Kevin Bieksa won the faceoff: on the absurdity of the Canucks and Flames

Kevin Bieksa won the faceoff.

It’s difficult to know exactly where to begin when discussing last Saturday’s meeting between the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames, an event one might call a hockey game, unless one had watched it. This thing opened with 152 minutes in penalties and nine ejections, and it was decided in a shootout. There was hockey in it, I concede, in much the same way there are carrots in shepherd’s pie, but it’s not called a carrot pie — there aren’t nearly enough carrots for that — and neither should this ice fight be given the classification, “hockey game”.

Anyway. As I was saying, it’s difficult to know exactly where to begin, which is why I’ve chosen to begin at the beginning.

Kevin Bieksa won the faceoff.

I like this opening, because it also underscores the obvious absurdity of the moment. Bieksa’s career faceoff percentage after that won draw: 100%. It was the first, and potentially last one he’ll ever take, and it was an easy victory, since his opponent, Kevin Westgarth, didn’t even bother to look down. Westgarth’s gloves and stick hit the ice almost simultaneously with the puck, and then everything happened.

Well, almost everything. The netminders didn’t go, likely because Roberto Luongo has already made it quite clear that when it comes to goalie fights, he’s a conscientious objector:


But it’s difficult to mourn the fight that didn’t happen when literally every other possible fight did, and then some. There were five simultaneous fights, and seven if you’re willing to count the war of words on the bench between John Tortorella and Bob Hartley, and the perpetual battle between Alex Burrows and Shane O’Brien.

These two pairs have a history. Burrows and O’Brien have been at each other ever since the defender left Vancouver. As for Tortorella and Hartley, that goes all the way back to 2005 (or earlier).

“I see the starting lineup and I know the other guy across the bench,” Tortorella said after the game, explaining his actions in the moment, as well as hinting that they weren’t borne simply out of that moment. On October 20, 2005, Tortorella and Hartley clashed after Tortorella’s Lightning routed Hartley’s hapless Thrashers 6-0. From USA Today:

[Tortorella] directed an expletive-filled tirade at Eric Boulton, who took out Paul Ranger of the Lightning with a cheap shot just 2½ minutes from the end of the rout.

“The … guy should be playing in the … East Coast Hockey League, but instead he takes out a … NHLer,” Tortorella said. “He’ll be suspended, but who … cares? No one wants to see him on the ice anyway.”

Atlanta’s Bob Hartley was seen going into Tortorella’s office after the game, but the Tampa Bay coach wouldn’t say what they discussed.

“None of your business,” Tortorella said before storming away to the team bus.

We’ll assume that those ellipses in Tortorella’s quotation are swears, and that, while The Colbert Report debuted just three days prior, that’s not what Hartley and Tortorella talked about. And Tortorella probably wasn’t eager to have a friendly chat about how Colbert’s audience and reach have grown over the years when he raced around the building to the Flames’ dressing room to confront Hartley at the first intermission.

You can argue that Tortorella was reasonably incensed about Calgary’s starting five, and you can argue that he had no choice but to match Hartley’s idiots with his own, as a sage Tom Sestito put it after the game:


Better than boxing hobo on skates, I guess.

I’d agree with both points. Tortorella had no choice, and he was right to be upset about that. Starting skill guys to defuse the situation ran the risk of his skill guys getting punched a bunch.

(Unsaid: it also would have undercut the Hell out of his attempts to get his guys to play stiffer and appear stiffer in the eyes of the league. Can you imagine if, after what happened in LA, after that so-called moral victory/statement game/identity re-brand or whatever we’re calling it these days, the Canucks allowed themselves to be rag-dolled by the Flames? That was pretty much the only positive Vancouver was able to draw from this week. No way was Tortotella about to let it slip away at the opening faceoff versus Calgary.)

But however justified and righteous Tortorella was in his anger, there’s no doubt that sprinting halfway around Rogers Arena to give Hartley the what-for was a bit much.

Although you have to admire his guts. Would you charge headlong, alone, into a hockey dressing room to assault their coach? No you would not. Because John Tortorella is braver than you.

Tortorella is in New York right now, facing the tribunal of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly for this act of bravery, as well as for his role in forcing the officials to toss 25% of the game’s eligible skaters in two seconds. He will no doubt be fined, and likely suspended.

He should be. The NHL can’t have coaches fighting. If they do, goons will be out of a job, and this league is about job creation, dammit.

I’m way off-topic. This is hard. Let’s start again.

Kevin Bieksa won the faceoff.

It was symbolic more than anything. By replacing Kellan Lain in the circle, Bieksa hoped to accomplish several things.

First and foremost: prevent Lain, who was making his NHL debut in front of his parents and his brother, from having to go toe-to-toe (or worse, fist-to-face) with 778 penalty minutes at the pro level. Lain may have the size, but he doesn’t have the Westgarth’s experience, and moreover, this isn’t how NHL debuts are supposed to go.

Second: ensure actual hockey happened. Bieksa did this symbolically by drawing the puck back, and then he attempted to do this literally by keeping his gloves on when Westgarth charged forward. In so doing, Bieksa drew a two-minute roughing minor to Westgarth, which is why the Canucks got a powerplay when everything had been sorted out. But that wasn’t what he was out there to do. Bieksa’s real goal in neutralizing Westgarth was to, hopefully, limit the carnage to the designated carnage-doers, Sestito and Brian McGrattan, and, on the undercard, Dale Weise and Blair Jones. He failed.

