Two simple words that can change the course of a hockey game. Two words that can shift a player’s demeanor from calm to chaotic.
For Utica Comets forward Brendan Woods, fighting is something that he deems necessary in the game. On-ice policing is often done by the officials, but there are often times where actions require consequences that can’t possibly be distributed by the referees. Retribution isn’t the only cause for fisticuffs, however, as sometimes it’s simply a shift in momentum that is required.
“Obviously there’s certain circumstances that make a fight start,” Woods said. “An incident from a previous game, a guy has a dirty hit, or if you need a momentum change. Say you’re down and you need to gain momentum back, you go out there and find their guy who’s in the same caliber as you and it starts from there.”
Not all fights are created equal. Some are fueled by rage and payback, while some are far more diplomatic. Sometimes referred to as “staged” fights, the invitation to repeatedly punch one another sounds more like an invitation for a coffee.
“Those ones are a little different for me,” Woods added. “Squaring up is a little more heavyweight style and I don’t consider myself a heavyweight by any means. For a guy like Vinny Arseneau, he likes to square up and do the whole dance.”
Not being a heavyweight doesn’t mean Woods isn’t as tough as they come. But no matter how tough, there’s always some nervousness in the mind of the fighter.
“Very few guys would say they’re not worried,” Woods said. “You don’t wanna get punched in the face. No one does. You gotta be ready because there is that other guy coming to try and beat you up and you’ve gotta protect yourself.”
Getting punched hurts, but everyone knows that. What they don’t know is that delivering the punch can be equally painful.
“If you get ‘em in the face it’s not as bad because you know you’re doing something to them,” Woods said. “But when you’re just hitting their helmet and visor and your hand’s all cut up, it doesn’t feel good.”
While trying to earn his keep in the NHL with Carolina during the 2015-16 season, Woods realized that he had to do whatever it took to try and stay with the big club. That meant dropping the mitts with Chris Neil, the proud owner of over 2,500-career penalty minutes.
“It was pretty scary,” Woods laughed. “I knew I was getting called up and I was playing Ottawa. I wanted to show I’d do anything to stay in the league.
“So I asked my dad. He was an NHL coach and I asked who were some guys I could look to go with,” Woods said. “My dad named a few guys and said ‘definitely don’t fight Neil!’ and sure enough on my first shift Neil came and grabbed me and I was just staring at him in the eyes and said ‘screw it, let’s do it.’”
While the talk about fighting is a little more casual with his dad, it’s not quite the same when mom comes into the equation.
“Mom’s not a big fan of it,” he said. “When it comes to her son… her baby boy… she’s not a big fan of it.”
Brendan’s wife, Lindsey, isn’t exempt from the anxiety either. But she also doesn’t mind when her husband is the winner.
“She thinks it’s attractive,” Woods joked. “Whenever the helmet comes off and I go down she gets a little nervous. As long as I win she’s pretty happy.”