Photo Credit: © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

How Matt Grzelcyk’s Hit On Elias Pettersson Put The Fight Back Into The Canucks

On February 4, Matt Grzelcyk of the Boston Bruins laid an egregiously late hit on Elias Pettersson, a collision that resulted in Pettersson missing the Canucks’ next game.

The incident was notable for the complete lack of response it elicited – from on-ice officials, Pettersson’s teammates, or the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. The Canucks didn’t even manage to respond on the scoreboard, dropping a 4-0 decision in demoralizing fashion.

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After the game, Travis Green let it be known that he wasn’t particularly pleased with the hit nor the way in which it passed unnoticed, though he stopped short of suggesting that his players needed to do a better job of responding physically to the perceived slights of opponents.

He must have saved that part of his speech for the dressing room.

At the very least, somebody appears to have made the Canucks aware of their reputation as a team with a dearth of backbone.

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Heading into February, the Canucks had gone about a month-and-a-half without an on-ice bout. Since the Grzelcyk hit, however, they’ve dropped the mitts six times in four games, with each scrap further painting a picture of a team that has finally learned to stand up for itself – and each other.


Jake Virtanen vs. Jason Zucker

Virtanen’s pummeling of Zucker two nights later was clearly the most direct response to what occurred in the Boston game. Though the hit on Antoine Roussel that precipitated Virtanen’s challenge wasn’t really worthy of retaliation in retrospect, it was probably something that Virtanen saw out of the corner of his eye and felt the need to address.

Ideally, you don’t want a burgeoning offensive star in Shotgun Jake dropping the gloves with any regularity, but it’s obvious that he made the decision to lay into Zucker with the aftermath of the Grzelcyk incident weighing heavily on his mind – and that Virtanen, at the very least, was not satisfied with his team’s lack of pushback.


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Zack MacEwen vs. Marcus Foligno

MacEwen’s fight with Foligno is a little tougher to fit into the narrative, because it was really just a case of “The Big Fella” playing his usual game – going hard to the controversial areas of the ice and answering the bell whenever taken to task for it. In any case, the 23-year-old rookie did well against a veteran scrapper.

The decision to insert MacEwen into the lineup in the first place, however, is another clear sign that Travis Green was looking for something more from his team in the physicality department – and perhaps in the application of fisticuffs when necessary.


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JT Miller vs. Matthew Tkachuk

Miller’s decision to fight Tkachuk right off a centre-ice faceoff – and immediately following an early Canucks’ goal – was deemed questionable by some, especially when Calgary responded with their own tally a few minutes later. There also didn’t seem to be anything, other than Tkachuk’s general reputation, that precipitated the fight, but this author has a theory on that.

Watch that replay closely. Right before the two combatants dish the mitts and square off, Tkachuk is lined up with Elias Pettersson – and there’s very little chance that Tkachuk wasn’t at the very least pestering, if not outright threatening, the Vancouver superstar. If any of this was within earshot of Miller, his choice makes a lot more sense, with Pettersson having just returned to the lineup and Zack Kassian having recently demonstrated that’s there’s really only one good way to deal with a Tkachuk.


Tyler Myers vs. Austin Watson

The flipside of responding to the perceived on-ice slights of opponents is being prepared to answer similar challenges when it’s you on the wrong end of a bad play – which is exactly where Myers found himself on Monday against Nashville.

The initial crosscheck on Calle Jarnkrok that sparked this scuffle wasn’t egregious, but it was enough to draw a penalty – and a direct response from Watson. Calling the ensuing tussle a “fight” might be a stretch, but at least Myers didn’t shy away from Watson’s request, which is another sign of the team’s evolving approach to the whole dishing out/taking it dynamic.


Tanner Pearson vs. Drake Caggiula

Sometimes, teammates aren’t around to stick up for you, and so you have to stick up for yourself, as Pearson demonstrated on Wednesday night’s matchup with the Blackhawks. However, to call his altercation with Caggiula entirely self-serving would be a mistake.

Caggiula’s bumping of Pearson into the boards came after a series of somewhat questionable checks by both teams. With the threat of violence in the air, Pearson took it upon himself to be the one to do something about it – and loosened the game’s pressure-valve at the same time.


Adam Gaudette vs. Connor Murphy

Of all the fights to occur over the last week-and-a-half, by far the most surprising was Gaudette earning his first career five-minute major – and his first upset win over a larger opponent. Like Pearson, Gaudette was upset at what he perceived as an unfair hit, and he chose to respond immediately to it, rather than to let it lie unavenged.

On Twitter, Gaudette gave credit for his pugilistic prowess to the emotional swell of the Sedins’ jersey retirement ceremony, but it’s just as likely that he was funneling the feeling of being on a team that actually fights for one another into his fists.


Feels Like The First Time

It should be noted that whatever message Travis Green and the rest of the Canucks coaching staff delivered to the team following the game against the Bruins, that it was meant for the entire team – and not just the typical pugilists like Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen.

Of the six different players to drop the gloves over the last few games, four of them did it for their first time in a Vancouver uniform. Jake Virtanen fought for the first time in years. Of the bunch, only MacEwen could be considered a regular brawler.


How To Win Fights And Influence People

In the end, when it comes to standing up for teammates the initiating of the fight is much more important than the result – but the result is still at least a little bit important. It should then also be noted that of the six scrappers, only Zack MacEwen is considered by our partner HockeyFights.com to have lost his bout – and there are some who would dispute that, given the damage apparent on Marcus Foligno’s face.


Scorecards And Scoreboards

It would be unreasonable to suggest that Vancouver’s sudden propensity for duking it out is responsible for the humble win streak they are currently on, but it would also be unreasonable to say that the two are completely unrelated.

Surely, there’s still some form of morale boost that comes with seeing one of your teammates knuckle up for your honour, especially when those same teammates were so recently lambasted for not doing that, and surely the Canucks are feeling that boost right now. And since the two-melee match against Minnesota and the hard-fought battle against the Flames, the Canucks have won two in a row in convincing fashion.


We’ll let you fight that one out amongst yourselves.