And yet in the third period of Boston's game against the Providence Bruins, Adam McQuaid dropped the gloves with Bobby Robins and lost decisively.
And it was GREAT.
Let's back up a moment, and take a look at these two heavyweights, set the stage a little for our defense.
You're a Bruins fan, and no good Bruins fan hates Adam McQuaid. The 6'4 defenseman is tough as nails, and has taken on some of the bigger pugilists in the NHL; from BJ Crombeen to Zenon Konopka to Raffi Torres. He plays a tough game. Recently he's suffered some injury issues; a blood clot under his collarbone which required surgery about a month ago. He hadn't been up to speed until recently, and many were surprised to see him playing tonight; rumor was that he wouldn't start the season with the team.
Across from him: Bobby Robins. A career journeyman in his first full AHL season since 2006-2007, Robins is sitting on 184 PIMs in 34 AHL games. A no one, to the common Bruins fan; just a body in the scrimmage to make things even. But Robins is more than meets the eye, and so is this fight. It goes like this.
It's the third period, the P-Bruins have taken a commanding 5-2 lead and squandered it (as they tend to do recently) and the P-Bruins' "Buzzsaw Line" is on the ice. They're matched up against the Bruins' fourth line for much of the night, and in many ways the two lines are very similar. The Bruins have their "Energy Line" of Paille, Thornton, and Campbell; similarly go Robins, Lane MacDermid, and Christian Hanson. When the going gets tough at the Dunkin Donuts Center during Providence games - the Buzzsaws get going.
In a game recently, a Worcester Sharks player threw a hit on MacDermid that Robins took issue with; Robins came flying from seemingly across the ice and took care of business. Macdermid's no slouch, either, with seven fights in 32 games this year of his own - he can handle himself. But there's something about Robins, almost a knee-jerk reaction when someone gets into it with a teammate, when he almost innately senses a situation that his fists can fix. Before you can react, he's there, there's a yardsale of gloves and sticks and elbow pads on the ice, and boom, the other player is down.
In Providence, the fans eat it up; in Providence he is the team's warrior, their team's bloody fists, their team's delighted grin and measured, intelligent answers to tedious questions after games.
But Boston is not Providence; Adam McQuaid is not a hated Worcester Shark.
Robins gets his team going by fighting, though; his toughness and spirit came through many times during tonight's scrimmage, as he jawed at Shawn Thornton and Zdeno Chara looking for a scrap. And maybe, in fact, it would have been beneficial to Thornton to take him up on it. Thornton's said himself: "I haven't been punched in the face in nine months." It's funny, but at the same time, when training camp and preseason are shortened from a month and change to just shy of a week - maybe it's smart to ramp things up a little.
When you think about it, though, maybe that's what Julien & Co were trying to initiate here.
Typically the Black and Gold scrimmage does not include every Providence player; typically it's a scrimmage between roster players and guys trying to make camp, all jumbled up into lines that make no sense to anyone but the coaches, trying out different line combinations and seeing who fits where. It usually happens before preseason games, before anyone's been cut and sent back down - but typically all the guys are prospects or players aiming to make the roster this year. The only guys on that Providence team who have a hope of making the Bruins lineup on opening night were playing for the Bruins in this scrimmage - Chris Bourque, in that third line wing position.
The purpose of this scrimmage was not talent evaluation. Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, and Don Sweeney know what the talent situation in Providence is - they've taken in numerous Providence games this season. No, the purpose of this scrimmage was to simulate as close to a game situation as possible. Look at the two teams - the Bruins played as close to an opening night roster as they could, and Providence played to match, right down to their fourth line. Tonight essentially was the entire preseason; the next game is for keeps. That said, what's typically the biggest drawback of a friendly scrimmage? The lack of animosity towards the other team. Robins' agitating certainly solved that problem.
So both team's fourth lines are out, Robins goes to chip the puck out of the zone, and McQuaid lays a hit on him that he doesn't like. He bumps McQuaid, McQuaid shoves him back, drops the gloves, and they're off - and McQuaid suddenly realizes he's bitten off more than he can chew. It's Robins by a mile, he's been doing this for months; he latches onto McQuaid's collar with his left, just hammering away - almost mechanically - with his right. McQuaid takes a few desperate swings, but it's one final pop to the face that does McQuaid in, and they fall.
Put all the pieces together. Julien & Co purposely put McQuaid, coming off an injury, into the only realistic game scenario, against a team with guys who Julien's seen drop the gloves and do significant damage. Not only that, but Robins had been agitating to go all game. It's a controlled situation; if you don't want Robins agitating, if you want this to be a scrimmage for kicks and giggles and funsies, you tell Robins to simmer down, and he DOES. This isn't a preseason game against the Capitals, where you can't make Matt Hendricks stop being a jerk to your players in the spirit of a "scrimmage." It was in-season style play; frankly, McQuaid could have kept his gloves on and skated away.
He chose not to, and he got pummeled. What's a better way to kick off the season than getting punched in the face and losing to your own AHL team to boot? (Don't answer that.)
The Bruins definitely have work to do, but we as a fanbase should laud them for making last night an entertaining affair. There's no need to condemn Robins for doing his job, for agitating at the other team, for riling the Bruins up; no need to ponder if he's "punched his way out of town." Robins was brought on this trip to play in this scrimmage with his Buzzsaw brothers and do a JOB. It was likely a great wake up call, a reminder that the Bruins need to get their act together and gel as a unit again - as their AHL club's been doing pretty well for the last 34 games.
Four days until Opening Night. Let's see what they do with it.
Bobby Robins' fight with Adam McQuaid, 1/15/13