Sure, it’s a team game, but hockey often comes down to battles; individual matchups and tests of will between two combatants. Recently, I’ve found myself delighting even more in those confrontations and in that spirit, I present to you my three favorite skater battles currently festering in the NHL. Consolation prize to Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, but King Louie is a goaltender after all, so that throws a different set of elements into the rivalry. Also, it’s a bit of a bummer those two won’t face each other in the Olympics (Big Buff didn’t crack the U.S. squad), but what can you do?
OK, I’m getting away from the plot here. Round 1: fight!
Steve Ott vs. Todd Bertuzzi: Dallas has one of the best agitators in the business in Ott, while Detroit has been using Big Bert’s large, aggressive body to accent the grace of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The result? Must-see TV. The combination of Ott’s yappiness and Bertuzzi’s surliness makes every faceoff lineup a nightmare for officials watching the two wingers. When the teams clashed on the weekend, I eventually began to see the slightest smirk on Bertuzzi’s face after the umpteenth time the pair was separated while the puck was waiting to be dropped.
Given that a penalty taken by Bertuzzi would ruin a top-line shift for Zetterberg and Datsyuk, I have to credit the hulking winger for resisting face-punch time against Ott, a master at drawing unnecessary penalties. Douglas Murray vs. Alex Ovechkin: Maybe in the summer, these two could be great friends. After all, Ovie likes to have fun and Murray is the co-inventor of a multi-headed beer keg tap (true story). But when Murray’s Sharks and Ovie’s Caps square off, it’s all-out war between the San Jose defenseman and Washington’s highlight reel.
See, Ovie likes to hit, but he’s not fond of getting hit. Murray could care less about this fact, so you can see where I’m going with this. In San Jose’s 5-2 win over Washington earlier this winter, the two went at each other like a pair of 15-year-olds in their first mosh pit: just smash into the other guy as many times as possible, regardless of physical momentum or relevance to the surrounding play. In short, it was awesome, given the one-sidedness of the game.
These two could meet twice more this season: if Sweden and Russia meet in the medal round at the Olympics, or in the Stanley Cup final. Either would be sweet.
Colton Orr vs. Sidney Crosby: This rivalry was more heated when Orr was a member of the New York Rangers, since he played Sid’s Penguins more frequently, but it’s still fun to watch. While Orr is definitely an enforcer for the Maple Leafs, he also has the habit of really getting under the skin of one of the league’s best players.
The mismatch in offensive workload and toughness truly favors Orr, who can spend his night pestering Crosby, knowing that even if someone on the Pens fights him, it’s an interrupted Sid shift (and requires the Pens to dress an enforcer, which is not a given).
For the record, the Rangers won the first three of six games against the Pens last season, but that’s when Pittsburgh was struggling. This year, the Buds have taken one of three from Sid’s crew.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column — The Straight Edge — every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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