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Team Toughness in Numbers

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Minutes after Jeff Skinner left the ice following a hit from Brooks Orpik on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, the Carolina Hurricanes responded with perhaps an unlikely participant.

Michael Smith
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Tim Brent dropped the gloves with Joe Vitale in what was just Brent’s second fight in the National Hockey League.

But, that’s what team toughness is all about.

“It’s not something I do all the time, but I think anybody who is emotionally invested and cares, it happens sometimes,” he said. “I’m not the first guy to do it this year. There have been plenty of guys to step up for each other throughout the season. Stewy did it. Bryan Allen has done it a bunch of times. Tim Gleason has done it a bunch of times.”

Brent charged towards Vitale in the corner of the defensive zone when Vitale went in hard on Derek Joslin. Brent said he gave Vitale and cross check and said, “Let’s go.” The two skated toward the front of the net, and Vitale complied. It was a quick bout, but the edge would probably have to go to Brent.

But if you ask him, it’s not about what he did. The focus is on the team.

“You look through our lineup – we’ve got some skilled guys, we’ve got some grinders,” he said. “But I don’t think it matters whether you’re skilled or just a hard working guy. If you show up, compete and do things like stand up for your teammates, it goes a long way.”

Later in the third period, Jay Harrison went after Tyler Kennedy when Kennedy fired a shot toward a mask-less Cam Ward. Harrison quickly shoved Kennedy into the boards, the teams gathered and cooler heads prevailed.

“Harry was quick to respond, and that’s what we want,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “That’s what we’re about it. It’s about the team. It’s about each other. It’s about playing hard for each other and having each other’s backs.”

Earlier in the game, Tim Gleason and Deryk Engelland went toe-to-toe in what Brent said was “two men having a punch-in-the-face contest.” That seemed to be an isolated incident until Orpik rammed Skinner in front of the Carolina boards.

Orpik received an interference penalty as Skinner struggled to get up. Skinner went to the locker room and ran through some tests before returning to the ice to finish the game. He was on the ice practicing with the team this morning, and Muller said Skinner is fine, despite the clean, but devastating hit.

“We have to have that belief that what we’re playing for is each other,” Muller said. “[Skinner] is a feisty little player, and he has the puck a lot. I think he’s the first to say that he’s got to learn what guys are on the ice and the position he puts himself in.”

Brent’s scrap is a microcosm of the team toughness that has been seen at times this season. Anthony Stewart challenged New York Ranger Brian Boyle for his hit on Skinner on Dec. 1. After the game, players responded positively, saying that it showed they were sticking together through the good times and the bad.

Last night, the team was sticking up for a sophomore forward who had just missed 16 games with a concussion and a goalie who was defenseless in his face. They displayed, as Muller said, “team toughness in numbers.”

Though they don’t have two points to show for it, the Canes did put forth arguably the fifth game in a row of a total team effort and showed toughness along the way. They do have the scrapes and bruises to prove that. Look no further than Brent’s knuckles.

“Scraped up a bit,” he said, “but you aren’t going to find too many hockey players who are going to be hand models after their hockey careers are over.”

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