Remembering when current Vegas GM George McPhee punched a Blackhawks coach in the face
The incident occurred after a 1999 preseason game.
Sometimes, the Internet gods smile down and reward a pointless, never-ending journey through the old hockey highlights that are all over YouTube.
While researching this update to our Former Blackhawk of the Week series, I stumbled across a video from one heck of a melee from the 1999-00 season opener between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
Although this game was broadcast long before the advent of high-definition television, Blackhawks coach Lorne Molleken has a noticeable black eye:
We’ll get to the nearly 20-minute clip from that Hawks/Sharks game in a moment. But first, let’s explain how that shiner got under Molleken’s eye (hint: current Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee and his fist play a starring role).
McPhee was the GM for the Washington Capitals in 1999 when the Blackhawks faced the Capitals in Columbus for a preseason game in late September. It was a brutal game, with five fights and 32 penalties combining for 113 penalty minutes. McPhee wasn’t happy with the enforcer-laden lineup iced by Molleken in that game.
So McPhee confronted Molleken outside of the Chicago locker room.
The confrontation became a fistfight, with McPhee landing a punch that gave Molleken a black eye, while McPhee had a cut on his face and a torn suit sleeve, once the Chicago players came to the defense of their coach.
Molleken offered no apologies for the way his team played in that game against Washington, either, as Chicago Tribune reporter KC Johnson wrote after the incident:
“I just thought we played an aggressive style of game,” Molleken said Sunday night. “That’s what our team is all about. But I’m not going to make any comment on the incident. The league is investigating the situation, and that’s all I’d like to say at this time.”
The NHL came down hard on McPhee, suspending him for a month and fining him $20,000. The ban prevented McPhee from attending games or practices or even walking into the team offices. Along with that penalty, Washington coach Ron Wilson was fined $5,000 for telling reporters that he wished he would’ve known about McPhee’s plan to confront Molleken ahead of time because he would’ve been close behind and had his players follow. Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz was find $3,000 for suggesting that the front offices of both teams could put this matter to rest by, as the New York Times article linked above said, “locking themselves in a room, turning out the lights and swinging away.”
But McPhee may have had a point.
In Chicago’s season opener, Molleken put together a lineup loaded with players you’d want on your side in a bar fight but not necessarily a hockey game. Noted enforcers like Brad Brown, Mark Janssens and Bob Probert suited up for the Hawks in a game Chicago ultimately lost 7-1. Janssens would end up with a comical 47 penalty minutes in the game, nearly half of the 104 that Chicago amassed that night (San Jose had 99).
Here’s the video from that fight-filled affair:
The first 6:45 of the video shows the three fights that served as the appetizer for what would become the main course. With 1:15 to go in the game, and the Hawks down 6-1 (a theme that’d be common that season), Janssens bowls over San Jose goalie Steve Shields and all hell breaks loose. The players mobbed each other near the Sharks net with players squaring off for multiple fights. Blackhawks goaltender Steve Passmore skated across the entire rink to join the fracas and later squared off with Shields for a few rounds of a goalie fight.
The 1999-00 Blackhawks gooned their way to 78 points, finishing third in the Central Division and missing the playoffs by nine points. Molleken was fired 24 games into the season and has not been a head coach in the NHL since.
McPhee remained with the Capitals until 2014 and then took over the Golden Knights in 2016, guiding them to a breakout debut season in the NHL.