Monday, December 17, 2012

Akeson's first AHL fight 12/17

I'll have a feature on Jason Akeson in Wednesday's Saratogian, so be sure to check it out, but in the meantime I wanted to pass along some tidbits from a conversation I had with the second-year-pro winger after today's practice.

That fight he had with Syracuse's Matt Taormina in the second period of Friday's game was his first fight in the AHL. I meant to ask him about it afterward, but I was on deadline and didn't really have a chance to until today.

It's not its first ever fight -- he's had some in juniors and one earlier this season in the ECHL -- but he had just 28 penalty minutes in 86 AHL games. And then all of a sudden here comes Matt Taormina charging at him, seeking revenge for a hit Akeson threw on Mark Barberio, and Akeson never flinched.

Here's the video, if you're interested:

"I just kind of hit the guy there," Akeson said. "Fell down and I saw a guy coming at me. First reaction was just drop the gloves and throw some punches."

Interestingly, though, a lot of times the No. 1 piece of advice players are told in those situations is just to get in as close as you can to an opponent and just hang on until the linesmen come in to break it up. Akeson instead starts throwing some uppercuts and catches Taormina with a couple of them.

“You’re always learning from guys watching the guys fight over the years,” Akeson said. “You learn different ways to fight and you get little pointers from guys here and there. Everyone pretty much knows how to defend themselves if it comes down to it. Instinct kind of takes over.”

I didn't realize this at first, but that was also Taormina's first AHL fight. He's a college product, out of Providence, but a lot of those guys seem to drop the gloves at least once over the course of a three-plus-year career in pro hockey. Sometimes, as you can see above, the situation dictates a need for it.

I asked defenseman/forward Zack FitzGerald, who has been in well over 100 fights during his hockey career and twice led the AHL in penalty minutes, what he made of Akeson's first foray into fisticuffs.
“I loved everything about it," FitzGerald said. "He hit that guy hard. He caught that guy kind of looking away, it was a big hit. It caused a ruckus there. He kind of snapped and threw some uppercuts in there. I was loving it, loving everything about it.”

Having a guy come at you is not an easy spot to be in, FitzGerald said.

"I don’t think a lot of guys enjoy being in that spot, but he handled it really well," he said. "He didn’t really hesitate, he just realized what he had to do and was chucking them."

I had a couple other questions about fighting, but I asked him what his best advice would be for a player who is in a similar situation on the ice. I've seen some enforcers say the best thing for a guy to do is just throw the most ridiculous, wild punch you can muster and hope it lands. FitzGerald said that would probably be one of the worst pieces of advice he could possibly give a teammate.

"I would definitely try to play defense," he said. "Everybody’s strong and if you throw a wild one and you get in a bad spot and I’m coming to fight you, I know where I’m going to punch you and I’m not afraid of that wild punch. When I’m fighting, I’ll take a punch to give one. A lot of guys will do that too, but I think if you’re a guy that doesn’t want to fight or wants to know how to do it and not get hurt, your best bet is to pull in close and play defense. Get a good grip and throw it when you’re comfortable.”

FitzGerald learned that the hard way.

His first fight was against AHL heavyweight Pete Vandermeer, a man who is nicknamed "Pistol."

“He’s a very tough man," he said. "I’ll always remember. He kind of hit me and then he speared me and I was very livid about the spear. I was calling him out and then we were fighting and I could hear his punches going over my head. I could hear them. So I was like ‘OK, this is what it’s like.’”

Each fight is unique, though, so it's not like there's any sort of blueprint a player can follow.

“When things are happening like that, the adrenaline’s pumping," FitzGerald said. "You don’t really even have time to think. It’s about how your body’s going to react and the instinct. Sometimes it’s kill or be killed.”

This has nothing to do with the Phantoms, but all the fighting talk reminded me of this classic video from an OHL game. You've heard of fight or flight? Well, this is the flight. To be fair, though, the man looked pretty crazy and I'm pretty sure I would have reacted in a similar way to the guy at the end.

I'll have another update later tonight following my appearance on the Phantoms Power Hour radio show. Then the team is back on the ice tomorrow, so also be on the lookout for another update then.

Until next time,


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