Braden Holtby

I didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the whole Ray Emery chasing/jumping/attemptedmurdering Braden Holtby thing over the weekend, but with the news that the League may make a change (I’ll get to that farther down), I figure it’s probably time.

Yesterday the Phoenix Coyotes’ goalie coach Sean Burke gave an interview where he weighed in on the actions of Philly’s notoriously “tough” goalie (amateur boxer, yada yada yada), and I liked what he had to say. It’d be an understatement to say he wasn’t a huge fan:

“Holtby had a shutout going and he could have been injured. He’s a Team Canada candidate. Maybe not a favorite, but he’s playing for a lot right now, and that was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough.”

No, no it is most certainly not.

I also liked:

“Anybody defending Emery’s actions by saying Holtby’s at fault in any way — that’s just archaic. How would people have felt if Holtby had taken his stick and two-handed Ray Emery? Would that have been justifiable to protect himself? What can you do? What are you allowed to do to defend yourself against a guy against whom you’re overmatched?”

Ab-so-lutely. You’re borderline helpless. I’m sure a few people have proudly trotted out “what they would’ve done,” but in reality Holtby’s options were basically: look soft and try to skate away from Emery (I’m sure that highlight would hardly get played on loop for all eternity), smack him with his stick (brain damage, suspensions, not a lot of great outcomes there), or turtle/semi-turtle, which he basically did, which involves letting someone use your thinking machine like a knuckles-only bongo drum.

(Little reactionary tangent here, but goddamn, Emery, what was that even about? It felt like a pure matter of circumstance: Hey, fighting is basically allowed in this setting, I’m having a tough day at the office, and I’m 0% afraid of getting beat-up by some untrained fighter, so I might as well go beat that guy up and make the fans love me more. What I especially don’t get, is once Holtby is clearly like “fine, f***, I guess this is happening regardless,” can you let him get set and have a fair go instead of tossing him around like a broken yo-yo? You’re a hero, buddy.)

Anyway, what Emery did was macho bulls**t, unnecessary and indefensible. I understand the League’s desire to minimize situations like that.

My Dad used to talk about the fear of bench-clearing brawls in the ’70s and ’80s, and how when you started losing, you lost for a long time. You just had to hope that the guy you were paired up with was human enough to not punch you to death. There was usually a respect there, but there wasn’t often enough that the league outlawed the behaviour by making the suspension for leaving the bench just too big to stomach in the huge majority of instances. The clamouring now is to push stuff like what Ray Emery did out with more league legislation.

Specifically, the word is that the league is considering a mandatory 10-game suspension for any goalie who leaves the zone to fight.

That would put it on par with a player leaving the bench illegally for the same purpose (or any purpose), which is pretty extreme but not too ridiculous.

Still, I’m not entirely sold on the idea. I’m sold on suspending the hell out of Emery, because “we don’t have a rule for that” is kind of garbage when something as easy as “intent to injure” exists to lean on. However you define it, this is a man punching an unwilling combatant in the brain-casing, so it’s not a stretch to say his intent wasn’t to coordinate a joint pottery lesson on the weekend.

But I say I’m not entirely sold on a mandatory 10 game suspension because goaltenders are on the ice, in the action, and allowed the same frustrations as every other player. When a guy jumps off the bench, he’s given his team a numbers advantage, and someone already involved with a player could find themselves simply outnumbered and in some real danger. But maybe a goalie’s been chirped at and run all night, maybe he’s been jawing with the opposing goalie during timeouts, and maybe they agree that they would prefer if the other guy’s nose were less intact. If you’re okay with fighting as the League implicitly is, whatever, who’s to say they shouldn’t be afforded the same privilege as skaters? (If you’re not pro-fighting, this whole thing is moot anyway.)

Goalies have (almost) always stood at the red line and waited for confirmation that yes, that other man would like to punch your face as well, you may engage. Just skating down the length of the rink and going all Patrick Roy’s son never seemed to be a part of the pre-punch respect others have been afforded. Ray Emery embarrassed himself. It’s not like there’s some epidemic of goaltender-on-goaltender crime in the league that needs to immediately be eliminated.

So maybe they decide this is going to be a suspendible play. Maybe they go all-in, or maybe they decide to walk it back from 10 to a couple games so really, really mad dudes can deem it, as an Icelandic hockey player once said in Mighty Ducks, “well worth it.” Whatever they decide to do with goalie fights, I’ll get on with my day just fine because it’s a rare circumstance that doesn’t really affect the game. But if they really want to hit a homerun here, they’ll take my suggestion:


Just own it, NHL. If both goalies agree to cross the blue into the neutral zone, permission has been given. The gesture can be akin to signing a waiver. This idea can’t lose. Paint FIGHT ZONE across center ice, too.

