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Mayhem in Philly: An Oral History of the Epic Senators-Flyers Brawl

We spoke to seven players involved in the infamous 2004 Senators-Flyers fight that set an NHL record for most penalty minutes in a single game.

by Mike Commito
Mar 4 2017, 6:35pm

Photo by H. Rumph, Jr./AP

This week marks the 14th anniversary of the Senators and Flyers matchup that set an NHL record for the most penalty minutes in one game: 419. That's not a typo. Both Ottawa and Philadelphia combined for four-hundred and nineteen minutes worth of infractions. It eclipsed the previous mark (406) set by the Bruins and North Stars in 1981.

To reflect back on that bruising, record-setting game, VICE Sports caught up with some of the players involved to try to make sense of what happened on that raucous night in Philly.

There was bad blood brewing between the two teams heading into the game. In their last encounter, just over a week earlier, Ottawa's Martin Havlat high-sticked Philadelphia's Mark Recchi in the face. In the aftermath, Flyers head coach, Ken Hitchcock, fanned the flames in the postgame comments. "Someday someone's going to make him [Havlat] eat his lunch...This is something in my opinion that the players should take care of," he said. Havlat was later suspended for two games but was back in the lineup when the Senators were taking on the Flyers at the Wachovia Center.

Shaun Van Allen, played for the Senators from 1996 to 2000. He returned to Ottawa in 2002 as a free agent and finished his NHL career there: Back then, always going into Philadelphia was a challenge and they've always been known to be a big physical team. We were never looked at as being anything more than a skilled team, but it was a good rivalry, they were a good team, we were a good team.

Danny Markov, played 34 games for the Flyers in 2003-04. Overshadowed by the fisticuffs that night was that Markov had actually scored the 10,000th goal in Flyers history, making Philadelphia the first expansion club to reach the milestone: In Philly we had a group of guys that were tough mentally and would play for each other. Whatever happened on the ice, we stuck together, and we had enough characters in the dressing room and on the team.

Rob Ray, played 11 games with Ottawa from 2003 to 2004. Prior to joining the Senators, he played 14 seasons with the Sabres, where he is still the all-time franchise leader in penalty minutes (3,198). He's currently a colour analyst for the Buffalo Sabres: I had not been there long enough to know what was going on, or anything about it. When I played I never really thought about what happened in the past, you just kind of have to live in the moment. I was going into it as an innocent bystander who got caught up in a mess.

That game was actually just Ray's third of the season after nearly a year-long hiatus

Todd Simpson, played 16 games with the Senators in 2003-04. Racked up 1,357 penalty minutes in 580 career NHL games: Nobody was worried about anything. I think for the first two and a half periods, it was just a normal game. It wasn't chippy, it was just a nice game, nothing was on.

The scoresheet certainly corroborates Simpson's memory. Through the first 40 minutes of play, there were only five minor penalties called. Things started ramping up in the third with a series of roughing and slashing calls, but nothing was really out of the ordinary. Ottawa trailed by three goals for most of that frame, and then Rob Ray and Donald Brashear got into a donnybrook with less than two minutes remaining. From there, the rest is history...

Jason Spezza, played 11 seasons with the Senators, scoring 687 points in 686 career games in Ottawa. Currently plays for the Dallas Stars: It was two teams that didn't really like each other. Things weren't going that well in Ottawa, we had lost two games in a row, it was a bit of a fiery game. They were blowing us out a bit, then things escalated and got ugly. Guys started fighting, and then the line brawls started.

Patrick Sharp, drafted 95th overall by the Flyers in 2001. Played 66 games in Philadelphia before being dealt to Chicago in 2005-06, where he'd go on to win three Stanley Cups. Sharp was traded to the Stars in 2015: I was a really young player back then and I was just getting started in my career and there was a little bit of history between the two teams. I know that leading up to those games that we played against the Senators, both teams were high in the standings and trying to make their run at the Cup, and you could just tell there was a different atmosphere from that game right off the start. It's tough to say what ignites those things but I remember being on the ice for the first brawl.

Sometimes it just takes one spark to ignite a powder keg, and the moment in the game seemed to be when Brashear and Ray got into an altercation with less than two minutes remaining in the third period

Van Allen: Even looking back at it, I'm not even really sure what really triggered it off. All of sudden everybody just jumped in and it kind of just snowballed from there.

Wade Redden, played 838 games on Ottawa's blueline from 1996-2007. Redden is fourth on the Senators' all-time games played list: It kind of got started when Rob Ray and Brashear were fighting. Everything was fine, it just another fight, it was a good scrap. And then Brashear pushed Brian Pothier, or kind of suckered him as he was skating off the ice. Simpson was out there at the time and he took exception to it, and then everyone got involved. Patty Lalime came down and then it was just crazy after that.

