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A good hockey fight's all about timing

J.T. Brown, right, is at a size disadvantage but holds his own against Joseph Cramarossa.
J.T. Brown, right, is at a size disadvantage but holds his own against Joseph Cramarossa.
Published Feb. 7, 2017

TAMPA — There's a shiner under J.T. Brown's left eye, a reminder from Saturday's fight with the Ducks' Joseph Cramarossa.

But it's not like anyone who watched the old-school bout will soon forget it.

Brown — the 5-foot-10 wing — matched Cramarossa — 2 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier — punch for punch. Brown then wrestled Cramarossa to the ice, providing a spark in the Lightning's 3-2 shootout win.

"Whenever a guy stands in there and fights, everybody should be motivated by it," center Brian Boyle said. "You put yourself on the line, especially the way (Brown's) fight turned out. He took some punches, that was for us. We were sliding. When you talk about well-timed, for the season, it was very well-timed."

The Lightning (23-24-6) is literally fighting for its playoff life. Tampa Bay ranks third in the league in fights with 23, behind only Dallas (24) and Anaheim (33), according to hockeyfights.com. Brown leads the way with five, and his bout Saturday befitted what turned into one of the Lightning's most physical and impressive performances in recent memory.

"I'm small but I'm willing to fight," Brown said. "It's part of my game and part of helping the team. If a fight or scrum happens, I'm going to be one of the first guys to be in there."

Brown makes sure to be prepared. Before each game, he checks hockeyfights.com to find out who are the other team's top fighters. He'll spend 20-30 minutes watching their fights, trying to pick up tendencies.

"If he's going to throw a left, you want to be ready for it," Brown said.

With Cramarossa's clips, Brown noticed he would sometimes use his left hand with punches. Cramarossa also takes time to set up before a bout. "He likes to wait," Brown said.

Brown thought about waiting until later in the game to fight. Timing is one of the most important parts of fights, Brown said, as you don't want to lose momentum for your team. The Lightning had just scored midway through the first period, so that's not an ideal time.

But this bout was brewing between Brown and Cramarossa from a previous shift, when they were in a scrum in front of the net. Kevin Bieksa had cross checked Brown, who responded. Cramarossa stepped in. Brown asked him to fight.

"We said, 'Next shift,' " Brown said.

The next time Cramarossa jumped over the boards, he yelled, "Brown!" Brown was coming on the ice, too. He could have passed but didn't want to seem like he was ducking a fight.

"I'm like, 'All right, now is the time,' " Brown said.

Brown said it was a fun fight, a good one. It was more reminiscent of classic bouts from the 1980s than the typical clutching and grabbing in today's game. "We were both giving some good shots back and forth," he said. "Stood right in there."

Even if it meant some bruising on Brown's face.

"We had just scored so I kinda put the onus on me that it had to be a good one," Brown said. "More times than not, because of the situation, I didn't want to turn momentum in their favor. I took it upon myself to make sure it was going to be a good one, a lively fight. A lot more punches thrown, less defense.

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"I was thinking about it right away right after we scored whether I should go or not. I went with it and thankfully it did energize us and the crowd."

And his teammates.

Times correspondent Rick Brown contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.