Ah, fighting in hockey. A tradition that has existed in the National Hockey League since it was allowed in 1922, fighting has recently come under fire due to injuries that some players have sustained while talking with their fists, as well as some all-out line-brawls that have made people question whether it has a place in the sport anymore.
Last October, Montreal Canadians enforcer George Parros got into a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr, in which the former slipped and received a serious concussion, which required him to be taken off on a stretcher. Almost immediately after this occurrence, the NHL made a rule change that made the removal of one’s own helmet before a fight a penalty.
Before the Parros incident, experienced NHL tough guys would take off their helmets before fighting another experienced opponent, as a gesture of safety to the other (punching a helmet with a bare hand can cause serious injury). The rule change is aimed at reducing fighting in hockey, but I think that the NHL is “fighting” a losing battle in this regard. Most NHL players have professed to enjoy fighting being in the sport, as it is a tradition, and I find myself agreeing with them.
In a sport where the referees and linesmen can’t be everywhere at once, it is sometimes up to the players to express their displeasure with a hit or a play that they don’t agree with by fighting the one responsible. Some may see this as going above the referees’ and linesmen’s heads to settle matters, but I think it makes sense.
Additionally, fights in hockey can be used to spark a struggling team. Many times when a team is losing badly, one of their enforcers will start a fight with an opposing player in the hopes of sparking a comeback. As crazy as this may seem, it has worked, and will continue to do so in the future. Any proof that one may need to see that players enjoy and understand the necessity of the fighting aspect of hockey can be seen when many fights end. Two players that were trying to break each other’s faces a moment ago will often slap each other on the rear in a gesture of good sportsmanship when the fight ends. This shows that the players often aren’t really trying to hurt their opponents; rather, they know they have a job to do, and have no problem satisfying their team’s need to get something going.
One aspect of fighting in hockey that many disagree on is line brawls. A line brawl occurs when almost everyone (and in some cases, everyone) on the ice decides to fight right off the opening faceoff of the game. Such an incident occurred as recently as Jan. 18 of this year, when the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames got into a fight two seconds into the game. Both teams had started their tough guys, and the announcers seemed to see that it was coming. Once the fighting was over, the game resumed, and pretty much finished without incident. After the game concluded, however, people were quick to heap criticism on the two teams, and to say that such fights had no place in professional hockey.
Personally, I think that fighting (including line brawls) in hockey is great. It allows players to vent their frustration over poor play, and to get their team going when all seems lost. I grew up during the ’90s, when great fighters such as Tie Domi and Donald Brashear would often go toe-to-toe with opponents on an almost nightly basis. I grew up loving every aspect of fighting in hockey, and respect the heck out of everyone who fights in the NHL.
Most people don’t understand the degree of difficulty that fighting while on ice skates takes, but let me tell you, it isn’t an easy thing to do. Any people that say that it doesn’t require any skill are kidding themselves, just as any people that say NHL players hate fighting are. I feel that fighting in hockey is a great tradition, and is one that should continue for as long as the players want it to. If there ever comes a time when the players want it to stop, then by all means it should stop. However, until that happens, I feel that the league should stop trying to change things, and just let the players play.