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Author Esi Edugyan on fighting in hockey (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Author Esi Edugyan on fighting in hockey (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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Author Esi Edugyan on fighting in hockey Add to ...

won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her second novel, Half-Blood Blues . She was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Do you watch hockey?

I don’t watch it a terrible amount. Mainly when it’s Olympic hockey. I’ll watch all of those games. Or when we were in the [Stanley]Cup last year – “we” being Vancouver – I was glued to the set for every match.

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Do you play hockey?

I played floor hockey as a kid. Not ice hockey, ever. I can skate …

Have you ever been punched?

Ah, no.

Have you ever punched anyone?

Yeah, probably! I’d say yes, I have.

What do you think of hockey fights?

They have never been something that I found to be very necessary to the game. You think, “What’s the point of this?” In fact, when it goes on too long, it gets frustrating. Get on with it! Play some hockey.

USA Hockey, which administers junior leagues in the States, is recommending that fighting be eliminated at the junior level. Do you think this is a good idea?

I do. [Juniors]are people who are developing physically, their brains are developing, and to sustain an injury – well, to sustain an injury at any age can be devastating – but especially at an age when people are so vulnerable, it’s not necessary.

This proposal is being seriously considered in the States. We see hockey as “our” game. Shouldn’t Canada be in a leadership role?

Every nation has to decide for itself if it should implement this change and not feel it is taking direction from outside its borders. But, by the same token, if you see someone making a change that seems positive, I don’t see why it can’t be under consideration.

The debate over eliminating fighting from hockey has been raging for generations. Is now the time for change?

There has been so much talk. Look at Sidney Crosby. That situation is life-shifting, and something that can be corrected with stronger regulations. I’m not saying that players should be suspended for a season for one fight. I’m not suggesting that kind of draconian approach, but I’m glad there is a new awareness happening now.

In the junior leagues, there is something unsavoury about adults in the stands cheering on these young men to fight. Young men of 16 or something. There is something unseemly about that.

Women’s hockey has no fighting. It doesn’t even permit serious physical contact. Do you find it a lesser game?

No, I don’t. Women’s Olympic hockey, there is something very sportsmanlike and wonderful about it. It doesn’t seem like fighting is a necessary part of the game.

The response from one Canadian Hockey League administrator was that the CHL is partnered with the NHL and that they “have an understanding to mirror their rules.” That fighting is part of a player’s professional development.

Maybe if there were a more sportsmanlike game going on in the junior league, they would take what they have learned and carry it into the NHL. Once they step into roles as professionals, then there won’t be any fighting. Or it will definitely be lessened.

Hockey purists will counter by saying that fighting has always been, and should remain, part of the game.

Tensions can run high, it can get tough and bruising, but I don’t think that an out-and-out brawl needs to be a part of the game. Olympic hockey is not a lesser game because people are not tossing off their gloves and really going at it.

Hard-core supporters see hockey as a rough, tough man’s game where fighting is integral. They would likely view you as a girl, a dilettante and an artistic type, all of which render your views of no consequence. How would you respond to that?

I’d say look at the facts. Look at what’s happening in terms of injuries. Do they honestly think the game can’t change? Does it always have to stay the same? It doesn’t necessarily mean that hockey isn’t hockey just because it doesn’t have fighting in it.

Some have expressed the opinion that, without the release of fighting, players will be spearing, slashing and kicking at one another, indulging in even dirtier and more dangerous acts.

If there are penalties for these other acts, you will see that those will disappear as well. People will not be prompted to give head shots if they know they are going to have to leave the game. Olympic hockey is fast and bruising, but they are not taking head shots or beating each other with sticks. I do not really buy that.

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