What should have been a routine September day in Buffalo Sabres training camp turned into quite the Manic Monday thanks to the Tussle in Toronto.
The Sabres’ third-period line brawl with the Maple Leafs — featuring the first fight of goaltender Ryan Miller’s professional career — was a huge topic across Canada and a video hit on the Internet on both sides of the border. Several Toronto reporters piled into the Sabres’ First Niagara Center dressing room Monday looking for comments from the combatants.
Enforcer John Scott, who did not talk to the media Sunday night, obliged all inquiries Monday.
The 6-foot-8, 270-pound Scott stood tall at his locker in the face of every question, especially as Toronto reporters pushed him on why he tried to attack 6-foot, 202-pound Leafs star Phil Kessel just prior to a faceoff near center ice after a fight between Toronto’s Jamie Devane and Buffalo’s Corey Tropp. The Scott-Kessel confrontation was the final spark to ignite the melee that included every player on the ice.
The Sabres were upset that Devane drove Tropp’s head into the ice at the end of their fight, leaving Tropp bloodied and dazed (and out of Monday’s practice while he was being evaluated). Scott was on the ice at the time and coach Ron Rolston sent him back out.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who had the last change, said he tried to defuse the situation by sending out offensive-minded players and Kessel lined up next to Scott. Bad idea. Scott gave Kessel a heads-up about what was next.
“I said, ‘Phil, I think we’re going to have to go here, just to let you know,’“ Scott said. “I would have went after who ever they put lined up next to me. I don’t know what their coach had in mind. I wasn’t trying to hurt him. I was just trying to send a message.”
Said Carlyle at Leafs camp Monday: “I never believed in my wildest dreams that the attack would come at that type of player from the opposition.”
Scott dropped his gloves to engage Kessel, who responded with two huge whacks with his stick as teammates came to his defense. Leafs forward David Clarkson joined the fray from the bench and received an automatic 10-game suspension Monday night, which will cost him $269,230.80 in salary. Kessel took a third swipe at Scott and also speared him, leaving him a discipline candidate, too.
“I’ve never seen a stick swing like that but he’s got to do what he’s got to do,” said Scott, who said his legs were a little sore from Kessel’s chops. “Hey, I’d be pissed off if someone went after my star guy, too. It’s one of those things. Their coach didn’t have to put Kessel out with me.”
Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said Monday he nearly jumped the boards as well but was held back by teammate Joffrey Lupul. Rolston said when his team realized Clarkson had joined the fray, he quickly communicated to his players to stay put.
Scott said he’ll let NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan handle any suspensions but there’s no doubt the Sabres feel Kessel should sit down for a few games.
“For sure,” said Steve Ott. “Not the first slash. That’s something where his instincts took over. But the second one where Johnny’s got three guys on his back like a wild animal and he’s getting whacked from behind, that’s a little gutless.”
“John is a big guy but we don’t really want to see somebody using their stick as a weapon,” added Miller.
Talk radio and columnists in Toronto quickly jumped on the theme of Scott even being in the NHL. Scott, who went pointless last year in 34 games, has one goal and 305 penalty minutes in 180 NHL career games.
Scott, it should be noted, started taking much more of a regular shift at the end of last season and even had a neat pass to Nakita Zadorov to set up the Sabres’ first goal Sunday. But he’s regularly dealt with the kick-him-out-of-the-league talk.
“Jeez, I’ve been hearing that even since I came out of college,” said a smiling Scott, who was a mechanical engineering major at Michigan Tech. “I’m tall, I’m big, I’m tough. It happens all the time. No one is talking about the sick assist I got last night, the baby sauce pass in the middle.”
As things died down at center ice, Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier challenged Miller. Miller said Clarkson’s foray first got his attention because the Sabres were outnumbered but then he saw Bernier lurking.
“That’s where I thought maybe I should get involved without Bernier,” Miller said. “We were outmanned, I was looking at that and Bernier is looking at me and if I go in there am I going to get jumped from behind which is worse for me.”
Miller, of course, has some recent concussion history and took a few shots from Bernier because it’s hard for goaltenders to throw punches unless they can get an arm out of their chest protector. Bernier did that first.
“I think my defense was OK. Offense to be worked on in the future I think,” said Miller. “I was kinda surprised he wanted to square off. I guess new team, line brawl. I was a little surprised just because it’s preseason but, hey, you’re in Toronto and you get challenged, you can’t really back down.”
Scott joked that he’d work with Miller on his brawling techniques after reporters left the room. To a man, the Sabres loved seeing their goalie jump in.
“It’s about showing up for your teammates and showing up for what counts on your sweater,” Ott said. “And I think every guy did that appropriately.”
Added Miller: “It’s a line brawl, everybody went. In Toronto. Obviously everybody is going to be talking about it. Old time hockey, right? Your teammates are going, everybody is going. You gotta go. Everybody on the ice did what they had to do. That’s part of the game sometimes.”