Stu Bickel recalls prior Rangers line brawl with Devils, praises Matt Rempe in podcast interview

Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Stu Bickel knows a thing or two about being in a line brawl with the New York Rangers against the New Jersey Devils. Twelve years before Matt Rempe and Co. got into one with their Hudson River rivals, Bickel was in the middle – literally – of an opening face-off brawl against the Devils at Madison Square Garden

“That was the loudest I ever heard a building, as a player or coaching. It was crazy how loud it got immediately at that puck drop,” Bickel said on the Forever Blueshirts podcast. “[Ryan Carter] got a few in on me and I remember I got up and tagged him with a good one. It was a good fight.”

That Bickel, a defenseman by trade, was even lined up against Carter, a center, at the opening face-off is a story within itself. John Tortorella, the Rangers coach at the time, started his three toughest players in that March 19, 2012 game, regardless of position. He told Bickel to take the face-off so that he’d line up with Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust against the Devils bruisers.

“After ‘Torts’ came in and read the linueps and said who they were starting (Carter, Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton) and that I was going to take the draw, I remember I went and talked to ‘Prusty’ and ‘Rupper’ and kind of sort out what was going on,” Bickel recalled. “What do I do on the draw? I had never really taken face-offs before and they’re like ‘Don’t worry about the face-off.’ Me and ‘Carts’ hadn’t really talked about it (fighting) beforehand. So, right as we got up to the face-off I told him ‘we’re going, right?’ and he said ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

“It kind of came quick. I didn’t know for sure if he was going to drop right away or if we were going to take the face-off, go a couple seconds and then drop ‘em. I snapped it back and went straight forward. It was kind of awkward but I ended up getting the win! So, 1-0 in my career.”

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Stu Bickel says Rangers’ Matt Rempe in ‘different class’ as NHL tough guy

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Stu Bickel squares off in 2011-12 season — Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

That wild tilt in 2012 featured six players engaging in fights. That pales to the 2024 line brawl last week when all 10 skaters paired off. Eight of the combatants, including Rempe and New Jersey forward Kurtis MacDermid, received game misconducts.

“I used to fight MacDemid all the time when he was in Ontario and I was in San Diego (in the American Hockey League), and actually we’ve boxed together in the summer,” Bickel said. “So, I’m pretty familiar with him, also a super tough guy. That was a good scrap those two put on.”

Bickel, who played two seasons with the Rangers and one with the Minnesota Wild, is now an assistant coach with Coachella Valley, the Seattle Kraken’s AHL affiliate. He had nine assists and 108 penalty minutes in 51 games as a rookie with the Blueshirts in 2011-12.

Though living in California now, Bickel is well aware of what’s happening across the country, with Rempemania running wild on Broadway.

“I don’t know the kid at all. Obviously, a tough guy,” Bickel shared “He came in hot, fighting all the toughest guys right off the hop, which I’m sure was difficult for him, can’t imagine those pregame naps were too easy to fall asleep. He’s kind of in a different class, to be honest. He’s fighting all the toughest guys in the League. A lot of respect for that. The New York fans appreciate that brand of hockey and so they’re always going to appreciate a guy that’s willing to stand up for his teammates and stand up for the team.”

Bickel had plenty more to say about Rempe and how important it is for the rookie to play a complete game, along with thoughts on Tortorella, The Garden and his Rangers tenure, as well as his current coaching career in a sit down with Forever Blueshirts. Listen to the entire interview here.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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