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When athletes attack: A brief history of fights between players and fans

Imagine, for a second, that you get some great tickets to a sporting event – hockey or otherwise. You decide to give the other team a clever tongue-lashing, perhaps thanks to a healthy dosage of booze or a long day at the office. It seems like a light hearted good time – after all, isn’t this why you’re at the event instead of watching from your couch? – until, of course, you notice (far too late) that a professional athlete is charging in your direction like a wayward locomotive.

What Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien did last night wasn’t expected, but it was far from unprecedented … and it was nowhere near the most dangerous (or comical) incident of its kind. Let’s take a look at some of the most unforgettable moments in which “fan-athlete interaction” became more like a contact sport, in hockey and beyond.

Boston Bruins take on Madison Square Garden

This one takes us all the way back to 1979, when multiple Boston Bruins stormed over the boards to pummel a handful of New York Rangers fans. You can see the video here and while it’s not of the highest quality, it really captures the primitive mood that must have been in the air that night. Bruins captain Terry O’Reilly was actually the first person over the boards, but our very own commentator Mike Milbury gets most of the attention for beating a fan with his own shoe.

(Shoes definitely make my top five list of “most humorous objects someone can use to pummel a fan.” Vuvuzelas and foam fingers are in a two-way race for the gold medal.)

The Ron Artest Melee

Few nights in sports left me slack-jawed quite like that incident between Ron Artest, the Indiana Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons back in September 2004. Artest went from playfully relaxing on an announcer/scorer’s table to rabid dog mode in a split second, charging into the crowd with frightening gusto. The rest of the staggering violence and uneasy tension comprises one of the ugliest evenings in NBA history. See for yourself in this stunning video. It’s basically an HD-remake of that Bruins-Rangers fans brawl.

Tennis player Monica Seles gets stabbed

Seeing Seles get stabbed by a nutty fan shook me up enough as a kid that I think that I repressed the memory to some extent. Let’s face it though; I’ll never forget the sight of Seles collapsing to the court while holding her stab wound. (Here’s a link to the video, though it captures the disturbing aftermath more than anything else.)

A handful of baseball brawls

Usually baseball-related violence is exclusively related to bench clearing brawls (or one-on-one battles, such as that indelible image of Pedro Martinez throwing ancient manager Don Zimmer to the ground). Yet you have to think with the sport’s long history coupled with the law of averages (162-game seasons = plenty of opportunities for altercations) that there would be some moments. I think former Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Fransisco might take the violent cake for throwing a chair at some fans, though.

Tie Domi, John Tortorella and the art of the water bottle squirt

It’s about time the Philadelphia Flyers’ “passionate” fan base made an appearance, right? While Domi’s water bottle squirting incident ended in a far more malicious way than Tortorella’s, both moments are refreshing bits of entertainment.

Anyway, those are some of the most memorable moments of “interaction” between fans and athletes (and one coach). Chances are pretty strong that I missed a big one or two, though, so feel free to share some other famous incidents or one of your personal heckling recollections in the comments.

And, please, make sure you’re a safe distance away from highly trained (and sometimes highly irritable) athletes before you serenade them with your witty one-liners.

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.

For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.

He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.

The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.

Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.

He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— It will be Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Ducks and Kings face off.

— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.

— Joonas Korpisalo will be giving Sergei Bobrovsky the night off for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.

— The Rangers will go with Antti Raanta for their rivalry showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils.

— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.

Ryan Miller, suddenly the subject of trade speculation, will start for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday when they face the San Jose Sharks. Look for Martin Jones to go for the Sharks.

Robin Lehner and Calvin Pickard go for the Sabres and Avalanche respectively on Saturday night in Denver.

Antoine Vermette’s 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.

Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.

Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.

Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.

After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 11:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks fires a shot against the Washington Capitals at the United Center on November 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Capitals defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.

Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.

In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.

They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks before a faceoff during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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An already shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins defense is going to be without another key player on Saturday when Kris Letang misses their Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an upper body.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced the news following the team’s morning skate and would only add that Letang remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman, played more than 28 minutes in their most recent game, a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

In 41 games this season he has five goals and 29 assists. Ron Hainsey, recently acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes, is going to have to immediately take on a pretty substantial role with his new team.

Anytime the Penguins are without Letang it’s a big deal because of how impactful he is on the blue line, but it is an even bigger issue now given the injury situation they are dealing with. Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are both sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the regular season.

Justin Schultz, a game-time decision on Saturday night according to Sullivan, has missed the past three games due to a concussion.