The highlight of Friday’s San Jose Sharks-Chicago Blackhawks game was a fight between Joe Thornton and Jonathan Toews, the respective captains of their clubs and two of the game’s biggest stars.

Toews was apparently fed up with Thornton needling him whenever the two clubs meet. The two also have a bit of a dust-up history. During a game on February 10, 2012, Thornton threw a couple of punches at Toews’ head during a scrum between the two benches, sparking speculation those punches resulted in a subsequent concussion suffered by the Blackhawks captain.

In the post-game interview, Toews explained the fight was something he felt he needed to do to stand up for himself, adding he was glad he did it.

Thornton isn’t renowned as a fighter, but the 6-4, 215 lb center does have a few tilts under his belt, most of which (according to the good folks at HockeyFights.com) he’s won. The big Shark won this scrap with the over-matched Toews, who was  lucky to emerge relatively unscathed.

Toews’ actions earned praise from some observers. After all, hockey is a “man’s game” (which must come as a surprise to participants in women’s hockey), and as a team captain, Toews must lead by example and earn respect from teammates and opponents like Thornton.

One wonders, however, what the reaction would’ve been if Thornton had landed one good, solid punch to Toews’ head?

Toews has a history of concussions in his short NHL career, missing a total of 28 games to date. By wanting to stand up for himself, he put himself at significant risk for another concussion.

Had that happened, nobody would be singing his praises about earning respect and sticking up for himself. They’d be talking about what a stupid risk he’d taken, and how he’d put his season, possibly even his career, in jeopardy. 

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but Toews might not be so fortunate again.

Toews hopefully got that out of his system, and in future games against the Sharks will focus instead on hurting them where it counts most: on the scoreboard.

The NHL is a much better league with Jonathan Toews demonstrating leadership by playing the game, rather than sidelined indefinitely over a desire to defend a supposed threat to his honor.