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Don Cherry, announcer on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," is greeted by fans as he arrives for Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Sunday, May 31, 2009. (Carlos Osorio)
Don Cherry, announcer on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," is greeted by fans as he arrives for Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Sunday, May 31, 2009. (Carlos Osorio)

ROY MACGREGOR

Fighting kills momentum in hockey Add to ...

"Fighting is part of the game."

Fine, we're sick of fighting over fighting, but if we pansification advocates are willing to accept this, then surely the NHL should, in return, also accept that fighting is part of the game.

And actually make it part of the game.

It has become almost impossible this season to switch the channels between the talking heads that perform as the supreme court of hockey and not be barraged by clips of fisticuffs and learned dissertations on the import of goons to the game.

I was watching the Versus broadcast of the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche game last week when Colorado launched a quick comeback that ended in a rather entertaining 5-4 shootout victory for the Avs.

The de rigueur panel, composed of former players Keith Jones, Brian Engblom and Darren McCarty, launched into a discussion of fighting, at one point suggesting that the "momentum" of the game had changed thanks to Colorado's Cody McLeod taking on Detroit's Doug Janik.

I had thought it changed around the same time, when Colorado's young Ryan O'Reilly deftly pickpocketed a Detroit player, flew down the ice and blew a shot by the Detroit goaltender, but that's just me.

McCarty talked about the importance of "big picture" fights over useless fights, saying this battle had sparked Colorado whereas other fights - for example, the late-in-the-game punchout between Steve MacIntyre of the Edmonton Oilers and Raitis Ivanans of the Calgary Flames when the Flames were already down 4-0 - are useless by comparison.

Jones opined that he loved fights, specifically those he wasn't in, and even got a kick out of guys getting knocked out.

Don Cherry apparently thinks they are great entertainment, too, claiming just the other night on CBC that the only people who don't like staged fights are "the people who get in free," surprising many of us with information that he himself insists on paying.

All this runs against the grain of reality. NHL general managers agree that staged fights are an embarrassment that should go. And it has been years since even Bobby Clarke asked: "How many times do fights change the momentum of a game any more?"

And yet, there it was again, Rogers Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos saying exactly that just before the Toronto Maple Leafs-New York Rangers game last week. If New York's Derek Boogaard takes a quick round out of Toronto's Colton Orr, he said, then the Rangers might be able "to build off the momentum."

In other words, these people truly believe that fighting can be a factor in the outcome of a game, although there is no more proof to this contention than those of us who deplore fighting are able to prove the game would not only survive but thrive if hockey acted as all other team sports do and severely penalized fighting.

The reality is that fighting is on the rise in hockey and has been since the end of the lockout. Hockeyfights.com, which tracks NHL fisticuffs, had fights early this season running at a rate of 0.78 a game. That means a fight in nearly half the games (43.9 per cent) and, projected to season end, would amount to 540 fights over the 1,230 regular-season matches.

If such a trend held - and it has dipped somewhat this week - this would result in the most fights in any season of the decade.

In the first season following the lockout, 2005-06, the NHL had 276 fights. In subsequent years, 292, 324, 355 and 341 last year.

That being the case, then surely the time has come to make fighting a penalty.

It is not a penalty, no matter what the rulebook pretends. Two players fight - usually as staged as the intermission T-shirt giveaway - and the game comes to a grinding halt.

And here I must apologize, as I suggested higher up that fighting had no effect on the momentum of a game. It does. It kills momentum.

Whistles blow, gloves are picked up, the long WWE grand march to the penalty box is held and, presto, the game begins again as if nothing has happened.

Not only is neither team penalized in any imaginable capacity, but the two fighters count their majors as the skilled players count goals and assists. The fighters use their number of majors to argue in favour of a salary increase the next time their contract comes up.

Fighting, therefore, has been deemed a reward by the league that would have you believe it is actually a penalty.

So let us all strike a deal here.

We agree to accept that fighting is part of the game.

So long as the NHL accepts the same.

And makes fighting a real penalty with real consequence.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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