- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- NHL preseason games are less than perfect.
Teams are trying to accomplish many things during training camp and exhibitions don’t always allow for ideal situations. That was the case Monday night as the Boston Bruins defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime before 17,006 at TD Garden.
As the preseason schedule dwindles -- Boston has two games remaining, both against the Winnipeg Jets, on Friday and Saturday -- Bruins coach Claude Julien is attempting to get a better look at the players battling for a roster spot, while prospects and veterans alike are trying to get their games in check for the regular season.
But the main goal during training camp is to come out of it healthy.
So when Bruins veteran Milan Lucic dropped the gloves with the Capitals’ Joel Rechlicz at 15:23 of the first period, you couldn’t help but think no good can happen in a preseason fight. But Julien understands fisticuffs are part of the game no matter where or when they occur.
“Hockey’s hockey,” Julien said. “You don’t necessarily like seeing that, but guys are used to playing the game a certain way and preseason is about fine-tuning yourself. It was what it was. I’ll tell you what, that guy had a steal jaw because he wasn’t going down and Looch kept throwing some pretty good punches. It was a fight for men and the people who enjoy that kind of hockey certainly got their money’s worth just in that one alone.”
It was a spirited bout between Lucic and Rechlicz. They exchanged haymakers and both stayed on their feet until complete exhaustion set in and the linesmen stepped in.
“I was hoping he was going to go down,” Lucic said. “A big, tough kid. It was a great fight and I’m sure you guys enjoyed it. It’s always nice to get into one because it’s been the offseason and not getting into a fight, so having one like that there’s no better way to get back into it.
“It’s a guy trying to do anything he can to get himself noticed,” Lucic added. “That’s his game. He brings that physical, intimidation type of style and sticking up for his teammates. We didn’t cross the line to get jumped, but at the end of the day, guys at this point are trying to do whatever they can to make the team.”
Lucic is not one to ever shy away from dropping the gloves, and even though it was a preseason game, he was happy to oblige.
“There are a lot of cons to fighting in the preseason. You don’t want to break a hand or get a concussion or anything like that fighting in the preseason,” Lucic said. “The pros are you’re showing, no matter what the situation is or what the game is, you’re going to stick up for yourself and your teammates. That’s what it was there and I basically didn’t have a choice. It was good to get into and it was a long time. I had to catch my breath after that one.”
One different aspect to fighting this season is the new helmet rule, which states if a player removes his helmet prior to a fight then he’s assessed an extra two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Problem is most players are wearing visors now, and players with 25 NHL games or fewer have no choice but to wear one.
Players are not thrilled with the new rule, but they understand what the league is trying to do.
“I don’t know,” Lucic said. “With the mandatory visors and not being able to take off your helmet, you’re going to see a lot of guys punching a lot more helmets and maybe guys breaking their hands a lot more just from hitting a helmet. It’s one of those rules the NHL felt like they needed to make and regardless of what I think of it, we still have to live with it.”
Players have learned to get creative.
During a first-period fight between the Bruins’ Kevan Miller and the Capitals’ Aaron Volpatti, the two attempted to remove the other’s helmet before dropping the gloves. They weren’t totally successful and were given the extra two minutes.
“It’s a tough rule and I guess you have to abide by it,” Julien said. “Players are always looking to get around those kinds of things. Obviously, it doesn’t look like it’s overly popular right now but they’ll have to get used to it. The league is trying to make this game safer. You’ve seen guys, you’ve seen some in preseason that have fallen and knocked their heads on the ice and it turns into concussions, or they split their heads open and that can be dangerous. It’s the league taking precautions to try to make the game safer and eventually guys will get used to it.”
Miller explained after the game the thought behind removing your opponent’s helmet.
“I’m not a guy who would advocate taking your helmet off because you can hurt yourself, but at the same time, in my case I had a visor on and the guy I was fighting didn’t have a visor on, so it’s kind of an unfair advantage,” he said. “I think in that case there has to be some kind of leeway or something has to change there because guys can break their hands on visors. You have to level the playing field somehow, and to be honest the only way to do that is to take each other’s helmets off. It’s kind of a respect thing.
“It’s a common understanding because I don’t know that guy. At the same time, I see him and he doesn’t have a visor on, he sees me and I have a visor on. I gave him the nod like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take mine off.’ It’s fair. Obviously, you don’t want to hurt guys and guys don’t want to hurt their hands.”
Many players, including Bruins veteran pugilist Shawn Thornton, have suggested making a removable visor. Miller admitted after the game he has a friend who works for Oakley and said a removable visor is on the drawing board.
In the meantime, players will attempt to use the loophole of removing the other’s helmet.
“They’re going to do something obviously,” Miller said. “It’s definitely a little bit of a loophole. I think there’s already been a few fights during preseason with guys doing that, but [the league] also understands why we’re doing it. They’ll sort it out.”