The dustup which kicked off last week’s Florida Panthers game with the Coyotes continues to get good play around the NHL.
That’s more good publicity for the Panthers, now considered one of the league’s most exciting teams.
In my coverage of that event, I pointed out that the actions and reactions of both teams were part of an unwritten set of rules called The Code.
In its simplest terms, The Code means each player is responsible for his actions.
Cheap shots and deliberate attempts to injure call for retribution, often immediately by the nearest person to the offense and almost always followed by the team’s enforcer joining in.
It does not have to happen that night.
An entire season could go by, waiting for the right opportunity.
Many rules and protocols accompany The Code.
Much of it has to do with respect and perceived acts of disrespect.
For instance, during the heated pregame meeting between Ryan Lomberg, Matthew Tkachuk, Jonah Gadjovich, and a group of Coyotes, you might have noticed all players stayed on their side of the center line.
Straying onto the opponent’s side of the ice is disrespectful, and even the slightest contact can result in pushing and shoving, which can escalate to a full-scale brawl.
If a puck should slide to the opposition side, tradition says it is not retrieved.
Pregame scrums were not uncommon in the past until the NHL toughened up penalties and hit participants in the pocket.
Most of these brawls were initiated by territorial infringement or crossing the red line.
One of the most prominent agitators in the past was journeyman tough Claude Lemieux, who routinely ended warmups by firing a puck into the opposition net, usually after the other team left the ice.
He had some nasty responses when he did not wait.
Hockey players are so attuned to tradition that opposing players deliberately stayed on the ice until Lemieux left to prevent him from completing his pregame ritual.
Other acts of disrespect can trigger an immediate response, including:
- The Face Wash: Rubbing your opponent’s face with the open palm of your glove. This is sure to get a quick response. It is not done often because even feuding players have mutual respect, and having a reputation as a face-washer is not a career-enhancing move.
- Snow Throwing – Skating up to the opposition goalie and abruptly stopping, causing a spray of ice to hit the goalie’s face. This is a strict no-no.
- Showboating – Never taunt an opponent by showboating. Things change rapidly in the NHL, and the skate could easily be on the other foot later.
I recall covering a New York Rangers game a few years back against Tampa Bay.
A young and exuberant Russian named Artem Anisimov, who was not versed in NHL etiquette, scored a shorthanded goal against Mathieu Garon and celebrated by skating away with his stick pointed at Garon like a rifle.
It took only seconds for a full-scale brawl to break out.
Anisimov learned his lesson well and issued an apology for his actions.
Fighters respect each other and will always tell you that nothing is personal.
A few years back, Russ Bernstein authored a book entitled The Code.
He interviewed many enforcers. He summarized the rules of engagement as protection, intimidation, and retaliation.
These protocols were gleaned from his book:
- Fighters only fight other fighters.
- Don’t pick a fight at the end of a guy’s shift.
- No sucker punch (blindside hit) – the fight must be fair.
- Don’t fight an injured player.
- If a player is down or can’t defend himself, you stop.
- If the official taps you, stop. Always respect the officials.
- No showmanship after a fight. This is the easiest way to lose respect.
As much as some might object, fighting will always be part of the game.
The Code doesn’t make it more agreeable but perhaps more understandable.
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PHILADELPHIA FLYERS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
- Season Series — At Florida: Feb. 6; March 7. At Philadelphia: March 24.
- Last season: Philadelphia won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Philadelphia leads 57-37-6, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Washington, 7 p.m.