Sharp: It seemed like it just needed one incident to set things off because everybody was just playing the game because the points were valuable. But then as soon as Brash [Donald Brashear] did what he did it set things off and then all the bad blood from the previous game probably came flying back.

Ray skates off the ice following his tilt with Brashear. Photo by H. Rumph, Jr./AP

Ray: Donald and I locked horns and we went at it and from that point on there were a couple other little skirmishes and it wouldn't quit for a while. I ended up getting tossed, and it just seemed like every time the whistle blew there was someone else coming in the dressing room afterwards.

Simpson: Brashear won, he beat him pretty bad. I was on the ice, we were just standing around watching, there was nothing else going on. He beat him bad. The one linesman's skating Rob off, and the other linesman's skating Brashear off, and then Brashear just sucker-punched Brian Pothier, who was just standing there. Someone said he might have lipped Brashear off, but he's not that type of guy. So Brashear suckers him, so as soon as I saw that I jumped Brashear and then all mayhem broke out.

Spezza: Brashear took a swing at Pothier, then [Zdeno] Chara went after [Mattias] Timander and then it was tough guys jumping guys who didn't want to fight, and that kind of signals that all hell is going to break loose. From there it just got to the point where every shift was a fight. It just escalated, and I was waiting to go on the ice and I felt like I was the next up. Being a young guy you didn't want to not fight, and Sharpie was in that same situation.

Van Allen: Those things [line brawls] are crazy because there's only two linesmen out there and they could only break up one fight at a time. And if you get in the wrong end of that rodeo, you're in some serious trouble because either your teammates are coming to help you, but they've got their own issues, or you're either winning or you're taking a heck of a beating.

Sharp: I was on the ice for the original brawl so I think it was Brashear and Rob Ray who got into a fight, and everybody was standing around watching it. I was standing beside Brian Pothier. And as Brash was skating off the ice, he grabbed Pothier and started fighting him. I was standing right beside him [Pothier], so Todd Simpson, who I later played with in Chicago, grabbed me, a younger player, and started fighting with me, in which case I think Danny Markov was on the ice and he jumped in and then the goalies went at it.

Van Allen: I was on the ice for the first one, I had [Branko] Radivojevic and Markov, I had 'em one in each hand. I remember, Dan Marouelli (referee) came over and said something along the lines of, 'You can't hold on to both of them, you're going to throw out your shoulder,' which I thought was kind of weird. So I just let Markov go and then Radivojevic and I just ended up holding onto each other for a while, and then started pushing and shoving a little bit and then we ended up fighting.

There were so many penalties and misconducts after the first melee that while the officials sorted it out, players were still unsure if they were still in the game

Redden: Simpson was running back and forth trying to get back on the ice.

Simpson: I'm in the dressing room and one of the guys goes, 'Simmer, you didn't get a penalty, you can still go play.' So I actually went back to the bench without any shoulder pads or elbow pads, I just had my jersey on. And I'm just sitting on the bench and the linesman skates over and says, 'Hey Simpson, what the heck are you doing? Get outta here.' Because there were so many penalties, they didn't have time to announce them all, so I had received some bad information.



Meanwhile, in the Flyers dressing room...

Markov: Todd Fedoruk didn't play that game. He came down to the dressing room in his suit and we're all pumped up, so I told him, 'Put your jersey on and put your skates on!' Then he starts putting on his skates and yelling, 'Where's my jersey, where's my jersey?' Eventually, we all realized it was a stupid idea and told him to hold on.

After the first round of players were ejected, more fights ensued and each bench was getting shorter and shorter...

Redden: I ended up with [John] LeCLair, but I don't think a punch was really thrown. I had the puck and was skating up by the penalty box and Mark Recchi came at me and he hit me into the wall. I turned around and LeClair was right there and we grabbed each other and fell to the ice and nothing really happened. Leclair and I were taken off and that was the end of us for the night, they just got rid of everyone.

Markov: When the next fight started going we were waiting between the dressing room and the bench, and finally the police came down because it was against the rules, and the police took us back to the dressing room and stayed out there to make sure we didn't leave again.

Meanwhile, the younger players like Spezza and Sharp were both still in the game for their respective teams.

Spezza: By the time I fought, there was probably only six or seven guys left and it was kind of a pecking order as to who was going to be next. You knew that as soon as you went over the boards you were fighting. You didn't want to be a guy who didn't fight when you saw your whole team fighting, that's kind of a galvanizing thing for a team.

