Winnipeg Jets see practice scrap as sign of growing camaraderie

Mark Scheifele fed Kyle Connor for the OT winner as the Winnipeg Jets topped the Anaheim Ducks 3-2.

WINNIPEG — If push came to shove, Winnipeg’s Brandon Tanev would throw down with his own flesh and blood, Vancouver defenceman Chris.

"Our Mom wouldn’t be too happy about it," Brandon admits. "If something were to happen, me and him grabbed each other, looked at each other, the situation arose… You definitely could go with it.

"And after the game, we’d be chuckling about it. It would be a great little story."

Hockey is a funny place, when it comes to thrusting one’s fist into an old friend’s eye. Men who won championships together along the road to the NHL will fight each other with bare fists, then go out after the game and replay the bout over a jug of beer.

Sometimes, even two teammates will have a go, like at Jets practice Saturday.

And here’s another hockey thing: The coach approves.

"You’d like a few MORE of those during the year if you could," said head coach Paul Maurice afterwards.

This is hockey. We fight because we love.

On Saturday, a Winnipeg Jets team that is rolling right along, having collected point No. 100 for the first time in franchise history only the night before, watched team captain Blake Wheeler lose it on defenceman Ben Chiarot, resulting in a fight.

Wheeler was the first to drop his gloves and was the clear aggressor. Chiarot appeared to land the only decent blows, of which there were few.

Wheeler was pulled out of the fracas, and tossed his helmet on the bench from 20 feet away as he coasted towards the gate. He was not heard from again on Saturday. Chiarot, who reminds me of a young Kevin Bieksa, held court with reporters afterwards.

"A scuffle in practice? They happen all the time," said Chiarot. "I look at it as a good thing.

"You spend every day with a group of guys," he continued. "Brothers are going to fight. When boys are playing a sport, a fast sport, things are going to happen.

"I don’t even remember how it started. It’s just boys being boys."

On one of my first NHL assignments as a young reporter, back in about 1988 or ’89, I was sent to cover a New York Islanders practice. As I walked up the tunnel to rink side, there was Mick Vukota, fully engaged in a rather one-sided fight with some poor teammate. Meanwhile, the other Islanders milled around the perimeter, making sure whatever lesson was being meted out did not go too far.

The coaches monitored the situation, but stayed out of it. Nobody had anything to say about the altercation after the fact, and it was then that the young reporter learned that every once in a while, hockey teammates like to punch each other in the head.

"Everyone is competitive on this team. I think that’s why we’re doing so well," Tanev explained. "Guys have a great bond, and everyone is pushing each other on the ice. You come back here in the dressing room and see them laughing, smiling and hugging it out. That’s the bond, the camaraderie we have in this dressing room."

Crazy, isn’t it?

Imagine if you went in to drop off your taxes and two guys at Block Brothers were duking it out behind the cubicles? Or you walk into a Tim Horton’s, and two ladies are pulling each other’s hair out beside a tray of Canadian maples?

"It’s just a whole different set of repercussions," explained Maurice. "It’s five minutes and a game (in hockey). It’s buy each other dinner (after a scrap at practice). It’s jail time in real life.

"The question is, how to do you explain it your kids? Well, there are different rules for different things. You don’t bring a keg to church. There are some things that, where you are changes the repercussions. In hockey, it’s a five-minute penalty. But at the grocery store it’s far more serious."

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Maurice, like those old Islanders coaches, won’t address his team about this prior to a visit by Nashville Sunday night.

"There will be no family meeting tomorrow," he said.

But if any of the Predators takes a cheap shot at Wheeler, Chiarot will step in without hesitation. Same for Wheeler, if Chiarot needs a hand.

It’s hockey. What’s a couple of knuckle sandwiches between friends?

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