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It would be a major understatement to say that Andrew Peeke is a little green when it comes to hockey fights.
The Blue Jackets defenseman had never fought in a game prior to this season, so he’s still in the process of learning how it’s done — which can be a dangerous and painful process. Peeke learned that the hard way Thursday at Nationwide Arena, squaring off against Nashville Predators forward Tanner Jeannot in the second period of the Blue Jackets’ 4-3 shootout victory.
Peeke avoided a couple haymakers while scrambling to get ahold of his opponent, but Jeannot landed two punches late – including an overhand right that knocked Peeke’s helmet and dropped him to a knee to end the fight. It lasted longer than Peeke’s first career fight in the Jackets’ season-opening 8-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, which lasted only a couple seconds and ended after Lawson Crouse landing a big right hand over the top.
“It’s kind of like anything, practice makes perfect,” Peeke said. “This season has been my first fights, and the way I play the game, it’s going to be inevitable that it’s going to happen at some points. Just learn from each one and keep going.”
Size and strength aren’t a challenge for Peeke, who’s listed at 6-foot-3, 196 pounds. Inexperience, however, is a challenge.
According to hockeyfights.com, the fight Thursday was Jeannot’s fifth scrap of the season and sixth of his NHL career — following 11 fights over three seasons in the American Hockey League and 12 fights in four years at the junior level in the Western Hockey League.
Peeke is dedicated to playing more physical and delivering hard hits this season, so he knows more fights will happen. That’s how his scrap with Jeannot started, when the Predators forward took exception to Peeke smashing Yakov Trenin into the boards from behind.
Peeke’s physical play and aggression is the biggest reason he’s become a lineup regular for the Jackets, who are on the smaller side for NHL teams. They also lack a true enforcer type like in years past, as Jared Boll has become an assistant coach and Jody Shelley is a TV analyst.
Peeke and Sean Kuraly are the closest they’ve got to filling that role, so learning some tricks of the fighting trade from Boll is now on Peeke’s “to do” list. He spoke after the game Thursday with Boll, a former enforcer who fought 265 times in his career spanning junior leagues to the NHL.
“It’s like anything, you’ve got to work at it to get better at it,” said Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen, who worked on holds and grappling after practices as a forward with the Colorado Avalanche. “We have a pretty good guy on our staff that might be able to help (Peeke) out. Jared Boll. He’s a guy that I think guys should seek out a little bit. Jared’s a guy who can definitely help those guys out in that area.”
Blue Jackets place Justin Danforth on IR, recall Scott Harrington
Practice on Saturday at Nationwide Arena did not include forward Justin Danforth, who was injured late in the third period Thursday against Nashville. Danforth, who left the ice immediately, sustained a sprained MCL in his left knee and is expected to miss six weeks.
The Blue Jackets recalled defenseman Scott Harrington from the Cleveland Monsters after moving Danforth to injured reserve. Barring another move, Harrington will give the Blue Jackets eight active defensemen plus Dean Kukan, who is back on the ice for non-contact practice work while recovering from a fractured wrist.
Danforth, 28, is playing his first NHL season. In 13 games, he had two goals, two assists and four points, earning a spot in the lineup as a speedy, undersized forward who fit nicely into a bottom-six role.
It's a significant loss for the Blue Jackets, who are also without Gregory Hofmann for a stretch — another fast-skating 28-year old in his first NHL season. Hofmann has left the team for personal reasons and has no set timeline for returning.
Blue Jackets excel at Nationwide Arena
The Blue Jackets improved to 10-3-1 at Nationwide Arena this season, which tied franchise records for wins (2016-17 and 2017-18) and points (21 in 2016-17) after that many home games.
It’s a stark contrast to their 5-10-0 record on the road, suggesting there is anecdotal evidence of a home-ice advantage in Columbus tied to things like atmosphere created by having fans in attendance and, perhaps, a goal cannon that annoys opposing teams and visiting media alike.
Nationwide Arena helps too, as loud chants of “C-B-J!” seem to linger in the rafters whenever the home team gains momentum. It happened again Thursday in overtime, as Patrik Laine bombed one-timers on a power play and fans anticipated a goal on each backswing.
“In this building, our fans are so good,” Larsen said afterward. “They give energy to our guys. It was funny. At the beginning of the game, they were quiet … but you could tell by the third they were in it – and it just energizes our group. It’s such an important element at home that we lacked last year and you miss. That’s the fun part about being here in this building, what these fans can do for this group.”
Blue Jackets' Sean Kuraly ready for 300th NHL game
It's not a milestone that will result in Sean Kuraly getting a silver stick or expensive painting, but it is one that gives perspective on his hockey career.
Raised in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, Kuraly rose the ranks from youth hockey in this area to the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets developmental program to playing at Miami University to the NHL — where he spent the first five seasons and 270 games with the Boston Bruins.
Kuraly became a fixture on the Bruins' fourth line as a gritty center with a penchant for scoring key goals in big games before signing with his hometown Blue Jackets last summer as a free agent.
As long as he passes a daily COVID-19 test Saturday morning, he'll reach the 300-game milestone Saturday afternoon wearing a Blue Jackets uniform. That alone could make it a special memory, along with being Jakub Voracek's teammate
"I knew I was close to 300," Kuraly said. "Playing a lot of games is tough to do. It's definitely something to be proud of and continue to build on, but it won't be like the 1,000th that Jake's playing in a couple (games). But it's been fun."
Voracek is three away from his 1,000th NHL game.
"You play 300 and realize how hard it's been, and how seemingly long it takes to get there, and then you see someone next to you who's played 1,000," Kuraly said. "It's an impressive feat. Jake's been a heck of a player and has had a heck of a career. I have a ton of respect for him as a teammate and a player. It's a great accomplishment and something I have a lot of respect for, Jake in particular."
Emil Bemstrom quiet in season debut for Blue Jackets
After waiting two months to play his first game with the Blue Jackets this season, forward Emil Bemstrom wasn’t much of a factor in the victory.
The 22-year old forward, who sustained an oblique injury two days before the season-opener in October, skated 16 shifts for 12:11 of ice time and finished with just one missed shot as the lone statistic on the postgame scoresheet.
Bemstrom recorded his only NHL hat trick against the Predators last season in Columbus, but he looked rusty after having such a long layoff with the injury and a wait period of about three weeks as a healthy scratch. Bemstrom skated with Max Domi and Jack Roslovic again Friday in a short practice, which could be an indicator they’ll stay together Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen not worried about New Year’s Eve
The Blue Jackets often play on New Year’s Eve, which gives players a chance to celebrate the calendar changing the way most people do each year. This year, they’re hosting the Hurricanes on New Year’s Day at 1 p.m. Saturday – which presents players with a bit of a challenge.
Celebrate until midnight with family and friends or go to sleep early to be rested for Saturday’s afternoon start?
“I’ll be in bed by (8:30 p.m.), so it doesn’t ruin my night at all,” Larsen said. “I think it’s perfect. These guys are pros. They understand. It is what it is. New Year’s is – especially now with COVID and different things going on — I don’t think it’s much of a sacrifice this year at all.”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Blue Jackets' Peeke willing to scrap in new physical role