The argument for fighting in hockey is twofold: that the threat of a beating serves as a deterrent, policing dirty hits against skill players, and that a good, rousing rumble can fire up an uninspired team. That hockey has neither gotten more dangerous nor less inspired as fighting had decreased dramatically would seem to anecdotally puncture both arguments. But Sunday night’s massive slugfest between Detroit’s Luke Witkowski and Minnesota’s Nick Seeler might’ve come the closest in years to justifying the practice.

Witkowski made a run on a knee-to-knee hit on Zach Parise that barely missed; you can see it at eight seconds in the video above. “It could have been ugly, really ugly,” Parise said. “Luckily, I got out of the way.”

Witkowski was immediately squared up to by Seeler, who made his NHL debut last month, and the two started trading haymakers in a decidedly throwback exchange.

“I just think both teams were shocked,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk. “I haven’t seen a fight like that in a long time. That was nuts.”

Parise appreciated Seeler’s gesture.

“I think I owe him a steak dinner after that scrap,” he said. “That was old-school. I had a front-row seat for it. The sounds that were coming out from that were nasty.”

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The Wild were down 0-1 and looking flat when the fight happened; they scored on the ensuing power play, Parise added another three minutes later, and went on to win handily, 4-1. Was it the fight that flipped the switch? They sure think so. “Guys were on the bench and they were saying, ‘We gotta go now,’” Bruce Boudreau said. “‘If we can’t get motivated for this, then we’re in trouble.’”

The fight itself was the thing, though: two heavyweights throwing big blows and disdaining defense is the sort of thing that went down in the minors in the ‘70s. Boudreau remembers; he was there. Watching safely from the bench.

“Every team had five of those guys,” he said. “So they would just go like that every night. Not me, by the way.”

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