By Jason Menard
When I was younger, I loved fighting in hockey. When I played, we’d mock throw down, dropping the gloves, trying to pull each others’ jerseys over our heads. As I got older, I became indifferent towards fighting. I could appreciate a good throw down as much as the next person, but, in general, I could take it or leave fighting.
Over recent years, I’ve seen less and less of a need for fighting in the game. The best hockey I’ve had the pleasure of watching was in the Canada Cup, the Olympics, and in the NHL playoffs — forums in which fighting was infrequent at best, non-existent for the most part.
Last night was the first time I actively wished a fight wouldn’t have happened. George Parros, early in the first period, squared off against Patrick Bordeleau of the Colorado Avalanche. It wasn’t a great tilt at all, but when Parros and Bordeleau hit the ice, I felt something in the pit of my stomach.
Fortunately, Parros was fine. But I shouldn’t have to worry about watching a player turned into a vegetable for a non-essential part of the game.
Fighting’s a part of hockey that no longer has its place. And for those who call yourselves purist, make sure you advocate for the return of the rover and the banning of the forward pass if you’re so committed to keeping hockey true to its roots.
We not not enough and too much to continue blindly aligning ourselves with fighting. By that I mean, we know that there’s a long-term, cumulative risk suffered by fighters in hockey that causes brain damage. We don’t know how pervasive it is.
Yes, you can get a concussion from a clean body check. Yes, you can be concussed by taking a slapshot off the noggin. But those are all parts of the game. A fight is not. The game stops, the whistle goes, and the combatants — generally brought in just for that reason — put on a show outside of the confines of the game.
It is not a part of the game. Fighting finds itself apart of today’s game.
So how do we stop it? First, we need to stop defending its place in the game. There are those who say that taking out fighting will increase the stick work. Show proof. Speculation and sketchy anecdotes have long ruled the roost when it comes to serving as a foundation for fighting proponents’ arguments. Let’s see proof.
Secondly, make fighting prohibitive.
How you do this is by hurting the team — both on the ice and off. And I’m not talking about fines. Those have become just another tax for clubs to pay. I mean hurt them in a way that teams can’t merely brush off.
Those five-minute fighting majors? They are now to be served by the fighter AND any player of the other team’s choosing. Tom Wilson decides to throw down? Then he and Alex Ovechkin sit for five. Derek Dorsett gets a game misconduct for fighting? Then Rick Nash gets an early shower too.
Sound drastic? It is. But it will work.
Why? Because fans — and team owners — will get upset.
Fans don’t pay to see the goons; they pay to see the elite players in the league. Hockey is an amazing game of skill, speed, and physicality. This gives a chance for that to shine through and not be brought to a standstill as everyone watches a pair of goons chuck knuckles in some pre-choreographed dance.
Fans will voice their frustration at seeing stars sitting in the box; owners will put downward pressure on GMs and coaching staffs. And coaches will be reluctant to ice fighting-centric players because they will not be willing to trade off a goon for one of their elite scorers.
Players will still have the option to fight, but they better be certain it’s worth it — because the price paid will be more prohibitive.
The physical elements of the game can still exist. There will always be a place for good, hard body checks. But fighting brings nothing to the game. And if you’re concerned about stickwork and dirty play, ensure that penalties and suspensions for those actions have teeth.
The Don-Cherry-worshipping knuckle-draggers will likely label this anti-Canadian, panty-waist, or whatever other term is used to denigrate those who don’t believe in fighting in hockey. And I get that — after all, I once enjoyed fighting in hockey.
But I grew up. I got smarter. And I learned too much to be able to ignore what’s staring me in the face.
The risk/reward for fighting in hockey is no longer worth it. I’m not willing to see someone die on the ice to prove my point.
The way to eliminate fighting is simple: make the act of fighting hurt the team where it counts. The game will be better for it.