Hockey teams like to talk about paying the price for victory. The Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames paid a different kind of price today: the heaviest fines in National Hockey League history for their postgame shenanigans Thursday night in Montreal.
NHL President John Ziegler, who only the day before had complained about the pointless scuffling at this spring's playoff games, levied a total of $42,000 in fines as a result of the all-hands brawl that continued for 10 minutes after the Canadiens' 1-0 victory in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Each team was assessed $10,000, each coach $1,000 and each of the 40 players in uniform $500. However, Ziegler did not suspend the principals. That was good news for the man who scored the goal, Claude Lemieux, whom the Flames accused of biting the finger of Calgary's Jim Peplinski during the melee.
"There was absolutely no excuse for what took place after last night's game," Ziegler said. "The conduct of the players served only to degrade an otherwise excellent hockey game."
A total of 122 minutes in penalties was handed out by referee Andy van Hellemond. Eight players, four from each team, were handed game misconducts after the fight, which apparently started when the Flames' Doug Risebrough hit Bob Gainey with a high stick.
Ziegler said the presidents of the two teams had been put on notice that there must not be a repeat when the series resumes here Saturday. Montreal holds a 3-1 lead and needs only one more triumph to win the Cup for the 23rd time.
Peplinski contended that Lemieux bit his finger during the melee. Lemieux said he wasn't sure. "I don't know if I bit Peplinski or not," Lemieux said, according to the Associated Press. "But I think I broke a tooth. When you're fighting, anything can happen. It might have been a stick I bit."
Calgary Coach Bob Johnson said, "Lemieux bit Peplinski. They have it on tape and it's pretty clear. Aren't you supposed to get some kind of shot for that?"
"The guy tried to prove his manhood by taking off his helmet and visor," Peplinski said of Lemieux, "and then he tries to bite my finger. He's always yapping, and the fight started out of curiosity to see if there's any more to yapping than just the yap."
Lemieux said that there was a reason for his "yapping," that the Flames had taken cheap shots at him during the game. "There were many," he said. "All kinds of cheap shots. High sticks on the head and slashes on the legs.
"I had a few cross-checks behind the head and some big slashes. After every whistle, they'd cross-check you and push you in the face. But that's the Flames. That's the way they play hockey."
Clearly, the aftermath of Thursday's battle and the importance of the next game were expected to produce a highly physical contest Saturday.
"It might be a tough game Saturday, but we have a big team and we want to end it," said Lemieux, who is the first rookie in Stanley Cup history to score four game-winning playoff goals in one year.
Lemieux provides a good illustration of the reason for the Canadiens' success. Although he was a highly touted rookie star with Verdun's Quebec Junior League champions last year, he spent most of this season with Montreal's American Hockey League farm team in Sherbrooke.
Lemieux did not like it, but he eventually came to understand the necessity for it, and he says he is a better player as a result.
"Every player drafted by the National Hockey League should play a year there," Lemieux said. "You learn everything you need to know about playing in the NHL.
"I also learned the American League is not the place to stay. This is high class and that is low class -- in travel and food and a lot of other ways. But it is a good league to learn."
Last season with Verdun, Lemieux had 58 goals in 52 regular season games and scored an incredible 23 in 14 playoff contests. At 208 pounds, he was stronger than anyone else, and it came too easily.
He arrived at training camp overweight and out of shape, but nevertheless expecting to move right onto the Canadiens' roster. He was wrong.
"I didn't get involved physically in training camp and I wasn't playing that well," Lemieux said. "I had skated only a month before, and I got tired very quickly. Then I had trouble with a groin, and the worst was that there was a lot of pressure on me."
When he was told to report to Sherbrooke, Lemieux smashed his hockey stick against his car in anger. He denies a published story that he broke every window in the car, however.
If Lemieux expected to be called up quickly, he was mistaken. The summons did not come until March 27, and his credentials in Sherbrooke, 21 goals and 32 assists in 58 games, were not overwhelming.
"Claude Lemieux did not have a very good camp," said General Manager Serge Savard. "He is a first-year pro, and he was sent to the minors like the others. He had a not very good start at Sherbrooke, but he came on the last 15 games. When he played like we expected him to play, then we called him back."
The rest, of course, is history. Lemieux has scored 10 playoff goals, including the four game-winners. He won the deciding seventh game against Hartford with an overtime goal, scored in overtime in New York to give the Canadiens a 3-0 lead over the Rangers, and scored the only goal Thursday.
"It's like a dream," Lemieux said. "I've been dreaming about this since I was a kid, and now the dream has come true."