Frequently, Randy Holt's judgment has been questioned by critics, including, occasionally, Holt. Nobody, though, ever has doubted Holt's courage.
While amassing a league-leading penalty total of 239 minutes this season, Holt has taken some foolish sentences for spearing, unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary stick fouls. He also has taken the heat off less-belligerent teammates by challenging tough guys like Dave Semenko, Archie Henderson, Tiger Williams and Glen Cochrane.
Once, while playing for Los Angeles, the Washington Capitals defenseman took on the entire Philadelphia team, which earned him a number of bruises plus the NHL record of 67 penalty minutes for one period and one game.
Saturday night, before an uproarious throng of 18,022 at Capital Centre, Holt was battling the Flyers again. He was out there fighting despite a bullet-like hole in his chest, incurred in New York Thursday when his stick broke and the shaft became embedded near a lung.
Holt visited the hospital Friday, where tests determined there was no danger of a perforated lung. The wound was stapled together--it was too deep for stitches--and in the second period there was Holt, moving in to save Dennis Maruk from Cochrane's fists.
In the process, however, Holt drew his third game misconduct penalty of the season, removing himself from the scene with 27 minutes left and assuring that he will be suspended for Tuesday's contest at New Jersey.
Since injuries already had reduced the Capitals to four defensemen, plus rookie Eric Calder, Holt's departure left the team in difficult straits. The long night had a happy ending for the home club, however, as right wing Ken Houston, the man they call Doc, provided the proper remedy by filling in on defense as the Capitals earned a remarkable 4-3 victory.
"I felt bad, getting thrown out of a 3-2 hockey game and making the other defensemen work that much harder, when they were already coming off a tough game in New York," Holt said.
"But two things entered my mind. Foremost, of course, was that Dennis was up against one of the toughest guys in the league, and I thought he could get hurt.
"Second, we were winning, 3-2, and they could have gotten a mental high from Cochrane working over Dennis. So I thought getting my third game misconduct and a game suspension was worth it. If someone else had moved in first, that would have been okay, but I couldn't see waiting for Dennis to get mauled by Cochrane.
"It's nice to stand back and let them get the extra penalties for something like that, but almost more than straight hockey, there is the idea of letting them know you can stand up to them physically. We have to let the Flyers, Rangers and Islanders, the teams we'll be meeting in the playoffs, know we won't back down against them.
"If they want to play hockey, we'll play hockey. If they want to get rough, we can get rough, too."
This was a rough one, with the Flyers assessed four slashing penalties plus a high stick and the Capitals specializing in cross checks with three. Numerous other fouls went unseen by referee Kerry Fraser, including a slash that created a slight crack in Bob Carpenter's left wrist. Carpenter will wear a playing cast Tuesday at New Jersey. Also uncalled was Cochrane's elbow to the bridge of the nose that knocked Gaetan Duchesne unconscious and precipitated the brawl in which Holt was ejected.
While Duchesne lay on the ice, Maruk shouted at Cochrane, who promptly knocked him down. When the linesmen did not immediately intervene, Holt did, and paid the price. Later, while he wondered if his decision had been proper, he received the answer.
"I didn't even know if Dennis wanted my help," Holt said. "But he came up later and said, 'Thanks, Randy.' He realized Cochrane's power, too, and that was enough to satisfy me that I did the right thing."