Part of this is Bieksa’s fault. He spread himself too thin, abandoning his citizen’s arrest of Westgarth before the real authorities arrived to stand up for Jason Garrison, he of one career fight, after Ladislav Smid shouted something to him on approach. A suddenly free Westgarth immediately returned to his original goal: beating up the new kid. He grabbed Lain by the collar as the rookie drifted by him at centre ice.

Lain gamely dropped his gloves. As if he had any other choice. Bieksa can politely decline. He’s an eight-year veteran. Not so for Lain.

That was a garbage move by Westgarth. I know he only has one job, but he effectively stole Lain’s first career NHL game.

This also contributed to Tortorella’s anger.

“I don’t feel great about it at all, especially [Lain],” Tortorella said after the game. “That’s my biggest mistake was putting him in that lineup and I’ll kick myself forever not having someone else there.”

He’s right to be upset at himself over this, too. He could have sent anyone else over the boards — literally anyone besides Lain. It didn’t need to be the new guy. It didn’t even need to be a centre.

Kevin Bieksa won the faceoff.


  1. Rituro
    January 20, 2014

    After all that nonsense, only Torts will end up with a fine or suspension. Even the moral victory of the Canucks getting two points is undercut by the Flames still banking one. Unreal.

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  2. Jabs
    January 20, 2014

    @Rituro: Giving the Flames a point is the ultimate revenge now that they’re tanking for a lottery pick.

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  3. Doodie Machetto
    January 20, 2014

    Stu Bickel won the faceoff from the Rangers-Devils fracas. He too is 100% for his career on faceoffs.

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  4. DanD
    January 20, 2014

    Well written, Harrison. As I watched it (on PVR, which means I also rewound it so my wife could appreciate the absurdity) I couldn’t help but wonder if this “rebrand” does nothing more than provide an easy way for opposing teams to neutralize the Canucks’ already tenuous scoring ability. Get them frustrated and focused on revenge immediately, and the goals might be harder to come by.

    The line that kept running through my head was this: “If they want to play like the Bruins, they have to be able to score like the Bruins.” I’m not sure the Canucks are built to be that kind of team.

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  5. Old Person
    January 20, 2014

    As now reported by another scribe, Westgarth reportedly told Bieksa they were sent out to go. And to add to the insanity, O’Brien skates across the ice to confront Kassian, Kassian says let’s go, O’Brien declines and they both get penalties for faking it. In the box, Kassian asks why didn’t you go … we’re already short too many D.

    The Torts Trojan Horse attempt requires a fine and suspension, and he knows it.

    Bottom line: Do we start a fund to pie face PJ Stock on air?

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    • Brent
      January 20, 2014

      YES! YES!, YES!

      I will gladly contribute to that fund……aLthough, I guess there are some sick kids in Canuck place that could use the money more. May PJ would go for a charity event? We get to pie him on HNIC if we raise enough money for canucks House?

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    • LoggerOne
      January 20, 2014

      Ya. I agree with ya. I think HNC should fine PJ Stock too. If you notice in prior broadcasts he is for ever running down Vancouver players. His rant that night shows his unprofessional ability to broadcast. Come to think of it, he really did not mount to too much as a player also.

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  6. arjay
    January 20, 2014

    Dan D—I would just add one thing to your post….the Nux aren’t trying to be like the Broons; they are trying to play the type of game where their skilled players don’t get suckered by teams LIKE the Broons.

    I am a life long Nux fan but feel that they were elite level and highly skilled for 7 years but had little sandpaper on the ice….leaving them open for exactly what the NHL allowed to happen in the ’11 SCF.

    Ironically, they are now working on the sandpaper issue in a rebuilding year so they may get the balance they want but won’t see more than one playoff round this year, imo.

    I called them for 5th in the Conference back in sept. and to win one p/off round as they gear up for some new faces and m b a free agent or two next year to fill the gaps that this years’ lowered salary cap created.

    In the circumstances, the Nux are right where they reasonably should be and no one should be expecting much more from them in a major transition year.

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  7. eastvanhalen
    January 20, 2014

    “Would you charge headlong, alone, into a hockey dressing room to assault their coach? No you would not. Because John Tortorella is braver than you.”

    I think the operative word is “crazier”. It was great, though.

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  8. Kevin
    January 20, 2014

    Surprised you didn’t include kbieksa3′s tweet on the matter:

    Thanks to all for the congrats/warm messages for my 1st NHL face off win! Took a lot of hard work but it was well worth it. #straightback

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  9. Ktanaka
    January 20, 2014

    It was funny how he went in to take the faceoff to protect Lain and then Lain ended up fighting Westgarth anywa

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  10. shoes
    January 21, 2014

    Glaring error guys. Westgarth was given no penalty at all for his dropping the gloves on Bieksa. He was given 2 minutes for grabbing Lain just afterwards. I can’t help but think back to the game in Anaheim and how penalties were assessed and why. As usual the NHL cannot figure out a way to be consistent…….how come we never “luckily come out on top’ during all this inconsistency????

    Regardless….I prefer a whacko coach with cojones than a spineless coward pandering to a low-brow target audience.

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