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Justice was done. Or was it?

The National Hockey League spread the discipline around rather thinly yesterday when assessing that unseemly brawl last Saturday between the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

The Mighty Ducks' Kevin Sawyer received the longest suspension -- five games -- for igniting the series of brawls that occurred in the final two minutes of the game with a vicious cross-check to the head of Flames goaltender Mike Vernon.

The Flames paid the heaviest price overall when NHL senior vice-president Colin Campbell suspended their coach, Greg Gilbert, for two games, beginning with last night's contest against the Detroit Red Wings.

In addition, the Flames lost left winger Craig Berube for three games and centre Scott Nichol for two.

Campbell made it clear in a telephone interview that there were a lot of things he didn't like about the game, beginning with Sawyer's ill-advised decision to run over Vernon. Sawyer's actions were a response to an earlier incident in which Berube bodychecked Mighty Ducks goaltender J.S. Giguere behind the Anaheim goal.

On the first faceoff after Sawyer was tossed from the game, all four Flames players on the ice started fights with their opposite numbers from the Mighty Ducks. Three more fights followed in the final 90 seconds of the game, culminating with a nasty bit of business as time wound down and Berube attacked the Mighty Ducks' Jeff Friesen just after a faceoff.

Berube went after Friesen, one of the Ducks' most skilled players, after Ducks' enforcer Denny Lambert started a fight with Calgary's Jarome Iginla, the NHL's leading scorer.

Campbell stressed that Berube was suspended not for his hit on Giguere, but for his actions in chasing Friesen almost 30 feet in order to engage him in a fight.

It was a retro type of game that called to mind the NHL of the mid-seventies when Campbell himself played.

Nichol's suspension was not for fighting the Ducks' Oleg Tverdovsky, but because of a linesman's report that he spat at the Anaheim bench as he was escorted to the penalty box.

The Ducks' Ruslan Salei, who, like Sawyer, received a match penalty for headbutting the Flames' Steve Begin, escaped with a $1,000 fine, as did Giguere, who was tossed from the game for being the third man into the Nichol-Tverdovsky fight.

In explaining why he kept the supplementary discipline to a comparative minimum, Campbell indicated it was because there were no injuries or stick fouls involved.

"The message here is, we don't condone what went on in that game, as far as the chain of events goes," Campbell said. "We understand there will be fighting in the game and it is allowed, but to gang fight and to instigate? That we don't condone."

Campbell fined the Flames $25,000 for the incident because Gilbert did not keep effective control of his players' bench. Campbell was especially disturbed that the Flames took a deliberate delay of game penalty to stop the clock in the waning seconds and free Berube from the penalty box. That, in turn, permitted him to go on his rampage against Friesen.

Gilbert's Mighty Ducks counterpart, Bryan Murray, did not receive a reprimand because he convinced Campbell that Sawyer was out on the power play -- a curious position for a player with just two NHL points -- because he didn't want to run up the score, not so Sawyer could run over Vernon.

"When we suspend players, if we assume all the time that it was because of the coach, then we'd be suspending a coach every time a player did something," Campbell said.

In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Sawyer was profiled for his "astounding readiness to drop the gloves by amassing a league-high 118 penalty minutes and 16 fighting majors." The headline said it nicely: "Punch-drunk with joy."

Just the type of person, in other words, that the Walt Disney corporation, owners of the Mighty Ducks, wants representing their organization.

Had Sawyer limited himself to fighting Berube -- and extracted his pound of flesh that way -- it would have gone into the record books as just another day in the NHL. The fact that he decided, in eye-for-an-eye fashion, to attack a goaltender, in his crease, after the whistle, showed an uncommon lack of judgment.

The problem, of course, is that Campbell is limited by the rulebook because fighting, by itself, is not normally subject to supplementary discipline.

Accordingly, he cannot make a distinction between two tough guys duking it out and a tough guy fighting a skilled player. As long as fighters engage each other, the league tacitly accepts it as part of the show. The minute they start jumping real players, they cross the line.

The teams kept talking afterward about sending each other a message; unhappily what Campbell's response suggests is that there is little he can, or will do, to protect skilled players like Iginla, who won't back away from fights.

Think that other teams haven't noticed that Iginla, the key to Calgary's team, is fighting a lot these days? Think the teams won't continue to goad him into fighting even more just because he is big enough and strong enough to defend himself?

Iginla, remember, broke his hand in a fight with the Dallas Stars' Brendan Morrow in the last week of the 2000-01 season, an injury that kept him out of the world championships. If Iginla had broken his hand again on Saturday, then the Flames could have kissed their season goodbye.

Someone commented afterward that at least the fans left the building cheering, after watching the Flames sleepwalk through the first 58 minutes of a dismal, dull affair.

True enough, they did.

But they also cheer at World Wrestling Federation events too. At a time when the NHL is trying to establish itself as a legitimate member of the sporting world's Big Four, the league needs to distance itself from this perception -- that deep down, the NHL is really and truly all about fighting.

This -- a record-setting night for penalties, followed by a modest response in supplementary discipline -- sets their cause back immeasurably.