Stop Whining: Fighting Is a Crucial Part of Professional Hockey
How can anyone be mad about this brand of professional awesomeness?
Critics of hockey fighting have their hearts in the right place, but their heads are up their own asses. Of course, black eyes and concussions aren’t good. No shit. The fact is, while hockey fighting may look like barbarians inflicting ruthless haymakers at random, it’s actually a strategic art that holds a good chunk of the game and its players quasi-safely intact.
This isn’t so obvious from an outsider perspective. After the National Post reported a poll indicating that 54% of Canadians believe fighting should be banned from hockey, Jeremy Allingham wrote an article on why hockey fighting is a disgraceto both hockey and, lo and behold, the entire nation of Canada. While I think his intentions were good, his counterarguments to common reasons why hockey fighting is a good idea—which he posited himself—are weak, and ultimately show a minimal understanding of the reality of how the game actually operates.
You see, and as many of you might be well aware, hockey fighting comes with both an unwritten code of conduct and an unspoken respect between most fighters, even the worst rivals who cave each other’s faces in, game after game. So, while Jeremy listed and then refuted seven supposedly common claims for why fighting belongs in hockey, I’ve got to call bullshit. He said the justifications for hockey fighting are “narrow-minded, appealed misguidedly to tradition and, in the end, made very little sense.” Let’s take a look at the claims and see exactly why his rebuttals are wrong.
IT’S PART OF THE GAME
Jeremy said: No it isn't. The game is played between puck drop and whistle. The whistle blows and the play, literally, stops when a fight breaks out.
So, let me get this straight: just because play has stopped, that means it’s not part of the game? What about time-outs? Or speeches in the locker room? Or six hours a day spent doing physiotherapy recouping from an injury? Off-season training? The time between the whistles is a huge part of the game, but by no means all of it. And even though fighting happens outside of actual gameplay, it definitely has a huge influence on the play itself. If there were no fights, let me tell you, there’d be a lot more fearlessness in terms of dealing bullshit moves like elbowing necks, because there’d be no fear that some enforcer would, put simply, enforce your ass.
The way I see it: there will always be violence in hockey, whether it comes through fighting or cheap shots. If we agree that fighting decreases cheap shots, then, ultimately, the result is that violence will occur mostly between consenting players. And most of the time, unspoken hockey fighting conduct dictates that a verbal agreement—or at least a nod of mutual understanding—occurs before a fight even begins. That gets the assault charges out of the friggin’ way, anyhow.
IT PROVIDES A WAY TO CREATE A MOMENTUM CHANGE
Jeremy says: Possibly true, but you can also change the momentum of a game by, you know, scoring, skating, hitting and even being a better team.
Yes, of course, there are LOTS of ways to create momentum. But the key to hockey strategy is knowing exactly what will create the right momentum at the right time. Sometimes, the most appropriate and effective option is fighting. That’s just the way she goes, bud.
ENFORCERS PROTECT THE SUPERSTARS
Jeremy: Firstly, it is the referees' and the league's job to protect the superstars by enforcing the rules with penalties and appropriate suspensions. Also, it was just two years ago that Sidney Crosby (the biggest superstar in the world) was forced to miss the better part of two seasons because of a cheap shot to the head. Fighting neither deterred the hit nor provided any kind of retribution that would stop another similar hit from happening in the future.
So, for starters, the biggest superstar in the world is Beyoncé Knowles, thank you very much. Second, the referees and the league aren’t capable of protecting players in the same way that fighting does. Sure, Sidney Crosby got a cheap shot to the head. And, yeah, fighting didn’t prevent it. But only THAT TIME. Are you telling me that enforcers haven’t helped Sidney Crosby along the way? Because they sure as fuck have. I’d get into Wayne Gretzky’s personal enforcers, but you should already know about them, right?
Gretzky with his enforcer pal Marty.
IF YOU DON’T LIKE FIGHTING IN HOCKEY, YOU CAN’T LIKE BOXING OR MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
Jeremy: Absolutely true. I don't personally enjoy either sport. But even still, both of those sports have their athletes wear padded gloves for protection, and they feature a style of fighting that involves extensive training in defensive tactics that give the fighters’ brains a chance at survival. The fact that there is fighting in hockey, at all, is an absolutely insane proposition in and of itself, but the STYLE of fighting is even batshit crazier. Left hand on jersey. Right hand throwing wild haymakers. If one lands, well, you saw what happened. A young man like Dave Dziurzynski ends up face down on the ice.
Hey bro, hockey fights are a little more involved than just “left hand on jersey” and “right hand throwing wild haymakers.” Holy fuck, you’re on skates. Of course, you’ve got to hold onto the guy’s shoulders. Doesn’t that fight intimacy—the understanding that we’ll support each other while we beat the living crap out of each other—say something about the unique, complex levels of hockey fighting?
Even between enforcers, there’s an unspoken rule that if one guy is playing with injuries, they’ll save the fight for later. Otherwise, it’s considerd an empty fight win. And that’s fucking decent, if you ask me.
FANS LOVE IT
Jeremy: Many do, but the majority would like to see it out of the game, 54% according to a recent poll, as mentioned earlier.
This claim is retarded, but not in a hockey knowledge kind of way. Anyone who’s taken first-year statistics knows that data can easily be slanted toward supporting almost any position.
The poll said 54% of Canadians, not 54% of Canadian hockey fans. Although it might be hard to believe, there are tons of Canadians who are givers of no fucks toward hockey. So, in their case, it’d be insane to not disapprove of fighting in a sport that they’ve either never heard of or don’t care about.
THE GAME WILL DIE IN NON-TRADITIONAL U.S. HOCKEY MARKETS WITHOUT FIGHTING
Jeremy: If the game is only popular in Phoenix, Florida and Columbus because of fighting, then it should never have been there in the first place.
I agree with this one. Chances are, most Floridians don’t understand why fighting is important to the game. And, also, hockey probably shouldn’t be in those cities, for a number of reasons. Namely, it’s basically Cool Runnings on skates.
IT ENTERTAINS THE VULGAR AND THE BLOODTHIRSTY
Jeremy: You’ve got me there.
Come on, guy. You made up that claim yourself and fucking NO ONE uses that as an argument for defending hockey fighting.
It’s still true though. I’ll give you that. But that’s a cheap one.
Don Cherry: the patron saint of hockey fighting and cool, floral-print blazers.
I’ll admit: the spar between Toronto’s Frazer McLaren and Ottawa rookie Dave Dziurzynski was staged and useless and not what hockey fighting should be about. Yes, the rookie got his ass handed to him. But, what Jeremy Allingham failed to mention is that while Dziurzynski is a rookie in the NHL, he’s no spring chicken to fighting on the professional level: he’s thrown down over a dozen times in the AHL.
Jeremy also painted CHL fighting as consisting of 14-, 15-, and 16-year olds duking it out. Not true. While there are very rare exceptions, the CHL is made up of 16- to 20-year olds. Which is still young, mind you. But not too young to learn if, and how, they’re going to fight, especially if they’re going to prepare themselves for the big leagues.
Before I go, one last thing, Jeremy: say what you will about fighting in hockey. But please don’t ever besmirch the character of my main man, Don Cherry.
Them’s fightin’ words. See you on the ice, bud.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @GGRPike