As a wee lad honed and molded by a culture that loves their guns, germs, and steel, I always took to fighting like white on ice. My dad himself was a boxer, and so boyhood was your proverbial milieu of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and whatever sport involving socially acceptable elements of Surviving the Game I could consume.
So hockey was the first professional sport I truly embraced. It allowed its athletes to cool off by having a yard sale, and going at it like Bloodsport. What's not to love?!
A lot of things, it turns out. But I remain an armchair professional of pugilism. For that reason, I'm used to this realm of analysis. From Ronda Rousey and how she lost to Holly Holm. To why you should appreciate the Diaz brothers in all their petulant silliness. Trust me when I say that Jamie Benn and David Backes fall into these special fight categories. These are elite hockey players who don't mind ditching the metaphors in favor of raw violence.
They are throwbacks in the best way possible. Idolizing what they do is what helps create a culture of goons. That's not what I'm here for. However, appreciating what they're capable of at their most legally vulgar is as civilized as a great wine.
Round 1: Or How Jamie Benn Saved Cody Eakin's Bacon
Benn and Backes, as Razor is always quick to mention, don't like each other. It's hard to trace the embryo of their enmity. Is it as simple as "I hate Canadians, I hate Americans!" as Razor once put it, referring to Jamie Benn's fight with current Colorado blueliner Erik Johnson? I don't know. It's possible that David Backes is constantly doing a Terrance and Phillip impression, which Benn might not appreciate. Maybe Benn makes fun of Backes for bullying teenagers? Maybe Backes just doesn't like getting scored on. Whatever the case, they had their first yard sale right after Christmas in 2014.
Backes threw a couple of inverted crosschecks to Cody Eakin's face on the faceoff. Eakin didn't like it and so Backes attacks Eakin some more which prompts Benn to step in.
Winner: Backes didn't throw back, and so round 1 technically goes to one since nothing is either thrown or landed. Draw.
Round 2: Strident Night
There's just something about the Christmas spirit that provokes everyone else to buy things for loved ones. For Benn and Backes, the month of Christmas is all about holiday face punching. Their second fight was an actual dust up on yet another December night.
Benn locks Backes out who lands one or two grazing punches. It's hard to notice on first glance, but Backes' helmet doesn't go flying just because Benn is pulling and pushing on him. It goes flying because Benn sneaks in a piercing jersey jab on Backes as Backes is throwing a right. Benn throws another, but sneaks in a pretty stout left uppercut while Backes has his jersey over his hand, which is probably what prompts the "bail": a term used pejoratively from hockey curmudgeons who long for "old time hockey" and therefore hate fights involving one player losing their balance too easily.
Winner: Benn by Decision. He lands the two cleanest punches of the fight.
I'll bet good PayPal change that they end up fighting again. If the Dallas Stars are losing, you bet Jamie will want to send a message. If the St. Louis Blues are losing, you bet David will want to send a message. Does all of this "message sending" amount to anything more than convenient soundbites for hockey's talking but not plotting heads? Probably not. But we'll enjoy it anyway because they're superstars who don't mind being vulnerable, and every fan loves a wounded super star.
I'd give the edge to Benn. He's a good pugilist by any standard. With his size and frame, he uses his reach well, and is quick to counter with both hands. Maybe baseball isn't the only sport he might have excelled in should he have avoided hockey.
He's also highly effective at sneaking in that left hand. Not only has he zipped it through Backes' sinuses, but he scored one against Joe Thornton as well in their scrap.
There's Benn trying to turn Jumbo Joe into Hakarl. In addition, Benn has done better against stronger quality of competition. He looked excellent against Gaustad, who has fought actual heavyweights. Nick Foligno has also fought heavyweights like Tom Sestito, and Benn looked more than just competitive.
Meanwhile, Backed has dominated random terrified Finns, but struggled with Nazem Kadri, and got chest pantsed by Captain Serious. Benn is not quite the inimitable Shane Churla of yesteryear, but he would have been at home in that era.
In semi-seriousness, I'm actually looking forward to this matchup. A lot. Not just as a matter of graceful violence, but as a hockey matchup. A lot of fans really wanted the Blackhawks. I did too. But St. Louis is for real. If this is the road required to get to Lord Stanley's google map, then Dallas will need to handle, counter, and endure the Blues' taxing style of play. Thankfully Dallas has a captain that can generate his own physicality.