Two of the toughest teams in the league will square off tonight in London, Ontario, a game that's somehow considered a Flyers home game. Sure, we play a game at the John Labatt Centre every year, but that place is going to be all Leafs fans tonight. (Well, maybe not.)
Nevertheless, it's no secret that the Flyers and Leafs just aren't supposed to like each other. It's also no secret that Paul Holmgren has built a tough, bruising machine here in Philly, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that Brian Burke is trying to do the same thing in Toronto.
"We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence," Burke said back when he took the Leafs' GM job in November. "That's how our teams play, I make no apologies for that. Our teams play a North American game. We're throwbacks. It's black-and-blue hockey. It's going to be more physical hockey here than people are used to."
Just last night, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Leafs lost to the Bruins, 3-2. On the way, however, fans got a taste of that belligerance as four players dropped the gloves on five separate occasions, and of all the players you would think to partake in fisticuffs, Colton Orr kept his mitts on. That means at least five guys on their team are willing and able to take you on, and most of those guys are fighting, quite literally, to earn a spot on the Leafs roster.
For example, let's take Phil Oreskovic. A third round selection of the Leafs in 2005, Oreskovic is in his third professional season after a four year run in the Ontario Hockey League. In those four years, he racked up 646 penalty minutes in 283 games. If you think that's impressive, let's look at Jay Rosehill. Since 2002, he's played in 378 games in four different leagues. In those 378 games, he has 1,122 penalty minutes, an average of almost three a game. That's hard to do if you try.
Oreskovic and Rosehill have, combined, a total of 29 goals in 661 games. These guys aren't just fighting to prove they'll stick up for their teammates, they're doing it because it's the only skill they have and the only chance they have at cracking an NHL roster. There are no guarantees that these guys will even be in the lineup tonight, but there are plenty of guys who are willing to drop the gloves on that Toronto roster.
If you think there's a chance this is going unnoticed by the Flyers, think again. Is there a reason Matt Clackson made this trip? Are you naive enough to think that it was just a coincidence last night when Riley Cote, Dan Carcillo, and Arron Asham all sat out last nights game in Detroit?
There are going to be fights tonight, and there are going to be lots of them. Get ready.