I listened to Dan Carcillo's Hockey Confidential on the way to work this morning and he described fighting in hockey as "lovely." Definitely not the first word I would choose, but one fight at the Garden last night certainly was a thing of beauty.
Petr Prucha, the player possibly most "beloved" by his teammates, came to the defense of teammate Erik Reitz after he knee-ed Sean Bergenheim. A scrum ensued and out of the pile popped "pepperpot" Prucha who was tied up with Bergenheim.
Was it the world's best fight? No. But I was utterly entranced. Entranced for the fact that this kid, this kid just never gives up. And entranced for the fact that he was actually standing his own.
Where his fight against Maxime Lapierre earlier this season was less a fight and more a takedown, this was a dance. An actual dance of give and take. And as much as Prucha took, he gave right back.
My thoughts ranged from curiosity to anxiety at first, to joy and excitement by the end. And my next conscious thought was, "gosh, he even fights better than Voros."
And he does. He does many things better than anyone and for better reasons too it would seem.
No one can tell Pete Prucha he is too small. And when it comes right down to it, he really isn't. He's a strong, strong, - strong! - guy. No fat, all muscle. And he obviously has a core of strength in him, beginning right with that giant muscle on the left side of his chest.
A strength to say, "I'm not a small man," when first told so years ago.
A strength to stick up for his teammates, any and every day.
A strength to do anything - anything even beyond that expected of him - to stay in the lineup and to make a difference.
A strength to battle for a puck he has lost and almost always get it back.
A strength I can guarantee half his teammates just do not possess.
And it is rare, very rare, to have a teammate so brave to do battle and so unafraid to pay any price. His teammates are lucky to have him, and they apparently know it.
When he exited the box after his sentence, his teammates patted him, tapped him, acknowledged this was more than just a regular fight. This fight was him standing up for everyone - his teammates and himself.
The fans who gave him a standing ovation after his fight, cheered him on with chants of Pru-cha, Pru-cha - they know it too. Many have always known it and have certainly missed it when he doesn't get the chance to play.
His teammates know this guy wanted to fight, wanted to have their back, just as he always had.
Why the coach, his words about how Pete is such a good teammate notwithstanding, has been so sickeningly hesitant to realize the same, will baffle forever. There is no reason. Face it, guys like him don't wear down - they build up. They build up their teammates and the fans.
I might be getting ahead of myself. Maybe I'm not. But I'm sensing, very much, that on a team where no one has truly distinguished themselves, that this might be the perfect year to get back to what the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award truly meant. When it was won by Adam Graves or Matthew Barnaby or Sandy McCarthy or Jed Ortmeyer. Not the guy that scored the most. Or made the most saves. But the guy that was the best teammate and the guy that literally went "above and beyond the call of duty."
His teammates don't ask that much of him beyond being a good teammate. Over the last couple of years they might come to expect it, but they don't ask for it of him.
The coaches certainly have proven they don't expect anything from him.
The fans love him, serenading him with chants of his name like only Hank and Avery have seen in recent years at the Garden.
The media see fit to give him star of the game recognition (2nd star last night for a fight and an assist) because they know - they know - how much this kid has been through and how much he truly does mean to this team. For example, here's Larry Brooks in today's Post:
"Petr Prucha wasn't tense. The Hart Trophy winner played with moxie and spirit, just as he always does when given a chance, and engaged in a second-period fight with Sean Bergenheim that brought roars from the crowd."
Hart Trophy Winner. I think I know who Larry voted for last night.
And you know what. If I didn't already convince myself, that just did. When it's time to cast my Extra Effort Award ballot, I'm voting for Petr Prucha. The true unsung hero of this team who without hesitation or need for recognition bleeds red, white and blue because that's just the kind of guy he is.
Other Game Thoughts:
Obviously that was the moment of the game to me. But it was great to see Dawes/Drury/Prucha together on a line because they picked up where they left off, when the coach inexplicably separated them when they were hot late last month. Drury, who I'm obviously not the biggest fan of, I believe truly has turned a corner (for the time being at least) since the Flyers massacre on Sunday. He has looked much more determined and is skating like it.
Gomez's goal was as absolutely lucky as they come. No denying that. Minus an empty netter, it's 2-1 (I am starting to hate those numbers in any sequence, I won't lie), and without the flukey goal, the Rangers are looking at potentially the game going the other way, or going into overtime.
But the goal did go in, and the game didn't go to an extra frame. Cartwheels, however, I am not doing. I was happy for the energy displayed, and happy for Pete, but there is a long way to go and absolutely nothing in my mind that makes me think Saturday in Buffalo and Sunday versus Toronto will be easy games. This might be a flash in the pan. And not so much as a flash as a little moment of luck. Perhaps that is all it was. We'll see more this weekend.
**Note: I'm at work and I don't have have time to do the hyperlink thingie right now. So I took quotes from the following. I will make more sense of it later.**
Andrew Gross Ranger Rants:
Larry Brooks New York Post: