• Sal Maiorana

Not even the Broad Street Bullies brawled like this

PHILADELPHIA (March 5, 2004) – Bobby Clarke had been involved in too many games like this to count back in the heyday of the Broad Street Bullies.

But for all the fisticuffs and mayhem orchestrated by the likes of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Bob “Battleship” Kelly, Don Saleski and the rest of those pugilistic Philadelphia Flyers as they brawled their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-1970s, nothing could compare to the travesty that unfolded on this night in the City of Brotherly Love.

Clarke, at this point the Flyers general manager, watched in disgust as the Flyers and Senators combined for a new NHL single-game record 419 combined penalty minutes, almost all of it coming in an insane 32-second span inside the final couple minutes of Philadelphia’s 5-3 victory.

A week earlier, Ottawa’s Martin Havlat had hit Mark Recchi in the face with his stick, and with Havlat back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension and the teams meeting so soon after, there was a pretty good chance there would be trouble.

However, as the clock wound down inside two minutes, there had been only 22 minutes in penalties, all minor infractions.

And then all hell broke loose.

The enforcers for both teams, Rob Ray of the Senators and Donald Brashear of the Flyers, dropped the gloves, Brashear getting the best of the action.

It looked like that was going to be it, but as they were being separated and pointed toward their respective locker rooms, Brashear sucker-punched Senators defenseman Brian Pothier and things escalated in a hurry as every player on the ice paired off including the goalies, Ottawa’s Patrick Lalime and Philadelphia’s Robert Esche.

“I didn’t sucker-punch him,” said Brashear. “If I’d have sucker-punched him, he would be laying on his back.”

What drew Clarke’s ire was what happened when order was finally restored and play resumed. Clarke’s side of the story was that it should have been over at that point when his coach, Ken Hitchcock, sent players onto the ice not to fight, but to finish the game. Ottawa coach Jacques Martin did the opposite.

As soon as the puck was dropped, Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil went after Radovan Somik, and hulking Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara attacked Mattias Timander.

“There was a fight between Rob Ray and Donald Brashear, and Ray wasn’t out there to score goals and that fight’s over, so let it go,” Clarke said. “Then they’re jumping on guys who don’t fight. That gutless puke Martin doing that shit. What Neil did is not something to be proud of. I’m ticked off that a player like Neil would go after a player like Somik. If Martin says it’s not his responsibility, then he doesn’t have control of his bench.”

Recchi said, “Neil had no business going after Somik. That’s what set us off.”

Three seconds after that mess had been cleaned up, Ottawa’s Mike Fisher went after Michael Handzus. Twenty-four seconds later two more fights erupted, and two seconds after that, the final bout of the night began with Philadelphia’s Patrick Sharp and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, neither player known as fighters, squaring off.

When the siren finally sounded, 23 players had been ejected, and it took the officials about 90 minutes after the game to sort out the 397 minutes in penalties that occurred in that final stretch.

The 419 total minutes broke the previous NHL record of 406 minutes set in 1981 in a game between the Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars. The Flyers’ 213 minutes broke their old Broad Street Bullies record of 194 set in a 1979 game against the Los Angeles Kings. The Senators’ 206 minutes were also a team record.

“There was a little emotion built up from past years, past games,” Brashear said. “We wanted to win the game in every department.”

Who scored the goals? On this night, no one cared.