(And maybe make sumo suits mandatory. I dunno. Just spitballin’ here.)

I’m kidding of course. But whatever they decide to do, it really isn’t going to be an easy call. I don’t think goalie fights should be on par with a guy jumping the bench to fight, but I can’t see them doing nothing after this either. Stay tuned.

Comments (30)

  1. Not gonna lie, the fight zone is the perfect solution. The aggressive goalie can’t get near the passive goalie to punk him. If they both want to go they enter the neutral zone and it’s on. People love goalie fights. I also think there should be an exemption when a goalie in his own zone is involved in an altercation, or is the third man into an altercation.

    • Well there is a small hole though … let’s just say a Holtby-esque character just wants to go about being a world class goalie, no shortage of manhood just thinks it’s stupid to risk injury because somebody else is frustrated.
      Then let’s say a Emery-esque character skates all the way from the crease to the far blue line and starts yelling about “panty waist” this and “nancy boy” that. In front of both teams. In front of 1000s of people. It’s kind of hard for the Holtby character to decline the invite.
      So just saying Fight Zone sounds entertaining as heck but maybe it’s not entirely perfect.
      The better solution would be for an Emery character to look down the ice and make some “you want to go?” gesture and wait for reciprocity. That’s the code , right? But that would require the Emery character NOT to be a big d-bag.

  2. “If both goalies agree to cross the blue into the neutral zone, permission has been given. The gesture can be akin to signing a waiver.”

    Exactly. If a goalie skates into the offensive zone, then feel free to bring the Shanaban. Neutral zone fights should just be penalty minutes.

  3. “My Dad used to talk about the fear of bench-clearing brawls in the ’70s and ’80s, and how when you started losing, you lost for a long time. You just had to hope that the guy you were paired up with was human enough to not punch you to death.”

    This actually happened earlier in the game. Steve Downie paired up with Aaron Volpatti earlier in the game. Volpatti tagged him with a couple left hands that concussed him, reportedly fractured a bone in his face, and landed him in the hospital for a couple days. Downie managed to slow him down enough to ask him to stop the fight, which he did. Volpatti could have kept slugging him, Emery-style, but he didn’t. He showed some humanity.

    That’s the example the league *should* have used to drop the hammer on Emery.

  4. I love the FIGHT ZONE idea, but…I really think goalie fights aren’t entertaining…at all. Do people really like them??

  5. C’mon Justin. Fight Zone is terrible. You know darn good and well it should be “The Danger Zone”

    • If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right and painting a highway down the middle of the rink and giving Emery the callsign Maverick from now on.

  6. Now that helmets can’t be removed by skaters for a fight without an extra penalty, how stupid are goalie fights?

  7. Loved the post, but I’m still confused as to why the fight wasn’t broken up earlier. Emery was raining blows on the back of Holtby’s head, and Holtby was down on his knees for a good bit. I get that he’s not totally out, but why not break up that fight as an official? The only thing I can think of is the ref didn’t want to get accidentally punched.

    • There’s a lot of blame being put on the official throughout the media, and although I think he could have handled it better here’s a couple thoughts on the situation:

      - The linesman’s job is to break up fights, referee is to stand back and make sure nothing gets missed. The linesmen were clearly caught up elsewhere leaving one referee to watch these two. He gets between the two goalies, the 5 other guys he is responsible for now are going unwatched.

      - As a result, referees aren’t great at breaking up fights. You’ll see this on occasion when for whatever reason a liney and a ref try to break up a fight. The ref looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Now take the liney out of that situation.

      - Breaking up fights 101 in ref school starts with one lesson – never enter a fight alone. First of all, there’s two guys trying to smash each others face and then you’re going to put your face between them. Second, you can’t take both of them and odds are you’ll end up holding one while the other gets a couple free shots.

      This situation is probably a little different since only Emery was actually fighting and he could have likely held back Emery. However, he can’t be sure that once he takes hold of Emery that Holtby doesn’t start swinging. Replays are a beautiful thing that referees never get a chance at. You have to understand that world war three is going off, and you’re responsible for knowing what each player did and what his subsequent punishment is. It’s not easy.

      Drives me nuts when people like the guys at Puck Daddy write articles about what referees and linesmen should do when they have absolutely no idea of the protocols.

      • That all makes a lot of sense. Thank you for explaining.

      • You explain it perfectly but the fault lies in the system. At what point do you draw the line as a person just trying to look out for the well being of another and not the sport? Do you wait till Holtby is on the ice knocked out in a puddle of blood or do the smart thing and grab Emery when it was clearing only going to be a one person fight from the start. I understand that the ref is responsible for all players on the ice but aside for missing an extra penalty down ice he was with the goalies at the time and that should have been the focus. Allowing Emery to go unpunished is why hockey is the laughing stock of pro sports which truly sucks as it is the most entertaining of the sports when played with class.

