There are few things more scintillating for hockey fans than seeing the gloves drop. On Monday Night, there was certainly no shortage of the physical play that has epitomized the 36-years of fierce rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers.
In the Islanders’ 5-4 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, fans got a double-dip of fighting in the first period. The brawling got underway when two big men—Mitch Fritz of the Islanders and Colton Orr of the Rangers—tangled. Each landed major blows, and after the game Fritz was sporting a fresh battle-wound over his right eye.
“You’re trying to get the boys going,” said Fritz. “I go out there, and it’s a big aspect of my game. I’m at the point in my game where I don’t really think about it too much.”
Just about 1:30 after Fritz and Orr fought, two skilled players exchanged blows. Mike Comrie of the Isles landed several big punches against Nigel Dawes of the Blueshirts.
“When you end up dropping the gloves, everything goes in slow motion,” said Comrie. “The adrenaline is pumping through your body, and your instincts just take over.”
The physical play continued throughout the game. As in most contests between the Islanders and Rangers, a minute rarely passed when the crowd didn’t cheer or cringe at someone being plastered against the boards. The Islanders outhit the Rangers convincingly 35-25, and had six players with at least three checks. Comrie led the team with five hits.
“Mike has fought before,” Islanders Head Coach Scott Gordon said of Comrie’s play. “Obviously he’s sticking up for a teammate. It says a lot about his approach to the game and protecting his teammates. It’s not like he fights every game, but it sends a message to the other team and his own team that he’s here to play and compete. I don’t think anybody can question that. ”
Late in the second period, the Islanders used physical play to control the game. They were able to score with only 12 seconds remaining in the period, largely thanks to their physical dominance and forecheck. Even following the conclusion of the period, the intensity remained high, as Tim Jackman of the Isles jawed with several players behind the Rangers goal.
Intensity and fighting is nothing new to the NHL, although today there are much more outlets for fans to share videos of the fights. That is something the men taking part in the battles are well aware of.
“Now, with computers and stuff, when someone fights you, people are going to see,” said Fritz. “Even though I might not see it, someone will tell me about it and how it went, it’s hard to keep it out of your mind. But you just try to think about your game. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone’s tough.”
And few battles are tougher than when the Islanders face the Rangers. The high-energy, the hard hits, even the fights, transcend time and technology. The fact is, when these two teams face off, the temperature always rises.
“Fighting is one of those things that has been in the game for a long time,” said Comrie. “When something happens, you throw a few punches, pat the other guy on the head and then go finish the game.”