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The Globe and Mail

Rock'em Sock'em hockey not so fun anymore

HNIC co-host Don Cherry and his glorification of hockey fights has become the target of Canadian boy band the Dube Brothers.


You can lose an eye.

That pretty much sums up everything that is fun to do and a little dangerous and maybe even fun because it's dangerous.

Like hockey.

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Take goalie fights, for example.

For a brief moment we were all kind of enjoying goalie fights.

Rick Dipietro of the New York Islanders seemed to be when he casually skated to the blue line to engage the Penguins Brent Johnson. The smile was there right up until the moment Johnson fractured his face with a thudding over-hand left, a blow which precipitated the subsequent Islanders-Penguins brawl which is considered a black mark on modern hockey.

Similarly, big hits have always been a source of entertainment.

Don Cherry - before he became DON CHERRY - made boatloads of money peddling video collections which were primarly collections of what we now know are brain changing collisions and fights.

I loved them when they came out more than 20 years ago. Now I feel guilty for watching.

Hits like that? You can lose an eye, your memory, your ability to think clearly, lots of stuff.

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My own favourite of the genre was/is when guys get dumped into the bench by an opposing checker.

I love those hits. It's one of the great raised middle finger moments in all of sports. The victim is in the proverbial garbage can, head first, legs kicking helplessly as his teammates try and lift him back on to the ice, and the guy doing the deed skates away, adjusting his elbow pads like he's just tossed someone through the swinging doors of a saloon somewhere.

Put the guy into your own bench? That's even better, as the hitter's teammates rise as one, those nearby subtly holding the victim in the bench as long as possible, trapping him like a turtle flipped on it's shell.

The problem is those benches and the lack of glass that makes my favourite hits possible only run so long. And then comes the steel stanchions. And the room for error isn't all that great.

The medical reports regarding Pacioretty -- he suffered a fractured neck and a severe concussion after being pushed into the stanchion by Zdeno Chara - are worrisome, to say the least. Hopefully he'll be okay, depending on your definition.

But the reality is it's just one more case of a hockey incident that leaves you wondering, what, exactly, does it take for someone to be killed, if not that?

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The question changes the whole debate around what it means to play hockey at the edge most of us enjoy; where the line is between reckless and bad luck, and what it means to be a fan watching the line shift all the time.

If Chara gets to his check a little sooner maybe Pacioretty is in the benches and I've got another example of my favourite hit and a sure-fire candidate for Rock'em Sock'em Vol. 23. A little later and he bounces off the glass and probably makes it to the puck; maybe even score as he had Chara beat.

But Chara got him in between and who knows if the Montreal forward will ever be the same or when.

Does Chara deserve a suspension? Absolutely. He either knew exactly where he was when he went to interfere (which he was called for) with Pacioretty or he should have. And regardless, in the same way players are accountable for wayward sticks, regardless of intent, a mis-timed body check - or steering a guy into an immovable object - should also require the highest degree of accountability.

But what it requires of me as a fan, is getting fuzzier all the time. I mean all those checks where the guy goes in the bench, those are great, but no one wants to see someone's face smashed into a steel post at high speed, which can happen with the smallest miscalculation.

An NHL ice surface has always been an outrageously dangerous place to work - the first edition of Rock'em Sock'em Hockey came out in 1989 and there was plenty of footage to choose from - but more and more we know the consequences of that risk.

Someone is going to lose an eye, or worse, which takes the fun out of everything, every time.

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