By: Will Burchfield
A chippy game turned nasty on Wednesday night when the Red Wings and Flames engaged in a bench brawl in the third period of Detroit’s 8-2 win.
Both goalies were involved, and at one point Anthony Mantha was on top of Travis Hamonic in the walkway between the two benches, pummeling the Flames’ defenseman with punches.
The chaos began with about five minutes left in the game when Luke Witkowski and Brett Kulak squared off at center ice after Kulak took exception to a body check.
“I thought I just had a routine hit, wasn’t even that good of a hit,” said Witkwoski. “I don’t even know the player that came after me. He threw a couple punches, so I joined.”
After Witkwoski dumped Kulak, Hamonic butted in with some words for Witkowski. Witkowki motioned at Hamonic to drop the gloves himself before being wrestled toward the penalty box by a referee.
The two players had been going at it all game.
Witkowski was then escorted off the ice, but not before Matthew Tkachuk poked him in the back of the leg with his stick. That prompted Witkowski to step back on the ice and reconvene with Hamonic, which set off the brawl.
(When Witkowski spoke to the media afterward, he still didn’t know who was guilty of poking him. Told it was Tkachuk, he smiled and said, “Oh, it was? Thanks.”)
Tkachuk, for his part, thought Witkowski was to blame.
“Going to the bench, turns back and chirps our whole bench and didn’t want to go anywhere. So just went over there to give him a little poke just to get out of here. He was looking for an excuse to come back,” Tkachuk told reporters.
Several players quickly paired off and dropped the gloves, at which point Howard decided to join the fray.
“I don’t know really how it flared up. I was sort of at the other end of the bench and felt like we were out-numbered, so felt like I needed to get in there for the guys,” said Howard. “There wasn’t really a thought process, to be honest. It was just more reactionary.”
The most noteworthy scrap occurred between Mantha and Hamonic. It began in front of Detroit’s bench and ended in the hallway between the two benches, with Mantha pinned on top. Hamonic was bleeding from the face when he emerged.
Mantha said he was originally trying to play peacemaker. Hamonic wasn’t interested.
“I just tried to grab one guy and take him out of there, and he dropped the gloves pretty quick,” said Mantha. “I usually don’t stand down.
“He was throwing punches, I still had my two gloves on. I just tried to push him over our bench to be able to drop one glove at least, and I guess the door was open and we just fell right in.”
Mantha, who hurt his hand in a fight at the end of last season — against Witkowski, ironically enough — said his first thought was to avoid injury.
Still, he was on top of Hamonic for about 40 seconds and threw several hard rights. He was eventually pulled off by a referee.
“It went so quick. I know I was on the ground there and he was throwing from underneath. I didn’t know what to do, to be honest. The official was on top of me, so I couldn’t even get up. At the end there I was telling the ref to get up so I could move, and he just told me not to throw anymore,” said Mantha.
Mantha, who registered his first career Gordie Howe hat trick, sensed entering the third period that he was going to get into a fight with Kulak. In the end, it was Hamonic.
“Witter took care of my dance partner, so I had to take another one,” Mantha said.
Witkowksi said he and Hamonic have a long-standing rivalry.
“We were kind of jawing each other during the game, thought it might have happened earlier in the game but it didn’t. Every time I play that guy we’re always kind of jawing at each other,” said Witkowski.
A total of 12 penalties were dished out after the brawl, including game misconducts for Mantha, Witkowski, Hamonic and Tkachuk.
Another fight between Jonathan Ericsson and Sam Bennett nearly broke out in the final minute, but the referees intervened.
It was the second game between the Red Wings and the Flames in the past week. The two teams combined for 141 penalty minutes on Wednesday night.
Said Witkowski, “That’s what I like to call O-T-H: old-time hockey. I think it’s good for the fans, leave it on the ice.”