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Reliving biggest modern NHL brawl through words of those involved

Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images Sport / Getty

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The 2004 brawl between the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators still holds the NHL record for the most penalty minutes in a game in NHL history with 419. It ended with 21 fighting majors, 20 ejections and a handful more misconduct penalties. Only one suspension was doled out.

Twenty years later, those who were there recall how it all went down.


On Feb. 26, Ottawa's Martin Havlat high-sticked Philadelphia's Mark Recchi in the head. He was suspended for two games. The next game came on March 4, a rematch between the Senators and the Flyers, whom they had eliminated the previous two playoffs.

Recchi: “(League executive) Colin Campbell did a good job there.”

Flyers winger John LeClair: “That’s what started it, obviously. Nobody forgets that kind of stuff.”

Flyers goaltender Robert Esche: “There was bad blood going in. It was toward the end of the season, obviously, and I think all of us were getting ready for the playoffs. But for whatever reason, that March day it was a weird springtime or something.”

Senators tough guy Todd Simpson: “The first 55 minutes it was just a regular game. Nobody said to me, ‘Oh, look out, they’re going to be going after Havlat,’ and I didn’t really feel like they were during the game. Nothing really happened during the game. It was pretty run of the mill, just a game in early March."


With under 1:45 left in regulation and the Flyers up 5-2, Philadelphia's Donald Brashear picked a fight with Rob Ray, a bout between two of the most frequent fighters in league history.

Brashear: “You want to make something happen, and you want to get respect back. Something had to be done.”

Esche: “Brash had it made up in his head how that night was going to go at the end of the day. He went up and down the ice if I remember right. Then he came back in front of me, off to the corner they started fighting. It was actually a good fight. Brash was doing a great job.”

Ray: “It was just Donald and I in front and a lot of going on. And I remember coming out of it and I was leaking from the corner of both eyes. And I’m like, ‘I have never been cut before really in anything like that.’”

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson: "It kind of evolved from there.”

Senators winger Peter Bondra: "It almost felt like the water in a pot started boiling, and one thing pushed to another.”


Simpson: “The linesman’s taking Brashear over to the bench or to the dressing room. They’re taking Brashear over toward the bench to go to his dressing room and then he just suckered Brian Pothier. Like he just wound up and slugged him, and then I was right there and so I jumped Brashear and grabbed him and it was just a huge brawl.”

Flyers forward Patrick Sharp: “I was on the first shift, the first wave of the brawl, so I actually got pounded pretty good by Todd Simpson (who) grabbed me. ... Then another one escalated, and I was on the ice just kind of chilling and I found myself in a 6-on-6 brawl. That’s when Eschie and (Ottawa goaltender) Patty Lalime went at it."

Esche: “All hell broke loose. I remember Danny Markov laying on the ice and there was a scrum going on. I went over to go pick somebody up and then I turn around and Patrick Lalime was right there, no helmet, no nothing. I was like, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’ I was shocked. But it was fun.”

Sharp: “The crowd was going crazy. The refs were taking a lot of time to figure out who was kicked out of the game and what the penalties were going to be, and I was able to kind of sneak through it all. I didn’t get any penalties during that brawl, so I stayed in the game. And it was like every whistle there was another brawl going, and slowly but surely the bench was getting quieter and less and less bodies on the ice.”

Simpson: “Someone came into the room and said, ‘Simmer, you didn’t get a penalty, you’re still in the game.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, this is awesome, I’m going to find somebody.’ I went back on the bench, and I’m sitting there and I’m all excited because we’re trying to get some revenge on somebody and then the linesman comes over. He’s like, ‘Todd, what are you doing? You’ve got whatever, 5 and a misconduct.’ That’s kind of what I thought, so I went back to the dressing room for the second time.”


There was still 1:42 left in the game but tempers were still simmering and it wasn't long before whistles blew again as the fighting continued.

Senators center Bryan Smolinski: “Once that kind of subsided, I think it might’ve been our turn to maybe respond, and I know we did with (Zdeno) Chara and (Chris Neil). It was so much fun."

LeClair: “Some of it was guys picking the wrong guys to dance with (Chara fighting Mattias Timander and Neil fighting Radovan Somik), so, all right, you’re going to do that, the next shift up we’re going to do this and that kind of stuff went on.”

