RALEIGH—Tim Gleason threw the punch heard ’round the hockey world last night. Here’s how it went down.

Tim Gleason didnt deserve a game misconduct penalty for punching Nikolai Kulemin in Mondays 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Raleigh.
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  • Tim Gleason didn’t deserve a game misconduct penalty for punching Nikolai Kulemin in Monday’s 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Raleigh.

The first period had just ended. The Maple Leafs had scored with eight seconds left to tie the game at one. There was a scrum against the boards in front of the Canes’ bench—a mass of players from both teams, jawing at each other, clutching handfuls of each others’ jerseys. Pretty run-of-the-mill slight boiling over of tempers.

Kulemin initiated contact with Gleason at the edge of the scrum and rabbit-punched him in the face several times. Gleason didn’t at first retaliate. But after sustaining three or four punches of increasing intensity, Gleason dropped his gloves and delivered a single uppercut, breaking Kulemin’s nose. Kulemin went limp and covered his face as Gleason eased his fall to the ice.

Kulemin did not return to the game. Neither did Gleason. The Canes defender was issued a game misconduct penalty, which carries with it an automatic ejection.

Fights happen in hockey, and the refs usually issue five-minute fighting majors to each player, as they did when Chad LaRose and Clarke MacArthur squared off during the first period Monday.

But this Gleason/Kulemin event was a little different because of “the code.” An unwritten code determines to a large extent who fights and how they do it. This instance contained a few deviations.

First, Kulemin never actually dropped his gloves. When two players go at it, they’ve almost always verbally offered and accepted the challenge, flicked their gloves to the ice, and squared off. This was a bit ambiguous, though, as Kulemin was punching Gleason with his gloves still on.

Second, and more importantly, Kulemin is a scoring forward and a lightweight—this was his first career fight, if you can really call it that—and Gleason is a defenseman and a middleweight. Although Gleason’s no enforcer—a player whose primary job description is to fight—he has plenty of donnybrooks in his past and is perhaps the hardest hitter on the team.

True enforcers are uncommon in the NHL these days as the salary cap has forced general managers to make every roster spot count as much as possible. The Canes have no enforcer. Daniel Carcillo of the Philadelphia Flyers exemplifies the salary cap-era enforcer, dropping gloves frequently as well as contributing offense on a legitimate scoring line.

It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t fight outside of your class unless you’re the smaller guy and you really want to go. Gleason has 34 pounds and a lot of ruggedness on Kulemin. For what it’s worth, Gleason said Tuesday that he was going to call Kulemin to apologize about the nose—but not the punch.

So Monday’s fisticuffs have raised the question: Did Gleason break the code?

Almost unanimously, the answer is no.

After the game, Canes coach Paul Maurice reasoned “Timmy had taken two or three punches to the face area. That’s usually an invitation for a guy like that.” And Leafs coach Ron Wilson agreed.

“They were in a fight. He got it right in the face. The appropriate action happened. It wasn’t a sucker punch or anything. Kulie was throwing punches with his gloves on and Gleason dropped his gloves and beat him to the punch.”

Kulemin had plenty of time before Gleason’s punch to realize “Hey, wait a minute, this is Tim Gleason I’ve paired off with here. Maybe I should just grab jersey and stop punching and I can go sharpen my skates in the locker room.” Gleason took several punches—nothing that would dislocate a jaw, but nothing that could be confused with brushing crumbs out of your beard either—before he dropped Kulemin. The broken nose was incidental.

If anyone broke the code, it was Kulemin. In a scrum, you grab the shoulders of the other guy, put an angry expression on your face, and say a few things about the other guy’s sister until the refs pry you apart and send you to your respective locker rooms. It’s posturing, like the competitive dances that some bird species do to prove their virility during mating season. But Kulemin kept popping Gleason’s head back.

You can watch the fight (it’s not visibly bloody), snicker at Kulemin skating doubled over into the boards because he was holding a towel over his face and couldn’t see where he was going, and hear a bit of Toronto sportstalk commentary, and also read a TSN article about it all, including prodigious fan comments and opinions.