Volume 93, Issue 30

Friday, October 22, 1999


Fights in hockey - both sides of the coin

Fights in hockey - both sides of the coin

It's not even good fighting.

I could understand the attraction if National Hockey League players whipped out nunchuks, started throwing stars and flipped around like ninjas. I'd even understand if the players twirled their sticks around in front of them or charged at each other with sticks extended like some Medieval jousting contest.

But no, what we get instead are two goofs, tippy-toeing around each other, until one of them finds the balls to grab the other by the jersey. What happens next is a scene right out of the Keystone Cops – two players swinging wildly at one another, occasionally making contact

Meanwhile, these same players are just praying for the linesmen to break it up before somebody actually gets hurt.

The NHL is the only professional sports league which allows fighting, an antiquated custom which has worn out its welcome. In every other professional sport, fisticuffs are met with ejection from the game and subsequent suspension from future games. The NHL, however, sits the player down for five minutes – harsh.

Proponents of fighting claim it eliminates high sticking. Without fighting, they say, players will bash each other about the head with their sticks. Huh?

Think about this for a second. If the players don't fight, they will hit each other in the face with their sticks. Compelling argument. These players have so little respect for one another, they would actually jeopardize each other's careers with their blunt instruments of destruction.

Our society disapproves of fighting. If a brawl broke out on the street most would be inclined to phone the police. So why is fighting in hockey condoned and cheered?

Hockey fans have a certain amount of bloodlust. By watching and cheering on a fight, we release that desire vicariously through the athletes.

Conversely, we disapprove of random fighting because it hits a little too close to home. Watching a fight is one thing, being involved is something which most of us aren't ready for.

Proponents of fighting also argue it allows the player an outlet for the tension and aggression which builds over the course of a game. Personally, I don't see why the players can't relieve their tension between periods – it's a lot healthier than pounding the hell out of someone.

I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.

This clever saying used to describe, what some say, were hockey's glory days. A time when teams like Philidelphia's "Broad Street Bullies" were able to muscle their way to Stanley Cup glory. A time when guys like Bob Probert, Tie Domi and Dave Semenko were treated like heroes protecting the talented players of the league, like policemen on skates. A time when bench clearing brawls were just another way to get to know everyone on the other team.

(Sigh) The good old days.

Those days are all but gone and the only real remnants of hockey's illustrious "put 'em up" past is a very weathered Probert and a seldom played Domi. Where did the National Hockey League go wrong?

Don't the NHL big wigs know the reason their all-stars are currently injured is because there is no fighting? Don't they see that without fighting, players are more apt to use their sticks rather than their fists?

Obviously not, because with the instigator rule as well as strict punishment in the form of suspensions and fines, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the boys have all but put an end to the fighting.

As a direct result, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell has been extremely busy sorting out infractions ranging from an assortment of stick work incidences to various hitting from behind episodes. All can be traced directly to a lack of respect players have for one another on the ice. A respect which used to be upheld on its own in the 1920-40s, but then was upheld with the help of NHL tough guys during the 1950s to the late '80s.

NHL officials will argue, in their whiny voices, "It let's the really talented players flourish while cutting down on guys who don't know how to play hockey and just know how to fight."

If a more open style of play means Anaheim's sniper Paul Kariya receiving yet another concussion while Dallas' Mike Modano gets run from behind again because there are no policemen in the league, I say let them fight.

And if Bettman really believes fighters have no talent, let's see him try to throw haymakers at someone with one hand while holding someone's jersey with the other and standing on two thin pieces of steel.

If nothing else, it's the way the game has always been played and is supposed to be played. So, in the words of fighters and Don Cherry – Let's go!

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Copyright The Gazette 1999