TORONTO – It was a not-so-subtle message: John Scott, the Buffalo Sabres’ 6-foot-8, 258-pound tough guy, lining up for a faceoff against slick Maple Leafs superstar Phil Kessel, who’s about eight inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter.
A minute earlier, 6-foot-5 Leafs fighter Jamie Devane had knocked Corey Tropp out briefly and bloodied him.
The Sabres didn’t like Devane fighting someone five inches smaller.
So Sabres coach Ron Rolston had Scott on the ice 10:01 into the third period of the exhibition contest.
“He said he was going to jump me,” Kessel said after the Leafs’ fight-filled 5-3 win Sunday.
Sure enough, Scott went after Kessel, who responded by slashing him.
Within seconds, the fierce rivals were engaged in a massive, full-scale brawl – even goalies Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier fought – that’s the talk of the hockey world today.
“All five guys were into it,” said Cody Hodgson, the Sabres’ acting captain Sunday. “It was kind of gutless. I’m not going to say it, actually. I’m just glad we stuck together.”
The Leafs received some extra help from David Clarkson, who immediately charged off the bench, likely earning a 10-game suspension before he even plays a real game for his new team.
As each skater tussled and the 19,001 fans inside the Air Canada Centre roared, Bernier began creeping out toward the blue line and goading Miller, who couldn’t refuse the challenge.
Soon the goalies began fighting ferociously.
“You can’t pass up a fight when you’re in Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens,” said Miller, who was referencing an arena the Leafs left in 1999. “I mean, you back off from that one, what kind of hockey player are you? So I figured I might as well give it a shot.
“I thought I did OK. He got loose a little bit on me there, but toward the end (I) kind of got back into it.”
Miller also said: “You got to do what you got to do. I thought it was actually kind of fun.”
When was Miller’s last fight?
“Not in a long, long time, probably not in my whole pro career,” he said.
Mark your calendar, Sabres fans. The Leafs visit Nov. 15.
“That got a little sideways pretty quick,” Miller said. “It’s one way to start off the season. If anything, that will be a nice wakeup call for future games, the kind of mindset we have to have.”
What’s it like seeing your superstar goalie fight?
“It’s probably something we don’t want him to fight, but in the situation, I liked it,” said Sabres winger Brian Flynn, who fought beside teammates Drew Bagnall, Chad Ruhwedel and Michael Zigomanis. “I think all the guys did. We’re in a battle out there against one of our rivals. If their goalie challenges him, we’re not going to back down.”
Bernier said it seemed like Miller didn’t want to tangle.
“That’s the way it goes. That’s a hockey game,” Bernier said. “You get hyper and an energy and I wanted to defend my teammates.”
So did the Sabres, who believe they had to send a message for Tropp.
“That guy’s a big guy, 6-foot-5, and Corey’s a smaller guy but certainly a battler,” Rolston said. “So guys weren’t happy about it.”
Miller added: “You don’t want to see a guy take a shot. Go out and take care of it. I think Johnny was just trying to go rile it up and take care of it. It exploded.”
Flynn, who was sporting a cut above his nose, said the Sabres have “John John” because “he knows those situations.”
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said he tried to “diffuse the situation” by putting Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Carter Ashton on the ice after Scott went out.
“Obviously, I was wrong,” Carlyle said.
Carlyle’s probably right about one thing, though. Clarkson’s won’t be playing for the Leafs again soon.
“We’re not proud or happy about what went on, that’s for sure,” Carlyle said. “I think David Clarkson made a mistake and now we pay for it.”
Miller believes the high-priced free agent will get a 10-game ban.
“Are we going to see Clarkson our first game against these guys?” he asked. “I don’t have my schedule. So probably not the brightest move by him. But I guess they figured they needed two guys to take down John.”
Following the brawl and all the misconducts – Matt Hackett took over for Miller – the Sabres had five skaters left on the bench.
Rolston didn’t have an update for Tropp, who hit his head and also scored right before the fight, or winger Marcus Foligno, who appeared to hurt his shoulder.
Scott wasn’t made available to the media. Kessel received a match penalty and will have a hearing.
Notes: Earlier in the game, some fans booed Miller as he skated to the bench to have his eye looked at briefly. Miller responded by smiling and holding his hand to his ear. … Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons hurt his hand late in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Leafs and couldn’t participate in the shootout. Rolston said he’s fine. … Defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Jamie McBain scored the Sabres’ other goals. … Bagnall also fought earlier in his Sabres debut.