and I still had my two gloves on,” said Mantha, of how his fight began. “I just tried to push him to the bench to be able to drop one glove.

“The door (to the bench) was open and we fell right in.”

What Hamonic objected to was Mantha continuing to punch away after Hamonic was helpless on the ground.

Interestingly, last season Mantha had a similar charge against him last season in Tampa when he threw punches at Greg McKegg when McKegg was on the ice.

That led, ironically, to Witkowski – then with the Lightning – challenging Mantha to a fight, with Mantha ultimately breaking a finger in the bout against Witkowski, who was defending his Tampa teammate.

“He’s a good young player but he’ll learn there’s a code in those sorts of things,” said Hamonic of Mantha, to Calgary reporters. “He’ll be on the other side of it one day and realize that’s probably not the way you act.”

The disappointing thing for Red Wings fans – and likely Calgary fans – is the teams don’t play again this season (unless it’s in the Stanley Cup Finals).

But the simmering emotions and excitement level could last for a while.

The Red Wings, for one, were feeling good about themselves after the big victory and the fights.

“That’s what I like to call OTH – old-time hockey,” Witkowski said. “It’s good for the fans, just leave it on the ice. Guys were obviously happy with the win, the amount of goals we had, and the emotions on the ice.

“It’s good for the game. Lots of fans like to see that.”