By: Will Burchfield
It was he-said-she-said in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s brawl between the Red Wings and the Flames.
From Detroit’s perspective, Luke Witkowski did his job, Anthony Mantha stuck up for himself and Matthew Tkachuk was to blame for the situation spiraling out of control.
From Calgary’s perspective, Witkowski crossed a line, Mantha broke the code and Tkachuk was mostly innocent.
It all began when Witkowski and Flames defenseman Brett Kulak squared off at center ice with about five minutes remaining in Detroit’s 8-2 win. Though Kulak instigated the fight, the Flames felt Witkowski, a known enforcer, was wrong for scrapping with a 23-year-old player who had never been in a fight in the NHL.
“You’ve got one of their heavyweights, a tough guy, going after Kulak,” said Hamonic. “As a group, we want to stick up for each other. Next thing you know, you get into a fight and you think everything is fine and it turned into a UFC match on their bench.”
Things got out of hand when Witkowski was being escorted off the ice and, in his words, “somebody speared me in the back of the legs.” The culprit was Tkachuk, who said he was merely nudging Witkowksi off the ice because he was yapping at the Flames’ bench.
“He 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 of here,” Tkachuk said. “He was looking for an excuse to come back.”
Indeed, Witkowski wheeled around, stepped back on the ice and quickly got in Hamonic’s face. All hell broke loose from there.
Tkachuk was later assessed a five-minute major for spearing along with a game misconduct. It was a punishment, from the Flames’ point of view, that didn’t fit the crime.
Said head coach Glen Gulutzan, “I’m still searching for the spear. I don’t know. If the first little tap on the ankle is a spear then, oof, I guess I’ve misjudged this game for the last 25 years. I’m searching for it. I can’t find it.
“They’ve got a tough guy that grabs one of our young guys late in the game and we come out of there with a five-minute major for — I don’t even know what it was. I’m as dumbfounded as anyone else. I’ve rewound the video 25 times.”
Several players paired off and dropped the gloves after Witkowski reignited the fire. The most intense fight was between Mantha and Hamonic. It began when Mantha and Henrik Zetterberg dragged Hamonic out of the scrum, with Mantha claiming to be a peacemaker.
“I just tried to grab one guy and take him out of there, and he dropped the gloves pretty quick. I usually don’t stand down,” said Mantha. “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 landed on top of Hamonic between the two benches and unloaded several rights on the Flames’ defenseman, who could do little to protect himself. That didn’t sit well with Hamonic.
“(Mantha) is a good, young player, I’ll give him that,” said Hamonic. “But he’s a young player and he’s going to learn that there’s a code. When a guy is laying in the box, helpless on the ground, and he keeps throwing at me, that’s not right. He’s a young player, I’m sure he’ll learn from it. But that doesn’t sit well.”
Mantha had Hamonic pinned down for about 40 seconds before being pulled off by a referee.
“It went so quick,” Mantha said. “I know I was on the ground 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.
Though Gulutzan was baffled by the spearing call on Tkachuk, he was mostly upset with his team’s lack of effort.
“We have some lessons to learn,” he said. “You should learn from getting your ass kicked and not being prepared.
“When you’re not prepared for a game, all of a sudden it gets away from you and you think, ‘Okay, I’m just going to leave this game without taking a hunk of flesh.’ We have to get mentally stronger and not accept giving that up. We should have battled back when it was 4-1.”
The coach was actually pleased his team showed some emotion at the end of the game.
“I think it’s about time we had a scrum. We were getting embarrassed and we weren’t competing, but I’m still searching for the spear,” Gulutzan said.
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and Flames assistant coach Dave Cameron appeared to get into a war of words after the melee, but Blashill declined to comment on it.