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On fighting in hockey

Thursday, 25 February 2010

I love hockey. Obviously, growing up in Canada I’m biased, but: It is an active and skilled sport which has continuous play where baseball, curling and football aren’t or don’t. A real gem of hockey is a breathtakingly long stretch of all-out fast back and forth play. The build up to an at-bat in baseball pales. A full-field punt return in football doesn’t come close. Basketball, soccer and rugby have continuous play, as well. Perhaps I prefer hockey because of the speed you don’t get in the others. Undoubhtedly part of it is the general love for hockey in Canada. Perhaps part of it is the physicalness. And here is where there is a problem – at least in the NHL and the Canadian minor leagues (WHL, OHL, et al) that I’m exposed to.

By “physicalness” I mean cleanly knocking a player off the puck, a defenceman rubbing a charging forward out on the boards, the battle for positioning in front of the net. To many, including Gary Bettman, the physicalness includes fighting. To Gary it is “part of the game”. That’s crap. Somehow the Vancouver 2010 Olympic hockey games have provided great spectacle without punches (in the games I’ve seen anyway). Somehow soccer, basketball and football (heated games, all) maintain fan fanaticism with fighting rules that all but remove it from the game.

It is also sad. Sad because I have a two year old son. Why do I need to explain the inconsistency to my son: hockey is a great game, except for the immaturity of the fighting. An immaturity that is abetted and celebrated at the top-level. Hockey fighting isn’t even comparable to boxing. It is ultimate fighting. It is something children should be educated away from, not implicitly taught to emulate.

Gary on fighting:

From a player safety standpoint, what happens in fighting is something we need to look at just as we need to look at hits to the head,

Certainly player safety is important, but this is a deflection. Fighting in hockey isn’t about the safety issue, it is about the message to the immature – from the 2 year-olds to the 30-something neanderthals you sometimes encouter in recreational hockey. Fighting no more needs to be part of the game, than my son needs to hit mommy when she takes away his cookie.