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Old-time hockey
MONTREAL | September 15th, 2015
Old-time hockey
For those who think warm-up skates in the NHL don’t have a lot of excitement to offer – think again.

Fans arriving early to the Forum for a 1987 playoff game between the Canadiens and Flyers got a pre-game show for the ages when a 15 minute barn-burner of a brawl broke out between the teams before the puck had even dropped to start the match. Intensity always tends to run high in the postseason, but with the defending cup-champion Habs down 3-2 in the series and facing elimination at home, tension was through the roof.

While it’s admittedly more than a little unusual for a quarter-hour of royal rumbling to erupt prior to the singing of the national anthems, according to Habs alum and starting goaltender that night, Brian Hayward, the teams had been heading in that direction ever since the beginning of the conference finals.

“I remember that it was a really emotional series to play,” shared Hayward, who helped man the Canadiens’ crease for four seasons in the late 80s. “There were a lot of cheap shots thrown. I believe that was the series when Craig Ludwig knocked out Brian Propp, and Ron Hextall had been involved in a couple of brawls too. I remember once skating the length of the ice to get involved in one of those brawls, but I was taken down by a ref before I could even get into it.”

With the general dislike both teams clearly shared for each other already front-and-center, it didn’t take much to ignite the powder keg that had been brewing for five games. Habs forwards Shayne Corson and Claude Lemieux had a pre-game routine that involved firing a puck into the opposing net before skating off and heading to the dressing room. Having seen the ritual play out in previous games, two members of the Flyers took exception and warned the duo about their antics ahead of time. When their opponents finally left the ice, Corson and Lemieux snuck back out and skated in for the empty-net goal. Within seconds the two Flyers were back, and heavyweight enforcer, Ed Hospodar, was raining blows down on Lemieux while Chico Resch grappled with Corson. Word got back to the locker rooms and seconds later, both teams, half-dressed – some without shirts and wearing shower shoes – poured out onto the ice, throwing haymakers at one another with no refs in sight to keep the situation from escalating.
“I forget how many guys they had dressed for the warm up, but the whole thing had obviously been planned. It seemed like they had 29 or 30 guys out there. The feeling was that they were essentially trying to cherry-pick some of our players and get them out there,” expressed Hayward, whose team, in comparison, had only dressed 18 skaters and two goalies. “I was the starting goaltender that night and I remember Larry Robinson grabbing me and saying, ‘Get the hell off the ice!’

“It was just a really a razor’s edge type series,” he continued. “I don’t know if that brawl in particular even really changed out mindset in that game, because similar stuff had been going on between the teams for the whole series. It was nasty.”

The officials did eventually pick up on the fact that a full-scale war was taking place on the ice, but by the time Andy van Hellemond, Wayne Bonney and Bob Hodges jumped in to the mix, things were already well out of control. Players had paired off in every direction and while the officials did what they could, there was very little to actually be done. The only thing missing from the melee, other than Hayward, was a stick-swinging Ron Hextall, as the Flyers’ starting goalie was somehow also remarkably kept off the ice.

After 10 minutes of scraps, wrestling matches, pile-ons and general beatings, the exhausted teams finally appeared to be calming down and began to head back to their respective rooms… until Corson unexpectedly charged Don Nachbaur and punched him in the face (8:19 of the video, see below for link), reigniting the on-ice festivities for another five minutes before the refs finally got control. Many players later called it “The Brawl That Never Happened” since no penalties were assessed, as everything took place several minutes before the game even started.

“The thing I remember most is the referees coming into the room afterwards and admitting that they had no idea what to do,” said Hayward, reminiscing on the aftermath of the events that led to a 4-3 Canadiens loss and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the Flyers.

“We didn’t know if there were going to be five or six guys tossed and not eligible to play in the game. Then they basically ended up saying, ‘We don’t know what to do, so nobody’s going to be suspended for tonight’s game’,” finished Hayward. “The rest of us could pretty much only look around in disbelief.”

See the a full video of the brawl HERE.