"Looking back at it, it was kind of stupid." - Chris Nilan
One of the most unthinkable events in hockey history had to have been the bench clearing brawl between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens prior to game six of their 1987 playoff series. That's right, I said prior.
Claude Lemieux (surprise, surprise) infuriated the Flyers when he snuck back on to the ice at the end of the warm-ups to shoot the puck into the Flyers unguarded net. Ed Hospodar and Chico Resch of the Flyers immediately came out, with Hospodar quick to begin pounding on Lemieux.
Next thing you know, pretty much everyone comes out of the dressing rooms - some half dressed - to join in the melee. Everyone except the referees, that is!
I had only ever seen the French version of this, as apparently they were the only ones to capture everything on film. But here is an English version.
Dave Brown sure wanted a piece of Chris Nilan, didn't he! And they weren't the only tough guys - Darryl Stanley, John Kordic, Mike Stothers, Shayne Corson, Rick Tocchet....thankfully both starting goalies remained in the dressing room because who knows what Ron Hextall would have done.
Now here's the most amazing part about this whole, unbelievable event: no penalties were assessed. All players remained eligible to play in the game, which was won 5-2 by Montreal by the way.
Here's a report from 1987, courtesy Red Fisher and The Montreal Gazette.
Brawling gets early start
By RED FISHER. The Montreal Gazette. May 15, 1987.
A vicious, bloody brawl involving most of the players from the Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers preceded last night's Game 6 of the Wales Conference final.
The 15-minute outburst of thuggery started after most of the players had left for their dressing rooms following their pre-game practice. It was triggered into a raging mess when Ed Hospodar, who came out for the pre-game skate but didn't play last night, pummelled Claude Lemieux after the Canadiens' forward tried to shoot the puck into the empty Philadelphia net.
Hospodar and teammate Chico Resch tried to prevent Lemieux shooting the puck. When they finally abandoned the net and the Habs' Shayne Corson shot the puck, the Flyers' Chico Resch pursued Lemieux, triggering the brawl.
That outburst brought players from both teams streaming back onto the ice from the dressing rooms, and, in a matter of seconds, a flood of them were paired off - swinging, kicking, wrestling, punching and clawing at each other.
For long minutes, before the 15-minute outbreak subsided from the moment referee Andy van Hellemond raced onto the ice with linesmen Wayne Bonney and Bob Hodges, several main bouts were in full swing.
One had Chris Nilan and a sweaterless Dave Brown unloading haymakers.
Don Nachbauer went at Larry Robinson, and in a moment, both players were swinging freely.
Elsewhere, John Kordic and Daryl Stanley, who had been content to hold onto each other watching others do batte, finally decided their moment had arrived. They, too, went at each other.
Ten minutes into the brawling, it appeared that saner minds had prevailed. Both teams seemed to decide that enough was enough, but then Corson ignited the fighting again when he charged Nachbaur and punched him to the ice. In a matter of seconds, bodies were piled upon one another and continued for several minutes before van Hellemond made it to the ice and ordered both teams to their dressing rooms.
The most interested spectators during the brawling were John McCauley, who's in charge of NHL officials, and backup referee Don Koharski, pads and pencils in hand. Almost strangely, however, a decision was made not to distribute any penalties.
NHL Executive Director of Hockey Operations Jim Gregory explained it this way:
"We were afraid something like this would break out, with all of the pre-game nonsense that's been going on. At the same time, though, there's nothing in our rule book covering something like this."
"We decided to go on with the game as if nothing had happened," added Brian O'Neill. "We'll review the whole thing later."
They did review everything later. The Flyers ended Montreal's season by winning the series in game 6, so no further action was taken against any of the Habs players. The Flyers, who advanced to play Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals, only lost Ed Hospodar to suspension. He was banned for the rest of the 1987 playoffs.