Hamonic incident shows hockey world still divided on fighting’s role

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson tussles with Calgary Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

There are so many questions and debates surrounding Travis Hamonic’s decision to fight out of his weight class early Wednesday night. But in the player’s mind there was no choice: it had to be done.

It was all precipitated by Vancouver Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson, who rocked Flames rookie Dillon Dube in the neutral zone eight seconds into his NHL career.

Shortly after the 6-foot-5 blue liner finished serving his penalty for interference he was confronted by Hamonic, who thought it crucial to mete out further punishment.

Despite giving three inches and 12 pounds away to the 217-pound offender, Hamonic initiated an age-old dance requiring Gudbranson to fight.

The message being sent revolved around the importance of letting everyone know liberties can’t be taken on any Flames players without atonement.

Old school.

Fighting may be on the wane, but accountability isn’t. Internally, the sentiment was clear — you’re one of us now, kid, and we’ve got your back.

And while a show of leadership like that goes over huge in a dressing room that just so happens to be full of newbies, it almost backfired in a big way when Gudbranson punctuated the punch-up with a devastating uppercut that landed square on Hamonic’s jaw.

Appearing somewhat dazed after smacking his head on the ice, the tough-as-nails veteran left the game for examination before returning with a football-like jaw guard affixed to his helmet.

Somehow, he finished the game, logging 14 minutes of ice in a gritty show of leadership the Flames so desperately crave.

“I owe him one now,” said Dube Thursday.

“After the game I sat down and talked to him and I was asking how he was. That shows how big of a leader he is. I can’t thank him enough for what he did. I look up to him because when you do that for a teammate it means a lot, because Gudbranson is a pretty big dude. Let’s hope he gets back as quick as he can.”

Hamonic could just as easily have been lost for months in what would have been a huge blow to the team, begging the question of whether it was worth it. The leader in him will tell you it certainly was, as he went up yet another notch in the eyes of his teammates.

On a team that got significantly smaller over the summer, you had to know something like this would be an issue.

In the absence of a Micheal Ferland, who was a mild deterrent? How would the Flames prevent teams from taking liberties, running players through boards and generally disrespecting their stars?

Former Flames hockey president-turned-Sportsnet commentator Brian Burke said in the subsequent intermission the Flames should have dressed Dalton Prout or Garnet Hathaway, whose presence might have prevented Gudbranson’s initial abuse.

At the very least, the Flames might then have been better equipped to answer the transgression. However, neither is a top-20 player on the roster and both were, thus, healthy scratches. The coaches felt there were others who gave the team a better chance to win.

While GMs around the league are more focused on icing teams full of speed and skill, many players still embrace the concept of frontier justice by sending messages via their fists.

That won’t change anytime soon.

The players dictate what happens on the ice and determine if those out of line need correcting. Yet, there are fewer and fewer players capable of doing so.

Brad Marchand demonstrated the importance of message-sending at the tail end of Boston’s humiliation in Washington Wednesday when he took exception to Lars Eller chirping the Bruins bench after scoring the final goal in a 7-0 beatdown.

Marchand chose to hold Eller accountable for his disrespect by jumping the forward and administering a thorough beating on the much bigger forward.

“I let him know,” said Marchand.

You can bet the ol’ face-licker was wildly popular in Boston’s room — and across Beantown — for his approach.

After the game, T.J. Oshie suggested Marchand should be subjected to a suspension for “sucker-punching” his teammate.

Some agree. I certainly don’t, as players will forever be held accountable for their actions in this league. As they should.

In that vein, you can bet Flames brass are now thinking very hard about dressing Prout Saturday in the rematch with Vancouver. If so, you can bet his first order of business will be to, um, discuss things with Gudbranson.

The debate hammers home the fact that the hockey world in general is of two very different minds on the role of fighting today, no matter how toned down it may be.

Had the shoe been on the other foot in Vancouver, and had Hamonic bloodied Gudbranson, would there be a cry for him to be suspended? Did Hamonic even need to initiate a fight because of a relatively harmless dumping of Dube?

It’s easy to say, ‘pick your spots,’ but leaders don’t have that luxury — otherwise, their teams get pushed around.

It was Game 1 and Hamonic felt an early tone should be set, especially with a division rival.

Hamonic said after the game he wasn’t sure if his jaw was broken. He didn’t practice with the team Thursday afternoon as he spent plenty of time with doctors examining the damage.

Whether he’ll miss time is unknown.

In his absence, he was talked about as a hero — one of the few positives to come out of an opening night loss in Vancouver.

“Absolutely, I loved it,” said Matthew Tkachuk of Hamonic’s actions — something the Flames winger learned from his father Keith. “It’s just the type of teammate he is — I wouldn’t expect anything other than him standing up and answering the bell and initiating that. Obviously he was hurting a bit after, but he’s a heart and soul guy and he’s loved in the room — he’s epitome of a team guy.

“I think hopefully this year, whether it’s goal scoring or defence or taking care of one another, it’s done by committee. That said, I think we need to be a harder team to play against. When teams come here I think they know we’re willing to stick up for one another.”

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