The No. 10 Michigan hockey team brought in a permanent goalie coach for the 2015-16 season after struggling with consistency at the position for the past few years. Steve Shields, an ex-Wolverine netminder and a 10-year NHL veteran, is also notorious for being a bit of a brawler. One of Shields’ altercations from the 1990s will stand out to old-time fans everywhere. The Daily talked with Shields on Tuesday to break down the fight.
The following transcript has been edited for continuity.
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It was May 3, 1997 in Buffalo, New York. Shields was hot as the Sabres’ backup goalie, filling in competently for the injured Dominik Hasek in the NHL playoffs. Buffalo won a first-round series against the Ottawa Senators before running into the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Garth Snow.
The Michigan Daily: Buffalo has pretty colorful jerseys back then.
Steve Shields: Oh yeah.
TMD: What was it like for you playing in the playoffs?
SS: It was really nerve-wracking at the — a lot of pressure. Because we have the best goalie in the world — Hasek. He gets hurt, and I’m not going to be as good. So can we win without having our best goalie in there? I played well enough for us to win. It was a great experience playing playoff hockey as a goalie.
With 2:55 to go in the second period, a scrum breaks out in front of the Flyers’net.
SS: I’m in the other end — it’s a five-on-five brawl.
Garth Snow has been egging our team on all year, picking on Hasek. Now he’s involved, so he would outnumber our guys. I start skating down because now he’s in it and I gotta go even it up.
We’re jonesing to go at each other because we’ve been at it all year, and this is the playoffs.
TMD: What’s your attitude when you’re skating toward center ice?
SS: Like, I hope I don’t fall. Now it’s loud and our crowd’s cheering and it’s the playoffs. I can’t fall, and I can’t go down when I get punched.
Shields meets Snow in the corner and the two start jawing at each other before a teammate breaks up the escalating situation.
SS: Bob Boughner is right here — he reminds me that we have no other goalies. We have a third-string goalie but nobody else. So I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll back off.’
But I know he wants to get a piece of me.
Shields skates off to the side, but stays just close enough to continue the action. Before long, the two are back at each other, toppling a linesman in the process.
SS: I’m standing at the blue line giving him the head nod, and now he sees me right here. He comes up to me and pulls my mask off real easy.
TMD: Now it’s on.
SS: Your eyes just kind of roll back into your head and it’s on.
TMD: That poor linesman.
SS: So if I get (Snow’s) mask off right here, I might have the best knockout in history. And I break the top of my knuckle on his mask.
TMD: And you played after that with a broken knuckle?
SS: Yeah, oh yeah. There’s my roommate right there, Wayne Primeau, yelling at him.
TMD: What’s he yelling?
SS: Every bad thing you can imagine. It lasted about a minute, the whole scene, and I was just gassed.
TMD: Did you get a five-minute (major penalty) for that?
SS: I thought I was done, that’s why I kind of sold out in the fight. But now I have to go back.
That was a whole season in the making. Dom (Hasek) was in a scrap earlier on. And I’m friends with (Snow), but when it happens you gotta go.
I’m not going to say I wasn’t excited about it.
TMD: When the refs separate you at the end, what’s going through your head? Is it like, ‘Thank God this is over?’
SS: No — I was so tired. I felt my hand was hurting, and I immediately was thinking, ‘God, if his helmet had popped off earlier, it would have been an all-time great knockout.’ And I was happy I didn’t get punched really good.
TMD: Who won that fight?
SS: Come on, I don’t need to answer that one. There’s a couple I haven’t won, but everyone knows about that one.
Shields’ Sabres lost the series in five games. Even though Shields didn’t get his knockout, the Game 1 goalie fight went down in history as an all-time great playoff moment.
Michigan is 3-0-1 this season and plays its second home series against Robert Morris this weekend.