The opinions I’m about to share need to be understood in the right context. Allow me to begin this section by noting that fighting in minor hockey is something that should not be tolerated. Two peewee teams engaged in a bench-clearing brawl is something that simply has no place in our game, and shame on those people who allow such things to occur.
I once heard a mother say that she and her husband were considering having their son learn boxing so he could defend himself properly in his league. The boy was seven years old. Something is wrong there, because no child should ever have to step onto the ice worrying about having to fight.
You might think this is an isolated incident, but I recently read about a minor hockey coach who was suspended for giving one of his own players a concussion while teaching the team how to fight. It doesn’t matter what kids see on television – we can and must control our own minor hockey systems. If enough parents, coaches, and administrators determine that fighting will not be tolerated, it can be eradicated from minor hockey. It’s up to all of us to relay that message to our children. After all, we are supposed to be in control of the games they play.
However, there’s always another side to every story, and so it is when it comes to fighting in pro-level hockey.
In “pro level,” I include all professional ranks plus the highest levels in Canadian junior hockey as well. I include junior here because the players in those leagues are there with the main purpose of apprenticing for the next level of play. They need to be ready for what is to come, and fighting is a part of it.
Of course, no one wants to see a goon in junior hockey. I applaud the graduated scale of suspensions the junior leagues have brought in to deter the chronic offenders. For example, in the OHL, once a player hits a certain number of fights in a season, he gets an automatic two-game suspension for every fight after that, and that goes up to four games if he is the instigator. To me, that seems appropriate action for any league to take should a team or individual become too focused on fighting or intimidation as part of their game plan. And as far as staged fights go, I’d be all in favour of an automatic ejection. There’s no room in our game for any of that stuff.
But I would be very hesitant to take fighting out of the pro levels of the game, and here’s why. As a young player in the NHL, I was called out on certain occasions and responded to those challenges to fight because I felt it was my duty to do so. I didn’t particularly enjoy fighting, but I understood its place in the game. I never wanted or needed someone covering for me when the rough stuff started, and as a result I believe it helped me over the course of my career, both with teammates and opponents.
My first fight was against Ted Harris of the Montreal Canadiens. He wanted to see what I was made of – that happens to every rookie. If you answer the challenge, you will have the respect of both your teammates and your opponents.
It is a tough sport, a sport that requires physical play, and sometimes that can lead to frustration. Speaking as a former player, whenever those situations occur on the ice I would much rather face an opponent man to man in a fight than have to deal with sticks to the face as well as spearing to other areas of the body. Similarly, hitting from behind is a cowardly and careless act that has resulted in far more significant injuries than those resulting from fighting, at least in my estimation. If respect for the guy between you and the boards isn’t enough to stop you from running him, maybe what will be is the fear of the retribution that is sure to follow.
A lot has been said in recent years about fighting and its place in hockey.
True, the pro game can be cruel to those who choose fists over skills, and it is a tough way to make a living. But the more I look at the current state of the game, the more I realize a simple truth about it. The threat of a fight, or the fear of doing something that might trigger retaliation, is a powerful deterrent. It always has been, and it always will be.