To be fair, the Flyers met with Fotiu, in New York Monday afternoon, hours before the Brown-Sandstrom incident. But once it happened, they still had time to call the whole thing off.
Clarke, after accompanying Brown to the hearing in Toronto, stayed to watch a junior game and did not make himself available for an explanation. He left that obligation upon coach Mike Keenan, who did the best he could.
"One thing for sure, Nick's going to generate a lot of enthusiasm," said Keenan.
Asked if he thought that was lacking in his 3-5-2 team, the coach said. ''Yes, I think so."
The truth is, Fotiu, who was let go by Calgary at the end of last season, has lasted 12 NHL seasons just as much because he's a good guy as because he can fight. A native-born Staten Islander, he was one of the most popular Rangers ever, both with the fans and in the locker room. Fotiu has given countless hours to children's charities and has turned the flipping of souvenir pucks into the stands at the end of warmups into his personal trademark.
Although he tallied 145 penalty minutes with the Flames last year, he had only one fight. Most of his minutes came on misconducts for wrestling and tugging while other toughs with shorter fuses duked it out. "I'll do what I have to do," said Fotiu after his first workout with the Flyers yesterday afternoon. Mostly, it looks like the Flyers will just have him be Nicky.
Keenan, reminded that Chico Resch probably would have been happy to take a pay cut to come back and be Chico, nodded. "But it was time to develop some young goalies," he said.
The pupose of hiring Fotiu is not to hold back any young players but to have him warm some of them up. One notices these things more, of course, when the team is going poorly, but the Flyers are a fairly serious group of young men coached by an extremely serious coach. They could probably use a "aw, hang in there" kind of guy.
It's hard to imagine any other kind of role for Fotiu, although he will be expected to defend the Flyers' turf while Brown, almost certain to draw at least a 10-game suspension, does time at hockey's Leavenworth.
"He neutralized the other team's goons," said the Flames' Gary Suter.
"He made everybody in the locker room feel more comfortable," said Calgary defenseman Neil Sheehy. "Nobody wanted to test him. He was our nuclear deterrent."
Fotiu, more so than others of the type euphemistically labeled as ''enforcers," really has played the role of the answerer more than the aggressor. This was true even when he is was in his fistic prime.
The Flames got him from the Rangers for a sixth-round draft choice in March 1986 for the express purpose of matching Edmonton's muscle. But after Fotiu made some contributions to Calgary's upset victory over the Oilers and its drive to the Stanley Cup finals, general manager Cliff Fletcher kept the left wing on another year. In part, this was because Fotiu was so well-liked by his teammates.
"I was asked by one reporter whether Fotiu was here to fight," Keenan said. "I don't think Nick has had three fights in the last three years."
The Flames dragged their decision to retain Fotiu for a third year well into the summer before deciding to let him go. He called Edmonton and was invited to the Oilers' training camp. At its conclusion, Fotiu said he was offered a job.
"I didn't think I wanted to take my family out there," he said yesterday. ''So Glen (Sather) offered me a playing-assistant coaching job in Moncton. I wasn't too excited about picking up and going there. So I decided to hang loose and see what happened."
Fotiu and his agent, Larry Rauch, had conversations with the Rangers again, but general manager Phil Esposito hedged on a commitment. The Flyers didn't.
"It's funny how I'd end up here in Philly," Fotiu said. "But except for New York and New Jersey, this is the closest place to Staten Island."
Fotiu was on skates yesterday for the first time since the end of Edmonton's training camp. He is unlikely to see action tonight in Hartford (7:30, Channel 57) when the Flyers attempt to break their four-game winless streak.
ICEBERGS: Kerry Huffman will be out 7-to-10 days with a left knee sprain he suffered falling over Scott Mellanby at New Jersey Tuesday night . . . Dave Brown's sentence will be handed down on Monday . . . This is the first Ron Hextall appearance in Hartford since he broke Sylvain Turgeon's wrist during a pregame warmup during the the Canada Cup. Turgeon has maintained it was intentional, and the local citizenry has been well prepared for Hextall's visit. "I love it when they get worked up like that about me," Hextall said yesterday. "It plays right into my hands." . . . Flyers return home to play Los Angeles tomorrow night (7 p.m., PRISM).