Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Went To a Fight and a Hockey Game Broke Out!

If you haven't heard, a couple of weeks ago the General Managers of the NHL addressed a growing issue amongst hockey pundits, players and fans alike: Fighting's Place in Hockey. What are we to do about this time-honored tradition? It's in the very fabric of the sport and has existed since its inception. In my opinion, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dealing with this problem.

In January, a young man by the name of Don Sanderson lost his life after he was tripped to the ice during an altercation in a Canadian minor league game and the back of his head hit the ice. The outcry that followed this accident centered around the fact that Sanderson's helmet had been forcibly removed during the fight. The 21 year-old lingered for three weeks in a coma before passing. His sacrifice has sparked a debate that has spread like a brush fire throughout the hockey community. Mr. Sanderson's death should be viewed as an absolute tragedy and not merely an accident.

The GM's and the NHL addressed the issue, especially referring to the "dancing bear show" known as staged fights of the so-called "super-heavyweights", by adding an additional 10-minute misconduct to those who fight immediately after a face-off or if the fight looks premeditated. Fights such as these may even be planned well in advance of the game and to put it simply are a detriment to the spirit of the game. Think about that for a second. Men who get paid hundreds of the thousands of dollars to skate on a rink in front of upwards of 21,000 people, staging a spectacle that relegates them to a measly 2 minutes of ice time out of 60. That my friends, is something that must be eradicated from our game despite what George Laraque says.

Gone are the days of Clark Gillies, Bill O'Reilly and Dave Semenco, true enforcers and policemen for their team's stars. These were men that were not only protection but they could also PLAY THE GAME! That is what is severely missing in this day and age. The only fights that should occur are the ones that flare up out of frustration or protecting a teammate. Not some staged bout that would be better off in the UFC or boxing ring.

The OHL stepped up immediately in the wake of the tragedy and now mandates its players to keep their helmets on during an altercation or they will receive an automatic game misconduct and a one-game suspension. The question really becomes, "Is this enough?" Will this deter players from fighting at all? This official doesn't think so.

Unfortunately, in my experience at the junior and college levels, fighting occurs all too often. These kids (I'll be 25 for perspective), especially in junior are playing upwards of 125 games a season to showcase their skills to move on to the next level. With the amount of fights that occur in junior games (they are allowed to fight once for a 5-minute major and a second fight or fighting under the 5-minute mark in the 3rd is an automatic game misconduct, just like the NHL) these kids are not able to properly show scouts what they are capable of doing.

Something else that is extremely disturbing to me as a fan, player and official is the reactions after hard, clean hits. It's no longer okay to throw that hip check or slam an opposing player to the ice with a good shoulder without some kind of retaliation from the other team. There is no margin for what constitutes a "dirty play" anymore in the "new" NHL. How can the players showcase the essence of a game that requires body contact if they have to walk on eggshells? None of them will back down from a challenge, I guarantee that, but enough is enough.

Frankly, I'm not against fighting being a part of the game. It's exciting for fans and players alike. Is it essential? No. Does it keep everyone honest, knowing that you have to face the music if you pull something (I'm looking at you Sean Avery)? Sure. But it is far from a necessity. Today's game is meant to showcase the skills of the individual player and the team as a whole. Watching a boxing match ensue during a hockey game should be old news at this point.

The coming months will be quite telling with how the national governing bodies handle fighting as a whole. USA Hockey doesn't let players off the hook that easy at the youth levels (automatic game-misconduct) but the juniors up to this point are still under the same rules I described above. I'll be curious to see where the path leads.

Let me know what you think in the Poll at the right and in the Comments Section.

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(Photo courtesy of

Mourning the death of a young man who went well before his time. Our thoughts and prayers will always be with you and your family, Don.

1 comment:

Dominik said...

Gotta say I'm in a similar boat: I don't need to ban fighting, I enjoy it from time to time, but the fights after clean hits are a joke.

I prefer when guys who can play take care of things rather (like Gillies, but even Jackman today, who can skate a regular shift). They tend to pick their spots for when it's warranted by something on the ice -- rather than by appointment or to keep a job the way the one-trick enforcers do.