Sharp: That was the first line brawl I've ever been a part of. I had not been kicked out of the game, so after that original line brawl, it took them a while to sort out what was going on and everybody got kicked out, basically, that was on the ice that shift except for me. So Hitchcock grabs me and says, 'Are you still in the game?' and they went over and double checked with the scorekeepers and the refs on whether I was still in the game. Then [Hitch] just tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'No. 39, when he gets out there, he's your guy.'

No. 39 just happened to be Spezza...

Sharp: It's one thing to be in a fight in a hockey game at the spur of the moment, when something happens and you just drop the gloves right away, but when you're sitting on the bench and you're waiting for 10-15 minutes until you have to go out there and fight in a hostile environment against a guy, you don't know what's going to happen. You start thinking a little too much, and I just remember being pretty nervous on the bench.

Spezza: They came over and told us no more fighting or it's a game misconduct, so we stepped on the ice and the first thing we both said to each other is, 'Let's go, we both have to fight.' We kind of skated into the draw, and he said something first or I said something, and then it was on.

Sharp: We were both pretty evenly matched, both not experienced fighters and we were both younger players. We both looked at each other and I asked him if we were going and before you know it, we were fighting.

So, how did that fight play out between those future teammates?

Spezza: Just a classic heavyweight tilt, a good tie. He threw two muffins, I threw two muffins and the fight was over. Wasn't a whole lot going on, that's for sure. I think I tried to get the jump on him but I think he got me with the better punch."

Sharp: How do I answer this one? Spezz being a good friend of mine, I'll answer it this way—I'll say Spezz is a really good offensive player. I'll say that. We were two guys who didn't know too much about fighting, so we were lucky nobody got hurt during it and it was fun to be a part of it, so I don't think there was any real winner in it.

Ottawa added a late goal on the powerplay, but Philadelphia ended up holding on to take a 5-3 victory. Although it was a clear win for the Flyers, players from both clubs saw the game as more than simply a column in the standings.

Spezza: We got killed but it felt like a win in the dressing room almost, it felt like a real team moment where everyone helped each other. Guys were sticking up for each other. It was just kind of one of those moments that really brings a team together.

Simpson: It's always a good bonding experience. Everyone's sticking up for each other. We lost the game so you're upset about that, but it was kind of cool to rehash the fights.

Sharp: It was almost like a badge of honour. You get kicked out of the game, you get those penalty minutes, and [you're] one of those guys that fought. To be a part of that, everybody was kind of high-fiving and talking about what happened in the fight.

Ray: It just got so out of hand and it was funny because you don't expect that from these guys. So you're sitting there, and players start coming in after they get thrown out and they were having a little slumber party in the dressing room—that's how excited they were. They were saying things like, 'Oh my god, this was unbelievable' and 'Did you see that?' That attitude carried over for the longest time—that night, on the bus, the next day. It's like they were a bunch of giddy little kids with how excited [they all were]. It was fun, it was cool to see.

Redden: I think that's something that teams build off of. You come into the room after a game like that and everybody's fired up and excited for each other. It's a game where you have to answer the bell, you gotta stand up and look your opponents in the eye. There are situations where you're challenged and you've got to answer the bell, and everyone was willing and it's a great thing as a team to build off of and I think that's how we felt about it.

Wade Redden spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Ottawa. Photo via Wiki Commons

Van Allen: The testosterone going on in the dressing room is just ridiculous. We were the first wave of guys in there, and then the puck dropped, a second goes off the clock, Fisher, Neil, and Chara and them go at it. And then you're like, 'Holy cow,' you've got another wave of emotion that comes over as those guys come into the room. Then the next thing you know, Redden and Smolinski and those guys are coming into the dressing room, and then Spezz comes into the dressing room, and I don't think he'd had a fight that year, and him and Sharp go at it. We didn't win the game but it was a really good bonding moment for our team. Guys stood up for each other and didn't back down in probably one of the toughest places you'll ever play in the NHL.


All these years later, both teams still hold the record for the most penalty minutes in one game in NHL history. The infractions that accounted for those whopping 419 minutes were 17 minors, 21 majors, eight 10-minute misconducts, and 20-game misconducts. It was certainly an unforgettable game and, despite the mayhem of it all, it was one that some of the players involved in still look back on with fond memories.

The milestone from that wild night in Philadelphia seems destined to stand the test of time, but then again, you never know what can happen when teams square off on the ice. Given the physical and often violent nature of hockey, sometimes all it takes is a seemingly innocuous incident for a game to go off the rails and into the record books.