Yes, you heard me. I like the violence in hockey. I like contact sports. When I was younger (and you may want to imagine me shaking a cane in your face at this point, you young whippersnapper), I played a few different sports and the ones at which I excelled were the ones where I could use my fireplug-shaped, not-at-all-build-for-speed body to wreak havoc on my opponents. Any chance to drop a shoulder, throw a hip, run someone over, or break up a double play in a game made ma an awfully happy camper.
So while I appreciate when Yvgeni Malkin or Pavel Datsyuk dance delicately through defenders, handling the puck with stick movements almost too fast for the human eye to track, I love the scrappers and grinders. Give me a dirty goal scored from right in front of a hassled goalie by Matt Hendricks, Paul Gaustad, or (God forgive me) Brooks Orpik and I’m a happy camper. I don’t know how you have hockey without the the guys who go hard into the corners, who mix it up in front of the net, who throw the big shoulder or hip checks at the blue line, and who fight.
That’s right, I said fight. Fighting is an important part of hockey with all manner of tactical rationales and if you removed it, you would no longer have hockey but ice dancing, a a pretty game but essentially ballet with a final score. On the other hand, not all fights are equal. There is a world of difference between a fight that happens during the flow of the game and one that is staged. The first is an unavoidable (and even important) part of the game; the latter is foolish and unnecessarily dangerous.
Greg Wyshynski, the Puck Daddy, disagrees and while I’m hesitant to argue with him because I believe he’s the smartest hockey commentator I know, I think he’s missed an important point in his piece of staged hockey fights. First, let me give you a little more setup. Last night, not even 30 seconds into their game, the Maple Leafs’ Frazer McLaren and the Senators’ David Dziurzynski fought. They hadn’t had time to go at each other. Neither player was trying to rev up his team or swing the momentum of the game. Neither player had thrown an iffy check at someone on the other team. This was a staged fight, begun for reasons that had little to do with the game that night. It ended badly. McLaren knocked Dziurzynski out and gave him a concussion. The fight should never have happened and the league should take action against both players and their teams. Here is where Wyshynski and I disagree. He believes my stance on fighting ought to be either all-in or not at all.
Here’s where I am on fighting, as an issue of player safety: You can’t be “a little pregnant”, you can’t have a “mild concussion” and you can’t crucify the existence of one type of fighting for its dangers while endorsing – either implicit or explicitly – another more seemingly valorous brand of fisticuffs.
Enough with the selective dread.
I’m an across-the-board, card carrying Neanderthal on fighting. I appreciate its value as a tactic. I understand its necessity as a deterrent or a steam value for aggression in this violent game. I acknowledge, without remorse, that it’s a barbarous form of entertainment that frequently enhances my enjoyment of the NHL. I like spontaneous fights more than staged fights, but I refuse to take out my scalpel and surgically remove one from the other. It’s all fists to faces, knuckles to brains, two players volunteering to endure between 20 and 60 seconds of inhumane punishment for the sake of sport.
But over the decades, many conflicted hockey fans have attempted to add nuance to the fighting debate. They enjoy it, understand its “place in the game” and don’t want to align themselves with the pacifist masses that clutch the pearls when the gloves are dropped because they saw Chris Nowinski talk about CTE on CBC.
But it’s those staged fights they find abhorrent, that have no place in the game and that are going to get someone killed one day.
The more purposeful integrity the fight has, the less concern for player safety we’re supposed to have, I guess.
He’s missed one consideration, though, that should not be overlooked. One can enjoy a contact sport in which players do get hurt, even seriously, and want that sport to outlaw unnecessary risks to the players. Staged fights are unnecessary risks. They don’t add to the game. They don’t change the outcome of a game. They don’t put people in the seats. They don’t make kids want to grow up and be hockey players. They don’t get grown men onto skates and into beer leagues. They do put players at greater risk of serious and lasting injury and bring players into the game whose only marketable skill is their ability to take repeated shots to the skull, like Homer Simpson dragged into the ring to fight Lucius Sweet.
I suppose you could say my dislike for them is all about “purposeful utility” but so what? I like big hits in a football game but I support rules that protect defenseless players and come down hard on helmet-to-helmet hits. That decision is also based on “purposeful utility” but I don’t think Wyshynski would have much of a problem with it. Hockey can’t reasonably mitigate every risk to a player’s health, but the league can work around the edges. Once upon a time, players didn’t have to wear helmets; now they do. More players wear visors than don’t and the league is even now considering a mandate. Staged fights are a piece of low-hanging fruit the league should not hesitate to pluck and hockey fans ought to encourage it to do so. It simply makes sense, no matter whether you like fights or not.
(Photo Credit: slgckgc on Flickr)
Category: The Capitals and Other Pond Stuff