      • The one thing that I still can’t see an explanation for though is the fact that the ref deliberately and explicitly waved off Latta, who was coming to Holtby’s aid. He left Emery bashing away at an unwilling combatant, and wouldn’t let a willing one come to the rescue. He didn’t just not break that fight up, he stopped anyone from protecting Holtby.

    • Kerry Fraser wrote a good article about that (saying that he, as a ref, definitely would’ve protected the defenseless Holtby) over on That Other Hockey Website.

    • i’m surprised there isn’t more backlash on the official. of course the league doesn’t make the disciplining of refs public, so maybe they are doing something. this whole thing could have been avoided of that one official made at least some effort to stop emery or didn’t wave off other players trying to intervene.

      • Of course the league doesn’t make public disciplining the refs. These guys are called out by players, coaches, announcers (who usually don’t know the rules), and media. The league has to have their back.

        Guaranteed there was backlash on this official. These guys are looked at every game and have to justify major calls on a regular basis. You think if they miss a major headshot, nothing gets mentioned behind closed doors? Assuming since you don’t hear anything doesn’t mean nothing is being done. Considering that there is no rule in the rulebook to suspend Emery, it’s pretty tough to expect an official to understand what to do in the heat of the moment.

        As for waving off other player, what if him and Holtby start pummeling Emery? Then what’s the backlash on the official for allowing a third man in? Is he supposed to then break up a three man fight by himself? These are all things he had to consider at the time.

        Like I said (and by the sounds of it, Fraser too), he could have handled it better. But put the blame on Emery for being a goon, not on the official.

  8. Great Olalf Sanderson of Iceland reference, could even end up being “Two games, well worth it” for fighting the other Goalie. 2 makes more sense than 10.

  9. Sigh. The NHL is so irrational sometimes. The issue with the Emery Incident has exactly zero to do with the fact that he and Holtby were goalies. The issue is that he kept beating an unwilling combatant! THAT’S where you need to devote your attention, you stupid league!

  10. What makes the NHL’s inaction even more inexcusable to me is they do have a reason in the rulebook to suspend Emery, the same rule they used to fine the Buffalo coach for the preseason brawl.

    “28.1 Supplementary Discipline – In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.”

  11. While I have beef with Emery (for acting like an idiot) and with the ref (for not shutting it down), I can still rationalize what happened on Friday as one of those things that occasionally happen in hockey.

    What I still can’t wrap my head around is the four other guys on the Caps (one guy was already fighting) watching Emery skate the length of the ice to grab Holtby and no one gets in his path. And then Latta asking the ref for permission to jump in when Emery is pounding the back of Holtby’s head. Get real! Wash didn’t have a single guy with the stones to jump in and help.

    Headed for an old-timer’s moment here, but it reminded me of when Dave Schultz beat up Dale Rolfe during the playoffs in the early 70s. The other Rangers watched it happen and every one knew right then the Rangers were toast.

    One other aside: you know who hasn’t been bitching about it? Holtby. Watched him as a junior and he’s a tough kid. In fact, looked like he was laughing about it on the ice afterward.

  12. “The first rule of Fight Zone is, you do not talk about Fight Zone”.

  13. Hopefully Washington doesnt have a Milan Lucic / Ryan miller moment and just wind up being fucking terrible after this

  14. This is a tired old argument but what Emery did is called ASSAULT.

    Do that outside the context of a ‘game’ and you are looking at charges.

    Want to fix the BS – there is your solution.

  15. I think Emery was just trying to make a run at a roster spot on the Canadian Olympic team. If he would have finished the job, he’d only have about 20 more to go before he’d be Sochi-bound.

  16. Also, whether or not the suggestion was serious, I actually like the idea of the neutral zone being a zone of permissible goalie fights. That would have prevented the Emery-Holtby incident (assuming Holtby would have been fine with Flyers fans thinking he was a wussy, which, I believe is a safe assumption given the fact that he is a professional goaltender who had a shutout going at the time).

  17. I’ll echo some of the comments here and agree that instead of “leave your zone, get 10 games” a better solution is “enter THEIR zone, get 10 games”. If the goalies wanna go, they can go, but it’s got to be mutual. Holtby can wave Emery off and tell him to go eff himself if he’s not interested, and no harm done unless Emery wants to bring the hammer down on his own head by punching Holtby’s.

    But you’re right, JB, that the issue is moot if you’re not convinced that fighting needs to be a part of the game in the first place. Which, between this, and Parros, and Belak/Rypien/Boogaard, is an increasingly defensible position to take. And I DO know all the reasons fighting “makes sense”, but come on people.

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