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Five for fighting

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
From the opening face-off it seemed clear that Thursday's contest between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks wasn't going to be an offensive shootout of epic proportions.

Vancouver's 3-2 win, their sixth in pre-season play, ended up being a competitive game nonetheless, it simply didn't match the intensity that was shown a night earlier when the Canucks snuffed the Flames 6-1.

The opening period was borderline snooze time, just like last Saturday when these teams met in San Jose. They once again played cautious hockey in the first 20 minutes, it was tight-checking and for the most part uneventful.

The lone highlight of the first period was a beauty, however, and it didn't even result in a Vancouver goal.

Midway through the period Canucks forward Rick Rypien collided with Mike Moore of the Sharks in San Jose's zone. It was more of a harmless run-in than anything, but after some presumably sharp words were exchanged, the pair decided to rumble.

Rypien and Moore didn't simply run at each other in amateur fashion though, this meticulous scrap had the fans on their feet before punches were even thrown as both players threw their sticks and gloves to the ice prior to removing their helmets and tossing them aside.

As the crowd roared in anticipation the players put up their dukes and flailed themselves at one-another, Moore kicked off the fight with some big blows before Rypien got his composure and landed some equally damaging fisticuffs.

A good old fashioned school yard brawl it was, minus the wagering and chanting, as the duo went at it for what seemed like minutes but was really only :45 seconds.

In the end Rypien got part of Moore's jersey over his head, landing more five-finger furry along the way, judging by the home crowd cheers this one went to Rypien, but it was close.

Had this fight taken place between a couple of Joes on the street, both fighters would have walked away with stories of the momentous brawl they once took part in. For Rypien, it was just another day at the rink.

"It was just a couple of guys playing hard, I don't think anybody was looking for it, it was just one of those things that happen and it was good," said Rypien, who is sporting some fresh stitches under his chin and a few older ones under his left eye.

It wasn't the greatest fight ever, nor was it the worst, but it highlighted one of the most alluring position battles that is currently going on with the Canucks.

The fists have been flying from three players this pre-season, Rypien, Nathan McIver and Mike Brown have dropped the gloves nine times all-together as they fight it out, literally, for a spot on Vancouver's roster come next Thursday when the Canucks host the Flames to begin the 2008-09 season.

The role they're looking to fulfill is that of the team's tough, gritty enforcer that plays with a lot of energy, will hit anything in sight and obviously doesn't have any quandaries about sparking the Canucks by going toe-to-toe with the oppositions tough guys.

"There's a lot of guys here that are fighting for a spot like that and I just can't worry about too many other guys, I'm just worrying about me and how the staff is going to look at me," said Brown, who took part in his fourth fight of the pre-season when he and San Jose's Jody Shelley went at it in the second period.

"It's a good battle so far and I'm just doing my best to get under their skin, make the big hit, do the job on the penalty kill and just try to get under guy's skin and rattle people by making that big hit and making them come after me."

McIver, who watched Thursday's game from the press box, has two fights under his belt this pre-season, he realizes it's important to show that he isn't afraid of that part of the role, but he knows Vancouver's coaching staff got a taste of that from him last season.

The 23-year-old defenceman appeared in 17 games with the Canucks last year, fighting eight times along the way, he finished second on the team in fights behind Jeff Cowan who led the team with 12.

"I think the coaching staff knows that I can fight so I think it's important to show how I can play away from the puck and in my own end and show that I can play in the league," said McIver. "But with the way I play the fights happen, I try to play tough.

"I just let it happen, I don't think about it every shift that I'm going to fight this guy or I'm going to fight that guy, I just go out there and play and if something happens, something happens."

Rypien's first period fight with Moore didn't swing the momentum of the period as San Jose opened the scoring late in the frame, but the players realize that what they do with their fists and bodies can have a major impact on the game and their ability to swing the tempo in Vancouver's favor is imperative to them making the team.

"If we're down a goal or two and I can go out there and give us a little boost that's huge," said McIver. "Same goes with a big hit, sometimes it just really boosts the guys."

"It gets the energy of the game up," added Brown, "and it gets my energy going, it's just good overall for the team to get the spirit and tempo up."

Rypien, McIver and Brown have all proven they can give and take punches effectively so it's now a matter of who has established themselves as the best overall tough, gritty enforcer in the eyes of Vancouver's coaches and management.

That player will be seeing a lot more punches starting in a week's time.

2 – Fights in Thursday's game; Rypien fought Moore and Brown rumbled with Shelley

5 – Vancouver players who have dropped the gloves this pre-season

11 – Fights the Canucks have been involved in this pre-season

12 – Scraps Jeff Cowan was part of last season; he led the team

68 – Fights for the Canucks last season which ranked them third in the league

Vancouver started slow but got the ball rolling in the second period with a pair of powerplay goals.

They only generated 20 shots overall, yet the ones that got to Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov were good ones.

Vancouver's defenders weren't moving the puck as smoothly as usual, some new pairings could be the reason for that. They blocked nine shots though and broke up a few odd man rushes in San Jose's favor, so they played well overall.

Vancouver's special teams has been great thus far in pre-season play and they were once again effective against San Jose. The Canucks went 2-for-6 on their powerplay opportunites, while denying the Sharks any goals while they were up a man, San Jose finished 0-for-6.
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