Recchi: “We had guys that I don’t think ever had a fight in their life before and that were fighting.”

Ray: “I’m sitting in the (locker) room and I’m in there with the trainers and shooting the crap and then every stoppage of play, there’d be one or two more guys coming in.”

Esche: “Then it just kept on going and going and going. Sometimes you can’t make sense of those things."

Flyers defenseman Chris Therien: “I was watching it all from the locker room. It was like, jeez, one guy’s coming in and then another. I’m like, ‘What the hell’s going on out there?’”

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock: “I guess I was the instigator of the whole thing, I think. My whole thing was I knew (Senators coach Jacques Martin) was down two players. Two players got injured during the game, and I tried to run his bench out. That’s what I tried to do. I knew he had two less players, and so I just tried to run his bench out so he’d have zero and I’d have two left."


There was still 1:39 on the clock. The brawling, incredibly, wasn't over.

Sharp: “The building was rocking, sorting out the penalties and Hitch came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘When 39 gets on the ice, you’re up.’ And 39, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Who the heck’s 39? Is that Dominik Hasek? Who is that?’ And I looked over and it was Jason Spezza, who we shared the same agent at the time and Spezz became a good friend of mine.”

Smolinksi: “I remember just saying, ‘Can we let at least 30 seconds ago before we do anything silly?’ And I think they won the faceoff, (Recchi) ran around because he was hot and somehow we ended up at center ice, him and I.”

Recchi: “We were like, ‘Hey, it’s our turn, let’s go, boys.’ Then you jump on the ice. Johnny (LeClair) all of a sudden was fighting somebody and I turned around and grabbed the first guy and let’s go, and everybody else was going as well.”

Sharp: “Spezz jumped on the ice and I just remember thinking, ‘He’s a top pick in the draft and I’m going to try to chase him around the ice and someone tougher is going to grab me.’ It’s one thing to fight when you’re in the NHL when it’s a spur of the moment, but when you have time to think about it once it’s coming, you get butterflies in your stomach. And I looked over, I saw Simon Gagne and he just gave me a look like, ‘Good luck, man.’”

Smolinski: “Both coaches are screaming at each other. I remember (Flyers assistant) Craig Hartsburg screaming, and he was one my idols. I’m like, ‘My idol is actually screaming at me.’"

Therien: “It gets to a point where it ends up being more like a WWE event than an actual hockey game.”

Sharp: “I just looked at Spezz and said, ‘We’ve got to go here.’ He was ready to go anyway. I think at that point everybody that was on the ice was ready to go."

Alfredsson: “I was lining up with (Sami) Kapanen and we said, ‘Should we go as well?’ And we decided not to.”

Bondra: “(There were) only five guys or six guys left on each side, and we had a power play. I was in front of the net, and Sean Burke, he was kind of yelling or he asked me to go fight or something or he was trying to get something. At that time, I didn’t react. If you jump me, I probably most likely have to hold him somehow, but I felt like there’s no way I’m going to initiate it or just go after him."

Alfredsson: “When what ended up being the last fight was over, I was still on the ice and looking over on the bench, there was more coaches than players left.”


Sharp: “In the moment, it was awesome. I had so many messages after the game, and the building, the energy, the fans, it was loud. I felt like a tough guy skating off the ice, that’s for sure.”

Martin: “It was kind of unusual for our team, really, because we weren’t known as a team that was a physical team or an aggressive team ... I know (Flyers general manager) Bobby Clarke was trying to get at the dressing room and get at me.”

Hitchcock: “Clarkie and I were really upset at the time.”

LeClair: “I thought it was great team-building for our team. Everybody was involved, the way the guys stuck up for each other, I thought it was a good thing to see how close that team was and what we did for our team. It’s just one of those things that happens in hockey. It wasn’t planned or anything like that. That’s kind of the way the game went.”

Alfredsson: "I don’t think anybody anticipated going to that level, but it did. And I think for us going forward, it was a unifying moment for the group.”

Smolinski: "The bell rang, we stepped up to it. Everyone had to do what they did, and I think both teams became a closer-knit team after that because everyone knew that you had to step up for your teammates.”

Recchi: “That just shows you how close we were. And we were probably going that direction anyways, but that never hurts you.”

The Senators made the playoffs for an eight consecutive season. The Flyers reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final before losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.


AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed.

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