It’s a tough question to answer: for the Buffalo Sabres, how do you answer the bell when you don’t have a designated fighter to put in the ring?
After Lucic creamed Miller everyone on the ice for the Sabres looked at each other and thought “someone’s gonna fight him right? Please let someone who isn’t me do this.” They all looked to Gaustad, who for whatever reason couldn’t bring himself to do it. (A guess: fighting someone like Milan Lucic – or anyone, for me - isn’t something you just say “eff it” and do. Usually it’s something you have to talk yourself into, work up to, and Gaustad likely will.)
But what about a team that doesn’t even have a guy like Gaustad, what do they do when a heavyweight does something egregious? Nothing says “don’t hit our goalie” like sending out some middleweight to get thumped.
A lot of people want the “thugs” taken out of the league, but when your starting goalie gets smeared by a tough guy like that, apologizing that your goalie got in the way isn’t the right response. They’re nice to have on occasion.
Without one, your options kinda suck. You can crosscheck the guy in the mouth if you’re really determined to inflict pain, but that’s only gonna be a suspension, and put you on the tough guy’s radar for next time (if you care about stuff like that). You can go mow over the other teams goalie in the “eye for an eye” mentality, but 99% of the time that means you’re gonna end up fighting anyway. At least you may avoid the heavyweight that way, but a goalie run-off isn’t a situation we need in hockey.
There’s only one alternative I’ve seen: the “never let ‘em see you sweat” option employed by the Detroit Red Wings for the past five years or so.
You can’t get us pissed, you can’t get under our skin, we’re an emotionless machine hell-bent on dismantling your team and getting the W. It’s the Nick Lidstrom/Pavel Datsyuk way.
If you don’t have the talent to employ that tactic and win, then we’re right back where we started: you actually do need a tough guy.
The more I think about how to answer a situation where an opponent intentionally hurt one of your teammates, the more I realize you either need to be a damn good team, or have a guy on hand who can stick up for your team (ideally one who can actually play). At least for the time being, that role in hockey is still necessary.