Hockey fighting fuels debate

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Daley: Fighting has always been a part of hockey. It’s part of the tradition and undoubtedly adds to the entertainment level of the game. Fighting contributes to the value of hockey as a spectator sport, making things more interesting and exciting.

Graves: A lot of people think that fighting in hockey makes it exciting but there is a lot less fighting in the postseason, including the Stanley Cup finals, which are arguably the most exciting games in hockey. Furthermore, tournaments like the World Juniors, where fighting is not allowed, are some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen.

Daley: Any competitive sport is going to involve tension and aggression; I would prefer aggression be contained to the ice at game time as opposed to an altercation after, or even shit-talking in the media. Retaliation after a cheap hit is unavoidable; fighting on the ice is an outlet to settle what a two-minute penalty can’t fully deter.

Graves: I agree it should be settled on the ice but I think there is a legal way to take out one’s aggression, such as checking. I think if there were stricter penalties for fighting, people would be less likely to take that route. In my opinion, aggression in hockey generally won’t carry on outside the rink; if someone has a beef, it usually stops at the end of the game when you go your separate ways and there is not really an opportunity to take it any farther.

Daley: The fighting that does occur, for the most part, is not a barbaric kind of fight; it’s competitive aggression between two individuals who have made the choice to go toe-to-toe. Last week Jordin Tootoo and Steve Begin were circling in anticipation of a fight and they gestured to each other to see if they were okay with leaving their helmets on. It’s obvious that these guys aren’t trying to seriously hurt each other; they are choosing to fight. No one is being unexpectedly attacked and it’s usually a pretty even one-on-one.

Graves: While there is a mutual respect between hockey players, they should also have the ability to control their aggression. There shouldn’t be a need to fight it out when you can legally hit in the game. I also think there are situations where a guy like Sidney Crosby fights and there are consequences, not only for the two guys scrapping but for the entire team.

Daley: That segues nicely into my explanation as to why fighting in hockey can actually be beneficial to the game. Guys like Crosby and Wayne Gretzky who are often not scrappers, for the sake of how valuable they are to their team, will be hunted and taken down cheaply if guys can get away with it. Part of allowing fighting in hockey ensures that players will monitor themselves and their actions on the ice. Essentially, the threat of having to face the opposing team’s enforcer will result in a much less dirty hockey game.

Graves: I don’t think standing up for your team is a good enough justification compared to the risk involved here, especially because there is a trend for players to remove their helmets when fighting on the ice. Rule 56 of the National Hockey League rulebook says that if a player removes his face shield before instigating an altercation, the additional unsportmanslike penalty will not apply. This could encourage players to remove their helmets to avoid an extra penalty and that is where the dangers come in.

Daley: There are also a lot of successful regulations for fighting in hockey. For example, the instigator rule calls for a five-minute major if a player attempts to start a fight with another player who doesn’t want to fight. Hockey fights don’t victimize any guy who doesn’t make the choice to participate. However, in light of the increased dangers I do believe it is important for the NHL to examine the safety of fights when they resort to wrestling on the ice. For the most part, this is where head injuries occur. A suggestion then is to impose more regulations on the fight itself. It wouldn’t hurt to consider requiring players to keep their helmets on. There are a number of plausible solutions to minimize the risk of serious injury in hockey fights. By all means, the NHL should consider these and take action to improve the safety of the game. But a complete ban on fighting in hockey is far too drastic.

Graves: I don’t think there is an alternative to a ban on all fighting in hockey. It is either banning it or leaving it as it is. These men are usually bigger than linesman; so if they’re ready to fight, there is not much a linesman can do. There is no way for a linesman or referee to regulate fights once they start. Guys get knocked down; it is a reality of fighting. Bottom line, people are being injured, people are dying and there is no need for it. The rules of hockey are you shoot a puck into the net and get a goal. There is no place for fighting. That’s not what hockey is.

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