Toughness is innate to hockey, its culture, its lore, but no one is immune to regular human emotion.
So when Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros clattered face first to the ice during a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr, it was a traumatic experience even for men who play the sport at its highest level.
One Hab privately said the impact was the most sickening thing he’s witnessed, several publicly admitted to being frightened at the sight of Parros lying motionless.
“It’s scary, it’s not fun to watch. I don’t know what else to say,” said Canadiens forward Lars Eller (who had his own fear-inducing moment in the playoffs last year when he was clocked by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba).
There was palpable emotion in the Canadiens’ dressing room after the game – the teams had to play more than 17 minutes after Parros was carted off – unspoken was the fact the Bell Centre ice surface has seen more than its fair share of horrific incidents over the years (Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty, Kyle MacLaren’s clothesline on Richard Zednik, Chris Therien’s slapshot to Trent McCleary’s throat).
Forward Travis Moen, who also dropped the gloves in a game that featured five fights, said of his former Anaheim Ducks teammate that “it’s tough to see him go down like that.”
“His wife’s in the stands, so obviously you think of that, but he’s a tough guy so I’m sure he’ll be all right,” he said.
Eventually, he may, but for now he’s in hospital being treated for a concussion.
Coming as it did in the first game of the season, the incident is sure to rekindle the debate over the place of fighting in hockey, although that’s not a discussion players seem especially eager to partake in just yet.
“I’d rather take a few days to reassess exactly where we’re at with the fighting. It’s definitely not a lot of fun to see,” said Habs winger Daniel Brière, who in the past has indicated he’s lukewarm to the presence of fisticuffs in the game.
Parros, a 33-year-old Pennsylvania native who was brought in for the purpose of deterring teams like the Leafs, dropped the gloves for the second time of the game with Toronto enforcer Colton Orr a few seconds after Montreal rookie Jarred Tinordi squared off with forward Carter Ashton.
As the two tangled, Parros lost his footing and, unable to stop himself with his hands, crashed face first to the ice.
There he lay, while Orr motioned frantically to trainers on the Montreal bench.
Orr will surely have had a familiar sinking feeling, having missed 11 months of action after sustaining a concussion in a fight with Parros in January of 2011, when the latter was a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
There was a festival atmosphere in the Bell Centre to mark the season opener, and the fans stood for Parros during player introductions and after his initial confrontation with Orr in the first period.
But all that evaporated in the time it takes a six-foot-five, 225 pound man to fall to the ice. What had been a raucous building fell cathedral quiet as medical staff attended to Parros and strapped him onto a stretcher.
Parros’ injury will surely be talked about more than the result – a 4-3 Leafs win – and the stellar goaltenders who were its prime actors.
One has the pressure of dealing with a goalie-obsessed market and the dangling carrot that is Team Canada, the other is merely trying to stave off the guy his team brought in with the express purpose of taking his job.
Situation normal, then, for Carey Price and James Reimer.
Much of the preseason attention on the Canadiens, who employ Price, and Reimer’s Maple Leafs has centred on the men tasked with defending the net.
Much depends on both men getting off to a convincing start this season, and on the strength of the performance both men offered on opening night, it looks as if they will.
Reimer’s much-discussed glove hand looked just fine when he snared P.K. Subban’s point shot in the first period and Price, whose preseason objective was to “quiet” his game, was poised in making a toe save on Leafs rookie Troy Bodie.
From there, both goalies showed their mettle: Price stole a goal from James van Riemsdyk, and somehow parried a shot from David Bolland as the Leafs pest found himself all alone in front of the net.
Reimer thwarted Brian Gionta on a tip that demanded a top-class save, and then did brilliantly to turn away Andrei Markov on a second-period power-play.
You had to be just about perfect to beat the goalies on this night, but this is the NHL, so several players turned the trick.
The Habs’ penalty kill was the signal weak spot on a team that finished second in the Eastern Conference last year, so when Eller tripped Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul, Montreal had its first test short-handed.
It didn’t go well.
In fairness, it would have been a simpler job for the Habs’ penalty killers if Tomas Plekanec hadn’t promptly taken a double-minor for high-sticking Lupul.
Price bailed out his teammates with a sparkling reflex save on van Riemsdyk, but couldn’t keep the puck out when the Leafs forward again had the puck on his stick a few moments later.
Van Riemsdyk didn’t get all of it, but the puck nevertheless skidded through Price’s legs at 8:01 to make it 1-0 Toronto – call it the first casualty of the league’s crackdown on goalie pads.
The Habs weren’t down for long, however.
Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf thumped Montreal forward Brandon Prust into the boards from behind, the Habs’ Raphael Diaz made an astute pass to an uncovered Eller, who shoveled it home at the 10:08 mark.
Just over three minutes later, Eller and 19-year-old Alex Galchenyuk combined to bamboozle the Toronto defence after winning a neutral zone faceoff, Brendan Gallagher pounced on Eller’s cross-ice feed to make it 2-1.
Montreal heaped on the pressure in the second period, but it was the Leafs who scored, when Nazem Kadri spotted Phaneuf supporting the rush, the Toronto captain ripping a perfect shot over Price’s left shoulder.
Then Tyler Bozak gave the Leafs the lead when, against the run of play, he picked up a terrible giveaway from Markov and scooted in on a short-handed breakaway.
The Saskatchewan native is adept at those, and scored over Price’s blocker to make it 3-2.
Shortly after Parros was carted off, new Leaf Mason Raymond, who benefited from a fortuitous bounce off Francis Bouillon’s skate to tap the puck past a helpless Price.
“He deserved better tonight,” coach Michel Therrien said of his goaltender.
Eller scored his second of the game on a beautiful rush with 2:22 to play, again victimizing the defensive pair of Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner, but it wouldn’t be enough.
With a report from James Mirtle