The Bruins will be in Montreal tonight to face Les Glorieux, and it's a good bet big Georges Laraque, all 6 feet 3 inches and 253 pounds of him, will fill the role of Maitre'd pugilist at Bell Centre.
"Yes, come right in," he might say to Messrs. Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton. "How nice to see you gentlemen from Boston again. Might I find you a . . . seat?"
When Laraque and the Canadiens were in the Hub Nov. 13, he was equally as accommodating and gracious in the minutes after Lucic smacked elite Habs winger Alexei Kovalev with a hit near the Montreal bench that Laraque found, shall we say, objectionable.
Soon thereafter, Laraque asked Lucic to fight. Lucic wasn't interested.
"Momentum was on our side," said Lucic, acknowledging he opted not to take on the mighty Laraque. "If it was that hit on Kovalev, well, there were guys on the ice then who could have done something about it, right? Hey, it's nothing against Georges . . . he is obviously the toughest guy in the league . . . he's earned that respect and right, and in that situation it's his job to [go] after me. I have a lot of respect for him, but I didn't feel the need to engage him there."
A little while later, Laraque extended Thornton the same invitation. The ever-willing Thornton, a light heavyweight at 6-2, 217, who often accommodates NHL heavies, also opted for smarts over smacks.
"Yeah, he asked, and I declined," Thornton said soon after the Bruins finished their 6-1 steamrolling. "I didn't see the point - not with the way the game was going, the score being what it was."
Like a man suddenly without a country, or eHarmonist without a hookup, Laraque had no one to help him build on his career résumé then of 1,056 penalty minutes. Instead, it was Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek, begging for a tussle with Lucic since the playoffs last April, who eventually caught up with the hard-rock sophomore winger. In the world of things to wish for, Komisarek found tangling with Lucic wasn't one of them.
It was the lack of a willing Black-and-Gold sparring partner, along with the beatdown of Komisarek, that later had the 31-year-old Laraque explaining himself to the Montreal Gazette. It no doubt will have Laraque ready to rumble with any sweater Black and Gold from the drop of the puck this evening.
"With the rules in the league now, you almost have to send a fax, an invitation - otherwise, you get suspended," Laraque told the Gazette. "I was suspended last year, and now the league will be that much harder on me if I do that. If I hit some guy in the head and he doesn't drop [his gloves], we get 5 minutes [for fighting], and how good is that? Lucic hit Kovalev, I went after him, I embarrassed him. I tried to go, but he doesn't want to."
Sure sounds like unfinished business, does it not? Such grudges made for sweet and engaging subplots in the Original Six days when buckets of blood and donnybrooks were the boilerplate of the NHL's patent. More often than not, the follow-up was far less than billed (there is only so much blood to bleed, after all), and the emotional buildup fizzled. Haymakers gave way to hockey.
Perhaps that will be what happens tonight in Montreal. We know Komisarek won't be part of any brew, or brouhaha, because he is still smarting (shoulder injury) from the clobbering he took from Lucic. Laraque should be suited up, but the Habs have been struggling the last few weeks (2-3 in their last five, the wins in shootouts), causing coach Guy Carbonneau to turn over everything but the dressing room couch in hopes of getting his bunch on track.
If Laraque is there, and asks this time, how might Lucic or Thornton respond?
The smaller Thornton has a history with Laraque. They tangled earlier this season in Montreal.
"Let's see," mulled Thornton the other day, recounting some of the bouts. "Once when he was in Edmonton . . . and this year in Montreal . . . and twice when I was with Chicago, he beat me up pretty good during an exhibition game. You can see it on YouTube. Hey, he's a lot to handle. But you know, I'm honest with him, and he's honest with me . . . like I say, we've gone a few times."
Asked before last night's 4-2 win over Florida if he expected something to erupt tonight, Thornton said, "Oh, I don't know . . . all my focus is on the Panthers. End of story."
As for Lucic, he is getting first-line minutes, riding high on a line with the slick-and-skilled Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. A regular combatant in his rookie season, Lucic had only the one fight with Komisarek before he toyed with Nick Boynton last night. His bout with Komisarek was so lopsided the 6-3, 228-pound Lucic might find it hard to find another sparring partner on the Canadiens, other than Laraque, of course. Lucic has morphed some of that raw pugilistic energy into becoming one of the game's top hitters (witness: body slam on Kovalev). He leads the league with 73 hits.
"It's not that I am scared of Laraque," said Lucic. "It's more about being smart about him than it is being scared of him."
And what of tonight when the two shall meet again?
"I expect something is going to happen," mused the Loochomotive yesterday. "But, I'm not looking too much into it. First of all, we've got [last night's] game [vs. Florida] . . . the last thing I'll worry about is who I'm going to fight. We'll see what the situation is, and if it's right . . . we'll just have to see."
It's November 2008, and the Bruins-Habs are must-see TV. Monsieur Laraque has invited anyone and everyone.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.