Shawn Thornton had a swollen, stitched-up lip and some loose teeth following the Panthers’ 3-2 victory over visiting Ottawa on Friday night.
Thornton’s facial injuries, however, had nothing to do with his “fight” against fellow heavyweight Chris Neil.
The two — who have almost a combined 300 NHL fights between them — circled before putting their hands on one another midway through the second period.
Thornton got in three warm-up punches; Neil’s one shot glanced off.
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And that was it.
The officials broke up the fight before it even really started, bringing boos from the stands and incredulous — and unprintable — comments from Thornton and Neil toward the referees.
“We’re both pretty experienced guys,” said Thornton, who was hit in the face by a puck not long after coming out of the penalty box. He returned in the third period. “We were both surprised by it.”
The reason the fight was stopped so quickly was because Thornton’s helmet came off during the fracas.
Although it was common to pull off your helmet soon after the gloves are dropped, with safety in mind, the league instituted a rule last season that an additional two minutes would be added to the five-minute penalty if a player removed his own helmet before fighting.
Players quickly figured out a loophole — they would simply pull off the helmet of their opponent in the opening moments.
Players apparently don’t like the feel of a plastic helmet against bare knuckle.
On Friday, Neil pushed off Thornton’s helmet, as was accepted practice, only that’s when the fight was stopped.
“They said they were told to get in there,” Thornton said.
“I’ve been in a lot of fights, and that’s never happened before. If it’s a new rule, it’s a new rule, but no one told us about it. You could tell I wasn’t happy, but a lot of that was being in the moment. Your adrenaline kicks in.”
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was in his fair share of fights during his 11 seasons in the league.
On Friday, he said he understood what the league was trying to do as far as limiting the number of fights, and seemed to agree with it.
“I know they are trying to protect the player, and when the helmet comes off, they’re going to stop it,” said Gallant, who was credited with 106 fights during his career, according to hockeyfights.com.
“It’s a shame because everyone wanted to see it, and the players wanted to do it. But the officials are there to protect the players. There are some serious injuries when guys hit their heads.”
Thornton hasn’t fought much since signing with the Panthers.
Friday’s fight was his second of the season and first since taking on New Jersey’s Bryce Salvadore in the home opener.
He and Neil have tangled a few times over the years, and Thornton said there is mutual respect between them.
Fans were hoping the two would tangle the first time the teams met last month, but it never went down.
On Friday, both were willing, but the law got in the way.
“I don’t know how many people were there [Friday], but I think I saw them all stand up when we squared up,” Thornton said.
“Then I heard them all booing when we were going off. I understand the safety concerns and get both sides of it. But if it’s a rule, let us know, and I can tighten my helmet a little more.”
Pierre Groulx, Florida’s goalie coach under Jacques Martin and Pete DeBoer, was hired to work with the Panthers’ goalies at San Antonio (AHL) and Cincinnati (ECHL).
Groulx has also worked with the Senators and was goalie coach for the Canadiens for four seasons.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to get back into the game he loves, and it’s a great opportunity for our goalies as well,” San Antonio general manager Eric Joyce said.
“They get to learn from an experienced guy, and you can already see a difference. His qualifications are outstanding, and he’s a true professional. He’s excited to be with us, and we’re very excited to have him.”
▪ The Panthers will practice at BB&T Center before flying to Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon for Monday night’s game against the Blue Jackets.