Despite long memories, hockey players quick to forgive, forget

SHARE Despite long memories, hockey players quick to forgive, forget

Jonathan Toews and Joe Thornton fight during a game on Feb. 15, 2013. (AP Photo)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Duncan Keith’s short pass was poorly delivered, right in Jamal Mayers’ feet. As he tried to fish the puck out from between his skates with his head down, Mayers got run over by a clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit from a Sharks forward.

Keith, mad at the opponent and mad at himself, went ballistic, jumping the Sharks forward and trying to pound him into submission while Mayers lay flat on the ice.

That Sharks forward? Andrew Desjardins.

Almost exactly four years later — the incident was on Feb. 5, 2013 — Desjardins and Keith were back at the SAP Center, only now as teammates and friends. Hockey players have long memories, though, and the hit was one of the first things that came up when Desjardins was acquired by the Hawks at the trade deadline in 2015.

‘‘It was more of a joke for us,’’ Desjardins said. ‘‘It might have been different if one of us would have taken a big punch or [if Mayers] had gotten hurt or if there was some dirtiness involved. But we just kind of laughed about it when I got here.’’

As the calendar turns to February, it’s officially trade season in the NHL. The Hawks are always active at this time of year and figure to make some sort of addition by the deadline March 1. And given the physical and fiery nature of hockey, that might lead to some awkward moments when a new face arrives.

But it happens less than it used to. Free agency, international competitions and shared sponsors and agents have broken down the walls between opponents. Everyone seems to know everyone these days, and the bad blood that builds on the ice rarely spills into real life.

‘‘You have a hatred for some guys,’’ defenseman Brent Seabrook said. ‘‘But there’s a lot of guys you come across through the years that you hate playing against, then you meet them as a teammate or at a bar or at an All-Star Game or an Olympics or a world championship or a World Cup or whatever it may be, and you find out they’re pretty good guys.’’

Even Hawks captain Jonathan Toews gets along off the ice with his mortal nemesis, the Sharks’ Joe Thornton. Starting with a post-whistle punch by Thornton in 2012, his endless needling of Toews led to a full-blown fight on Feb. 15, 2013, at the United Center and several mini-scraps since. But they were Team Canada teammates at the World Cup in Toronto in the fall.

‘‘There were a couple of years there where he liked to try and push my buttons and come after me on the ice,’’ Toews said. ‘‘But I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. I just liked him a lot as a guy off the ice.’’

Winger Jordin Tootoo has spent a career getting into scraps with foes, racking up 90 fights in his 13 seasons, including one against Seabrook back in 2006. And when Tootoo joined the Devils in 2013 after spending eight seasons with the Predators, he was bracing for the worst. But it was quite the opposite.

‘‘A lot of the guys were like, ‘We’re happy you’re on our side now because you’re a pest to play against,’ ’’ Tootoo said. ‘‘We’re bred to compete, but we all understand that you do what you’ve got to do for your team to win.’’

So while seemingly every player remembers every big hit, every scrum and every cheap shot ever delivered, it’s all swept aside once your enemy becomes your teammate. There’s really no other choice.

‘‘Once somebody becomes your teammate, you’re all in it for the same thing, and you’re all trying to work toward the same goal,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘Whoever it is and whatever happened, you just have to move on.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.


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