There's still plenty to digest and more fallout to come from the Saturday shenanigans at the Huntington Center.
Pure chaos descended upon the downtown arena as a series of indefensible, cheap shots by Kansas City forward Garrett Klotz quickly devolved into an epic brawl.
The ensuing melee created a social media firestorm and made national headlines. Toledo rookie goalie Matej Machovsky emerged as a hero, flying down the ice to get into a fight with his counterpart at the other end, KC goaltender Mason McDonald.
Toledo Walleye goalie Matej Machovsky, right, fights Kansas City Mavericks goalie Mason McDonald after a fight broke out among multiple players during Saturday's game at the Huntington Center.
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The wild, full line brawl was punctuated when the “Macho Man” flipped his helmet off and went at it in a rare goalie fight with the bigger McDonald. The clips immediately went viral, with the highlights making the rounds on the likes of ESPN and NBC.
Were the frantic fisticuffs entertaining? Absolutely. The crowd went bananas. Maybe the loudest roar I've heard at the downtown arena.
But what started the melee is the real problem, and it must be addressed. Klotz suckered punched Toledo's A.J. Jenks and leveled him. He then assaulted Jenks with a series of vicious cross-checks as Jenks lay on the ice.
It was eerily and nauseatingly reminiscent of the brutal attack Kalamazoo captain Ben Wilson put on young Walleye defenseman Simon Denis less than a year ago in the same venue.
I get that KC was fatigued and frustrated (down 4-0 and in the middle of a five-game losing streak). I even understand it if Mavericks coach John-Scott Dickson may have urged his team to “stir something up.”
But Klotz's Neanderthal attempt to provide a spark is just bad for hockey and bad for the ECHL. The gruesome mental snap that resulted in nothing less than assault and battery would result in jail time off the ice.
Walleye coach Dan Watson is still fired up about Saturday’s incident. He called it a non-hockey play and called for stiff suspensions.
“It's extremely dangerous,” Watson said. “It was uncalled for. It's someone attacking someone who is defenseless. It's a black eye for our league.”
Fighting still has a place in this day and age of hockey. Fights can be instigated heads up, fairly. There's a code to settle things on the ice.
Hockey is inherently physical. Teams can be tough (including fighting) and still be fair and clean. But Klotz's actions were a pure bush league move.
Toledo Walleye center Connor Crisp mixes it up Kansas City Mavericks defender Tyler Elbrecht during Saturday's game at the Huntington Center. Crisp, who scored 3 goals in the game, was injured in a massive third period brawl.
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And that was then compounded and even exasperated minutes later when KC forward Eric Freschi attacked Toledo defenseman Parker Reno with another brutal cross check with 30 seconds left.
Suspensions obviously are in order for the shameful incident — season-ending perhaps for Klotz. But I wouldn't expect a ruling from the ECHL for a couple of days. There's a lot to sort through.
The Walleye also suffered a more concrete loss with the injury of Connor Crisp. The forward was hurt during the brawl. And Crisp actually should have been the story of the game when he registered a hat trick that put his team up 4-0. Crisp suffered an ankle injury in the scrum and will miss at least two games.
The story took on an added level of controversy when allegations were leveled against Dickson for ordering the “hit.” Several Walleye players claim the Mavericks players warned them that they had been directed to induce harm and chaos by their coach.
Dickson staunchly denied the allegations, saying this in a statement released by team officials:
“I want to make this clear — players were not sent out to deliberately do anything in last night's game. Things were happening on the ice. We will always play till the end, emotions and frustration came into play and that is hockey.”
Walleye officials aren't buying it. They believe Dickson should be reprimanded as well. However, it's virtually impossible to prove Dickson's alleged nefarious actions.
Former Walleye defenseman Cody Lampl, who also plays with an edge, also weighed in on Twitter. He said there's no place in the game for “repeated cross checks or sucker punching guys.”
“But let’s not pretend a coach has never sent anyone out to fight someone for a spark. Obviously the coach doesn’t say go sucker somebody,” he said. “You ask if somebody wants to fight and can do it in the right way.”
But he also said such issues should be settled on the ice.
The bottom line is that players always have the best pulse on the tone of a game and can self-regulate.
For what it's worth, I've been told by a few sources that Klotz is not a dirty player. That it's not like him to snap, and that he's a good teammate. If his coach tells him to go out and stir up trouble, he basically has to or he may lose his job.
But the fact remains that Klotz has played for three different teams this year and has 97 penalty minutes in 29 games (with a mere two points — both assists). He racked up 257 PIMs in 55 games for Allen in 2013-13. There's no room for that type of player in today's game.
Wilson, the K-Zoo defenseman who lost his “cool” during the vicious cross-checking attack on Denis in an opening-round playoff game last season, was suspended by the league for 20 games.
It was a stunning outburst that sidelined Denis for eight games. Fortunately, Jenks was not seriously injured by Klotz. ECHL officials have come down hard for egregious, on-ice violations in the past. In 2001, Peoria forward Brandon Sugden was banned for life by the ECHL after hitting a woman in the stands with his stick. In 2002, Toledo Storm defenseman Chris Slater was issued a 36-game suspension by the ECHL for his altercation with a Toledo fan during a game at the old Sports Arena.
That was back when the ECHL and hockey still had a well-deserved reputation for thuggery and senseless violence. Those days are long gone.
Indeed it was the speedy and skilled Red Wings teams of the 1990s that helped revolutionize the sport for the better – emphasizing its athleticism over barbarianism. But even then there was the epic and unforgettable goalie fight between Wings mild-manner netminder Mike Vernon and the hated, fiery Patrick Roy of the evil Colorado Avalanche. And then later the Chris Osgood/Roy brawl.
There remains that hardcore contingent that still longs for the old school hockey of the Diggers. Line brawls extended into the stands. The insanity of the movie Slap Shot was reality over at the Sports Arena. That era is long gone.
This was another assault on the ice. That is unacceptable. Scores can still — and should be — settled man-to-man, heads up.
The whole incident could serve as a galvanizing moment for this Walleye team. Crisp came flying into the fray to stick up for Jenks. As did Kevin Tansey, and, of course, the Macho Man. Team toughness and camaraderie are key components in the grueling ECHL postseason.
But there's no place in the game for misguided thuggery.
“We're not talking about hitting,” Watson said. “I love the physicality in the sport of hockey. There's still fighting in the sport of hockey if it's done the right way. Certainly [Klotz's actions were] done in extreme distaste. That's what gives our league a bad rap. The ECHL needs to send a message.”
And this time, hopefully the message will stick.
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