BUFFALO – Naturally, hulking Sabres tough guy John Scott was a little surprised to see Phil Kessel, one of the NHL’s most talented stars, lining up for a faceoff beside him Sunday in Toronto after the Maple Leafs’ Jamie Devane had just pummeled Corey Tropp in a gruesome scrap.
Watching Devane knockout and bloody Tropp, who gave up five inches to the 6-foot-5 fighter, infuriated the Sabres. Scott, who was already on the ice, figured Leafs coach Randy Carlyle would send out some muscle.
Instead, hoping to diffuse the situation, Carlyle sent skill over the boards.
“I think their coach kind of wanted to maybe downplay it,” Scott told a throng of reporters Monday inside the First Niagara Center. “But I was just doing my job.”
The 6-foot-8 Scott said he would’ve went after anyone who lined up beside him, so he told Kessel, who’s about eight inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter, “Phil, we’re going to have to go here, just to let you know.”
How did Kessel respond?
“I think he said, ‘All right, let’s do it,’” Scott said.
Within seconds, a full-scale brawl had erupted between the fierce rivals.
“I wasn’t going to try to hurt him,” Scott said about Kessel. “I was just trying to send a message.”
The massive melee in the Leafs’ 5-3 exhibition win inside the Air Canada Centre was still the talk of the hockey world Monday.
Officials had handed out a whopping 211 penalty minutes at the 10:01 mark of the third period.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and counterpart Jonathan Bernier fought a memorable bout. David Clarkson, the Leafs’ new $36.75 million signing, joined the fracas from the bench, earning a rare 10-game suspension Monday, a huge blow as Toronto tries to manage its tight salary cap. Clarkson forfeits a stunning $269,239.80 and can’t play until Oct. 25.
“It’s a line brawl, everybody went, in Toronto,” said Miller, who clearly enjoyed his first NHL fight. Obviously, everybody’s going to be talking about it. Old time hockey, right? Your teammates are going, everybody is going. You got to go. Everybody on the ice did what they had to do. That’s part of the game.”
Kessel responded by ferociously whacking Scott with his stick as other Leafs mauled Scott. Kessel later gathered up his equipment and returned to spear Scott.
“I’ve never seen a stick swing like that,” Scott said. “He’s got to do what he’s got to do. So it was an even fight, I guess, if he had his stick.”
He added: “Obviously, Phil’s OK. He probably came out the better end of it. I’m bruised all over my legs.”
Scott seemed dismayed Carlyle, whose love of tough guys is well known, put Kessel out. Kessel received a match penalty and could be suspended.
“Their coach didn’t have to put Kessel out with me,” Scott said. “He kind of knew what was going to happen. It was kind of obvious.”
Scott hopes Sunday’s brawl galvanizes the Sabres.
“I think the last punch and driving his head into the ice wasn’t needed,” he said about Devane and Tropp. “We’re trying to stick up for our team and just build a tough mentality around here.”
Neither Scott nor Sabres coach Ron Rolston would speculate about any Toronto suspensions.
Meanwhile, Devane told reporters Monday that Tropp, who’s still being evaluated, asked him to fight.
“You always feel for a guy like that,” Devane said. “When he skated off the ice, I was tapping the glass (in support). I went to the trainers after and wished him my best.”
Rolston doesn’t believe Devane.
“Everyone’s going to have a story,” Rolston said. “So it just depends on what you go with.”
Rolston had been going with Scott throughout the game. The winger even assisted on Nikita Zadorov’s first-period goal, earning a rare point. He has only five in his 181-game career and hasn’t recorded one since Dec. 16, 2011.
At times, especially late last season, Scott has taken a regular shift. Still, the 30-year-old has heard cries he doesn’t belong in the NHL since leaving college.
“I’m tall, I’m big, I’m tough. It happens all the time. No one’s talking about the sick assist I had (Sunday),” he joked. “ … But it’s one of those things. Toronto has enforcers. Every team has enforcers.”
But both of Toronto’s, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, are hurt right now.
If a tough guy had been out there, “It would’ve been done with,” Scott said.
“There wouldn’t have been any brawl,” he said. “The goalies wouldn’t have fought. … It would’ve been two tough guys fighting it out like it’s supposed to be done.”
You can bet Toronto will dress more toughness for the teams’ Nov. 15 meeting in Buffalo.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some kind of retribution,” Scott said. “I’m sure their tough guys who weren’t in the lineup, Orr and McLaren, weren’t too happy with me. So we’ll deal with that come November.”
In other news, Rolston said winger Marcus Foligno (possible shoulder) is also being evaluated. Forward Cody McCormick has a “hand issue” but should be fine for Wednesday, he said. Both left Sunday’s game.
Tropp, who scored just before the fight, has a history of concussions. So does Miller.
“I don’t have any experience with (fighting), so I was definitely more defensive in that situation,” Miller said.
The Sabres sent six players – Drew Bagnall, Matt Ellis, Matt Hackett, Brayden McNabb, Chad Ruhwedel and Michael Zigomanis– to Rochester on Monday. Bagnall and Ellis must clear waivers.