Chris Thorburn was in a no-win situation. His Winnipeg Jets teammates made sure his sacrifice counted.
Thorburn's decision to fight Toronto Maple Leafs heavyweight Colton Orr early in the game was one thing. But the unsavoury way it finished sent a rumble down the Jets bench and they played with more fire and, dare we say it, truculence than the Leafs.
Winnipeg won 5-2 on the scoreboard but they also won their share of after-whistle scrums and puck battles. Their will got them over the hump early in the game and then their skill took them home in high style.
"We played with an edge after Thorbs fought. It got us skating and personally as a team, when we play like that, we're better. We were on the body and on the puck," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "Thorbs is a great teammate. He comes to the rink and works and he's always positive. That's something you don't want to see happen to a teammate. There's a certain respect amongst tough guys and when a guy is in a vulnerable position, guys should ease off."
Depending on who one talks to, a staged fight such as this one has no effect on a game. Many players will tell you differently, but that's a subject for another day.
Thorburn, however, is beloved in the Jets dressing room for his willingness to stand up for teammates. So when Orr slighted him near the end of what until then had been an honourable exchange, the rest of the Jets took notice.
With less than three minutes expired in the game, the two big men engaged.
Orr's jersey came mostly loose near the end of the scrap, leaving Thorburn at a distinct disadvantage with nothing to grab. Most often, this will signal the end of a fight and usually the linesmen will intervene to prevent injury. But Orr was allowed to keep on slugging.
Thorburn had some cross words for Orr and the linesmen but more importantly, the rest of the Jets got riled and started skating and banging and chirping. They played with purpose.
"I said what I had to say to (Orr) and I think I'll leave it at that," said Thorburn. "There's a mutual respect that we abide by. It's not like I'm the toughest guy in the world but I'll show up. Your adrenaline is running so I can understand that things happen. But, well... It is what it is."
Thorburn's teammates responded with an inspired effort of the likes we haven't seen from this group too often this season. A healthy scratch for the four games prior to this one, Thorburn's teammates weren't surprised he chose to get involved.
"We thought the linesman could have jumped in earlier. The job Thorbs does is the toughest in hockey. You have to show up and a lot of nights you don't play much. You're facing tough customers," said Ladd. "He's fought a lot of tough guys and as teammates you appreciate him having the guts to stand up for us. Especially when he's not a heavyweight and he's in against one."
The Leafs are the league's bad boys with 27 fights in 27 games to date. They have intimidated on a nightly basis. Not Tuesday night. Winnipeg's anger over what transpired in the Thorburn-Orr fight and a distaste for their own play of late resulted in the Jets' best home performance of the season.
Advocating more fighting in hockey won't ever appear in this space. But pushing for more fight in the Jets' game, such as we saw Tuesday, that's a different story.
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