Revenge fight with Weber just part of hockey
NASHVILLE — Taking a look around his team's dressing room, Detroit Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi had to know that the candidates were few.
He, in fact, might have been the only one.
Before the Wings' 3-2, series-evening victory Friday night over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of their first-round tangle, Detroit coach Mike Babcock said more than once this week that his team is not built for fighting and for physical retribution.
Ten of Detroit's 18 skaters are European, where fighting is much less a part of the game — if it is at all — than it is in North America.
And yet the belief in the Detroit room seemed to be that Nashville's All-Star defenseman Shea Weber should have to answer for what he did after the final whistle in the Predators' 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday to Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg, one of his team's most skilled players.
The league deemed that when Weber grabbed the head of Zetterberg and shoved it into the glass — breaking Zetterberg's helmet in the process — that he committed a "reckless and reactionary play." Weber was penalized two minutes at the time for roughing and subsequently was fined $2,500 by the league, but not suspended. The fact that Zetterberg was unhurt and able to play in Game 2 appeared to be a key factor in the decision not to suspend Weber.
In Babcock's mind, the punishment did not fit the crime. So early in Game 2, Babcock said he thought Bertuzzi did the right thing by challenging Weber to a fight. The two giants — Weber is 6-foot-4, 232 pounds (and one of the league's more feared fighters) and Bertuzzi is 6-3, 229 — each received major fighting penalties at 1:36 of the first period.
Babcock said he thinks that sticking up for teammates in the way that Bertuzzi did is an "important part of hockey."
"We're built different than lots of teams and, you know, I just thought the incident the other night wasn't part of hockey," Babcock said. "I haven't seen it since junior hockey and I thought it was unacceptable and I think sometimes when things don't get looked after, you have to look after it yourself. And I didn't think things were looked after at all."
The move drew rave reviews from Bertuzzi's teammates, even those not inclined to fight themselves.
"He took care of it and showed that we're not going to accept that," said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, one of the game's all-time great defensemen, who, according to the Web site hockeyfights.com has exactly one fighting major to his credit — which came in his rookie season of 1991-92. "It didn't become a distraction to our team. I thought, ‘Let's handle it early on' and then we moved on to play the game and it was a hard-fought game and it was great to see how our team responded to it."
Babcock did not want to say that it inspired Detroit, which led 2-0 at first intermission, but it did seem to have a positive effect.
"What can you say about Todd, stepping up like that and going after Shea?" said goalie Jimmy Howard, who was the best player on the ice with 24 saves.
Not surprisingly, Zetterberg's treatment at the hands of Weber did not go over well with the Red Wings. Howard was asked if he thought before the game that Bertuzzi would challenge Weber.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I was just telling myself all morning to keep my emotions out of it and just go out and play."
In that role, Bertuzzi is no white knight. His actions in ending the career of Colorado's Steve Moore back in 2004 when he played for Vancouver are well documented. For the act, the NHL suspended Bertuzzi for 17 months, a span that included the canceled 2004-05 season. Moore, who suffered a broken neck and numerous other injuries, and Bertuzzi remain in litigation.
With that in mind, Bertuzzi was not particularly reflective after Friday's game. He called it "something you gotta do" and said "it's just hockey" — much in the way that Weber said "it's playoffs" when answering questions following Wednesday's game about what he did to Zetterberg.
But no one seemed to object to the fight. In fact, it's not the fair fight — which Weber's and Bertuzzi's was — that many of the critics of violence and fighting in hockey want to get rid of.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he had a feeling by the way that Bertuzzi looked at him in warm-ups that something was coming.
"I thought if there was going to be someone, Bert was going to do it," Trotz said. "That's hockey. That sort of brings closure to an event that I'm sure you'd probably see a very similar response from our side, so that's hockey. Shea's a big boy, takes care of himself and that's hockey. It's closure."
Indeed, Weber does take care of himself. A few years ago, he concussed Detroit's Andreas Lilja in a fight and Lilja missed more than a year. So Bertuzzi, 37, was taking on a considerable risk in fighting the 26-year-old Weber.
"Obviously, he's sticking up for his teammate and I'm sure anyone in here would do the same thing if something happened to us," Weber said.
Like it or not, that's hockey.