Fighting. The one thing that sets hockey apart from any other team sport. Players are allowed to drop the gloves during a game and settle issues with fists rather than words, and for the most part, it’s acceptable. No other sport lets athletes duke it out while only serving a five-minute major penalty. Sure, that makes the game interesting and they can be exciting to watch, but are we getting to a point where we don’t need a fight to make the game fun to watch?
Fighting in hockey has been around as long as the game itself, with the first recorded fights taking place as early as the 1917-1918 season. Hockey fights can be both spur of the moment or a planned event between the players referred to as “The Code.” When Zenon Konopka played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, he told a story where on the ice, a player nudged him with their stick and asked if he wanted to fight. Konopka declined, citing stitches in his hands as his reasoning. When he turned around, he realized his potential dance partner was Bill Geurin. Konopka said that he would be honored to fight Geurin, but Guerin said that he did not want to fight him if he was injured, thus avoiding any aggravation of that injury. With a little more convincing from Konopka, the fight was on. The roots run deep, and changing such an integral part of the game is a hard pitch, but it seems as though the NHL has been working on this for sometime. Teams used to have a single player that was all about the fight and not out on the ice for his natural ability to play the game. In 1972, the Philadelphia Flyers had a line of players known as the Broad Street Bullies, and opposing teams knew a game against Philly would not be a walk in the park. Recently, players known as enforcers, pests, tough guys, and goons were your go-to guys to mix it up with the other team in a fight. The problem with this is that the NHL is currently a fast game where a team cannot afford to have a one-dimensional player that doesn’t contribute to the scoresheet in some way.
Don’t get me wrong, as a young fan, nothing made my night like watching a good hockey fight. Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalance versus Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings had to be one of the best. While that was exciting for me at a young age, there have been fights that could be described as stomach-churning. A few years ago, Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs fought George Perros of the Montreal Canadiens, which ended in Perros plummeting to the ice face first, where he was left for his teammates and trainers to tend to him. A few of the main reasons for dropping the gloves in hockey is to spark your team, to make something positive happen for your guys, and to shift momentum in your favor. But at what cost? Concussions and brain damage have been hot button topics in multiple sports, and hockey is no different. One rule to help make hockey fights more palatable is Rule 46.6 in regards to helmets, where if a player removes their helmet before a fight, he will receive an additional two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. The loophole to this rule is if the helmets are removed during the fight, no additional penalty is assessed. This is known as the “gentlemen’s agreement.” Recently, Cedric Paquette of the Tampa Bay Lightning fought Nathan Beaulieu of the Montreal Canadiens. Helmets were not removed, and most of the punches thrown landed on the helmets of Paquette and Beaulieu. The fight itself was pretty unentertaining until Paquette’s visor was punched off his helmet. It may just be me, but it seems pointless to be in a fight if you’re just going to end up punching protective equipment.
The NHL has been evolving for the better. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the fans evolve as well. Doing more damage to one’s hand by hitting another player’s helmet is senseless, and you run the risk of losing said player for weeks due to a broken hand. I have heard the saying, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out,” more times then I would like to admit, and there are plenty of reasons to love hockey without a fight. For player safety alone, I think we can do without fighting in hockey. In closing, Rocky Balboa himself said, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.” Follow Stephen on Twitter
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