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Matt Rempe of the New York Rangers during the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden in New York, on Feb. 28.Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Rangers rookie Matt Rempe has the habit of doing his pregame stretches hard up against the red line. That makes it easy for opponents to visit him in his office.

Flyers bouncer Nicolas Deslauriers dropped in before the Philadelphia-New York game last Saturday. He leaned over Rempe, who was in a splits, and began barking at him.

“He came up and asked if I wanted it,” Rempe said later. “I said, ‘Hell yeah, I wanted it.’ And we went.”

Not right there. They had the decency to wait until the game had started. Their fight lasted 37 seconds from first punch to last – an eternity. More than 50 blows were exchanged. Maybe half of them landed.

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a scrap like that in an NHL game,” ESPN long-time play-by-play guy Steve Levy said as it ended.

Connor Bedard is the rookie everyone knows about. Rempe is the one everyone wants to talk about. After only two weeks in the league, he is making fighting a thing again.

Rempe took on New York Islander Matt Martin before the puck dropped in his first shift. So technically, he’d fought in the NHL before he’d played in the NHL. The hits have kept on coming. His record so far – six games played, three fights, zero losses.

Rempe comes from that place in the Prairies where they grow them big, easygoing and vicious. The 21-year-old stands seven feet tall in his skates. He’s got a wingspan like a giant bird of prey. From the neck up, he looks like he’s 16 years old and sounds like he’s 12.

U.S. outlets that don’t write or talk about hockey are writing and talking about Rempe. He’s already a cult hero in Manhattan.

The Rangers play the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night. Two weeks ago, this game was a test of who stands where at the top of the Eastern Conference. Now it’s Matt Rempe Throwback Night. How many young beaus can he fit onto his dance card?

“This may not be correct to say any more,” Rempe’s teammate, Jimmy Vesey, told reporters in New York. “But I think people like violence.”

This is the way hockey players talk about hockey now – apologies up front; truth sneaking in the back.

Since fighting went out of fashion, hockey has developed a tic where it feels the need to be constantly restating how much better the game is now. So fast. So skilled. All these little guys whipping around the ice, rarely feeling the need to spear each other in the face. Aren’t you having way more fun this way? Aren’t you?

The fact that hockey needs to keep repeating this mantra is the giveaway that people don’t totally believe it. NFL observers don’t gush about how much faster and more skilled the game has become since spearing was banned because nobody misses spearing.

But everyone in hockey misses fighting, at least a little, and the players most of all. Even the ones who have never done it – they glow when they’re talking about it.

You saw the primacy of this urge after Morgan Rielly’s recent unpleasantness with Ottawa’s Ridly Greig.

Everyone agreed that Rielly ought not have cross-checked Greig in the head, but not one single NHL person was willing to say it was wrong. At most, they would say his response could have been more measured. Instead of brandishing a weapon, he could have just sucker punched him with his fists.

It doesn’t make sense in our world, but it does to hockey players.

Fighting occupies this same contradictory space – a thing that everyone agrees is wrong, but wants to do and see and be around anyway. Like binge drinking at a child’s birthday party.

This love of violence was easier to ignore after it became intermittent. The NHL has reduced the incidence of fighting about 75 per cent since the turn of the century. Crucially, it’s become harder to see a fight coming. Most contemporary bouts are the result of passion, not planning.

What fighting remains is a new, improved fighting. Easier to ignore, never too in your face.

And then here comes Rempe.

He fights like an old-school enforcer. All of his scraps seem to have been scripted. He’s even developing a little pre-fight routine for the crowd. He shrugs his shoulders and mimes the punches to come, like Rocky contemplating the speed bag.

The modern fighter is not supposed to enjoy his work. Instead, he should look mournful. This is something he doesn’t want to do, but has to.

That’s another memo Rempe didn’t get. He looks as though he’s enjoying the hell out of beating up other people. In interviews, he can barely contain himself.

And people love it. Listen to the cheers. Watch the looks on faces as cameras pan the crowd right afterward. It’s something like rapture. The sort of thing you do not see after a goal.

Rempe’s not going to start a one-man arms race. Plus, no one can keep up this pace. Even the hardest of the NHL’s hard men – your Dave Schultzes and Tiger Williamses – didn’t fight more than once every four or five games.

But as long as Rempe continues on as he has, it becomes impossible for hockey’s brigade of moralizing change agents to claim that people don’t like fighting. They do. They just don’t like hearing about how it ends up years later.

The scolds are already lining up against Rempe in podcasts and print, telling him he needs to be less himself. For his own good, of course.

Meanwhile, the people up in the stands, the guys who play with him, the opponents who want to prove something by measuring themselves against him – they are sending a different, truer message.

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