This week in Naples, Florida the NHL General Managers will engage in three days of talks surrounding the civility of fighting in the NHL. They will discuss a proposed mandate on players keeping their helmets on during fights. This issue was raised again, when NHL executive Colin Campbell said it was time to “ask the question” about whether fighting should be banned in the NHL. Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton raised many eye brows when he stated that,” It’s a fabric of the game right now, but every day society advances from a macro standpoint, I think it becomes more archaic.” Lawton went on to say that it may take five years, perhaps ten, but the legalized fighting in the NHL will be eliminated. I, for one, hope he is right!
I have been a hockey player, coach and fan for all of my 49 years on this earth. I consider myself a purist at heart believing that “The Team” is always more important than the individual. This is what makes hockey different from all other sports. Individualism is not tolerated in any manner.
Fighting is defined as, “engaging in battle or in single combat; an attempt to defend one self against or to subdue, defeat, or destroy an adversary.” It is, by nature a barbaric individual pursuit and it has no place in hockey.
NHL hockey is a stunning visual sport that is filled with graceful athletes showcasing their amazing skills and idyllic abilities. That is enough for me. I don’t need it interrupted by a few moments showcasing individuals that have no emotional control and must adhere to some foolish “code” to defend the honor of a teammate. The best retort to a rules infraction is to put the puck in the back of the net while the offending player is sitting in the penalty box. Why is this wonderful game the only one that allows its participants to fight each other?
Many will say that fighting in hockey sells tickets and fills stadiums. If this is the case, let’s go all the way and “Jerry Springerize” the game and schedule a match after each period. The NHL could promote a “David and Goliath” match featuring the diminutive Martin St. Louis versus the “Slovakian Giant” Zdeno Chara when the Lightning battles the Bruins. The league could create the “Battle of the Best” presenting the Penguins Sid “The Kid” Crosby practicing pugilism against the Capitals Alex “The Great” Ovechkin. Does this sound ridiculous? Of course it does. Fighting does not sell tickets or fill the stands; it simply interrupts the ebb and flow of the game, while alienating real sports fans.
If fighting is so important to the selling of the sport, why does the NHL promote its most skilled, non-combative participants Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin? Why not promote the fighters/enforcers of the NHL world like Donald Brashear? Why? Because fighting does not sell! Passionate, tough, skilled players do. Quick, name the “enforcers” on the 2008 Stanley Cup combatant Penguins and Red Wings. Right! There aren’t any. Skill and team concept win, not brutal, individualistic play.
Finally, fighting in the NHL promotes fighting in youth hockey. The idea that you are not a “man” if you back away from a fight has become prevalent among youth coaches, referees and unfortunately, parents. Our kids do not grow up learning how to protect themselves during a brawl. Fighting in hockey is dangerous and has had terrible consequences. Yes, this is where my feelings about fighting in the NHL are jaded. When I was twelve years old, one of my teammates was challenged to a fight and began to back away from his opponent. Despite this being a rules infraction the referee was heard saying, “Let it go, it’s time for him to grow up.” After the official refused to step in and stop the skirmish from occurring, my teammate was hit in the temple with what looked like a harmless punch. He crumpled to the ice and began to shake violently. I can never get the image of his eyes rolling back into his head and the froth coming from his mouth out of my mind. Finally he stopped shaking and was simply, very still. My teammate and friend died on the ice that he loved so much that day with his parents, friends, teammates and hockey officials watching. Yes, the doctor said it was a “freak” accident that he passed away, but was it really?
By allowing/promoting fighting and adhering to “The Code,” the NHL must realize that our youth are watching and mimicking the players every move. Most of all, the league needs to grab hold of the reality that they influence youth coaches and officials also. If the referee would have done his job and stepped in, my friend may still be alive today.
I have intentionally left out any fighting images that you usually see in my postings. I refuse to promote fighting in any way. I consider myself a hockey purist and “tough guy” but I never dropped the gloves or allowed any of the players I coached to do so. Being a “man” or a “grown-up” means playing by the rules, playing hard and has nothing to do with dropping the gloves.