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NHL has nothing on basketbrawl

Published November 28, 2004

When the NBA's Ron Artest went into the stands in Detroit, the NHL's most infamous incident of a player going after a fan came to mind.

In December 1979, the Bruins' Mike Milbury climbed into the stands at Madison Square Garden and beat a fan with the fan's shoe.

"It was wild," said Phil Esposito, who was playing for the Rangers that night. "We were down by a goal and I had a breakaway in the last minute and a fan threw a tennis ball on the ice. It distracted me just long enough and (Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers) came out and surprised me. I never got the shot off. That started the whole mess."

As soon as the game ended, some Rangers and Bruins started pushing in front of the benches. A fan reached over the glass and grabbed a stick from Boston's Stan Jonathan and started swinging it over the heads of other Boston players. The Bruins' Terry O'Reilly went into the stands, followed by Milbury, who ripped off the poor sap's shoe and started beating him with it.

"I remember it was a very dangerous time and it was, for me, to make sure nothing happens to your buddies, and to protect yourself if something breaks out here," Milbury, now general manager of the Islanders, told New York's Newsday.

Milbury was suspended six games.

"The shoe part, I'm amused by it after 30 years in the business," Milbury said. "My legacy is not that I played on some good teams and coached some good teams and was a manager, but it's that I cuffed a guy in the leg with his shoe."

Esposito, who was in the locker room sipping a beer when the Bruins were in the stands, still laughs about that night. He also recalled another incident involving fans and alcohol.

When he was a rookie with the Blackhawks in 1963, a fan in Detroit threw whiskey in his eyes.

"It burned like hell," Esposito said. "I went back out for a faceoff and the guy was leaning over the glass. I said, "Hey, buddy, next time, aim for my mouth, would ya?' "

One of the scariest NHL incidents happened in Vancouver during the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies days when several Flyers went into the crowd. Bill Barber, who played on that despised Flyers team, remembers how his focus shifted during the fight when he saw a frightened child.

"I grabbed a little boy," Barber said. "I picked him up and held him to the side. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and maybe he could have gotten hurt. The little boy was sitting there and he was absolutely terrified. I lifted him down between the areas of the benches."

At the end of all this, though, incidents of fans vs. players in the NHL is rare. That's why it was so frustrating to hear commentators and even Pistons coach Larry Brown compare Artest's actions to something seen in hockey. Hockey has plenty of problems, but one of them is not player-fan violence.

LOCKOUT UPDATE: Rumors are swirling that the players association will make an offer in the next couple of weeks and that owners already are preparing a counteroffer. The league's GMs will meet this week in New York.

Meantime, the players received their first lockout pay last week from the union. Players received a November check for $10,000 each and will get another $10,000 for December, with subsequent monthly payments between $5,000 or $10,000, the Canadian Press reported.

WHAT WE'RE MISSING: In case you're wondering, the Lightning has missed 19 games because of the lockout. And this would have been an interesting week. The Lightning was scheduled to make its first visit since last spring's playoffs to Philadelphia on Tuesday. That would have been followed by home games against St. Louis and Florida.

The season's only meeting against the Flames, the team the Lightning beat for the Stanley Cup, was supposed to be Nov. 11 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

MINOR WOES: Springfield, the Lightning's AHL affiliate, continues to struggle. The Falcons had the second worst record in the AHL entering the weekend at 5-11-1-1. Shane Willis was tied with Ryan Craig for the team lead in goals with seven and was the top scorer with 15 points. In goal, Jamie Storr was 4-9-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Brian Eklund was 1-3 with 3.81 GAA and an .881 save percentage.

PENGUINS AREN'T FLYING: For the Penguins to survive in Pittsburgh, two things need to happen. First, a new collective-bargaining agreement has to ease the pain of small-market teams. Second, the Pens need a new arena.

"The CBA, we're going to fix it," Pens part-owner and star Mario Lemieux said. "The CBA's going to be fixed. The chances of getting a building, I'd say it's 50-50 right now."

And if the Pens don't get a new arena?

"If there's no new building, there's no chance the team's going to be here, even in two years," Lemieux said.

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