Fight club: There's room for fighting in NHL

10/14/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak

I've been a sports fan for a long time. And I'm getting tired of professional sports getting sissified. In the NFL, guys can barely play defense because everything from the way you play coverage to the way you make a tackle can be a penalty. I'm all about making sports safer, but this is being taken way overboard now in the name of safety. The NFL has been softened so much that it seems like it won't be long until it becomes the NFFL (National Flag Football League). So when it comes to the NHL: let them fight.
Here's the first thing in regards to fighting in hockey. It's part of the game. It's always been part of the game. And guess what? The fans like it. I attended the season opener between Pittsburgh and Anaheim. The Penguins scored 6 goals. And you know what got as loud of a reaction (or louder than some) from the home crowd as any of those goals? The 3rd period fight between Clayton Stoner and Zach Sill. Nobody got up and left in disgust. Nobody booed. The crowd went nuts. And it's like that everywhere across the NHL. The crowd is on their feet and out of their seats when there's a fight. So if you're selling hockey and part of the buying appeal to the audience is fighting, you don't take it away.
Here's the next thing: In response to fighting being "dangerous" and banning it being a way to make the game "safer" let me ask you this, should body checking be banned too? Hockey is a dangerous sport. It's a fast paced game played on ice by large men who can skate fast, shoot a puck hard, and hit hard. What causes the most injuries in the NHL? What do players fear the most? A fight? Or getting checked from behind head first into the boards? So if taking fighting out of the game will make it "safer", why not get rid of body checking? Maybe instead of shooting a frozen rubber puck they can shoot a rubber ball that won't hurt anyone? If you the NHL wants to make the game "safer" here's where you start. Expand the rink to Olympic size. Players are bigger and faster than ever, the collisions are harder and higher impact because of that. So if you gave the players more space, you'd reduce the high impact collisions which would in turn reduce injuries, which makes the game safer, right? But the NHL would never do that because to expand the rink they'd have to take away a few rows of the most expensive seats in the arena. If the NHL wants to make the game less dangerous, they need to regulate the equipment. You have guys who feel invincible because the equipment they're wearing is practically a suit of armor. Players in the '80s and '90's have said that it hurt them to throw big hits because the gear they wore wasn't overly protective. Since a player throwing a hit felt it, he thought twice about running a guy into the boards. The gear players wear now allows them to feel no fear when going for a big hit. Players now have hard shelled shoulder and elbow pads that are like weapons when they connect with another players head. Reduce the equipment, and guys start thinking twice about making that potentially dangerous hit, because they're going to feel it too.

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Fighting also held players accountable for their actions. You have guys now that are deemed "pests", who take little cheap shots and hacks and whacks at opposing teams star players. These "pests"take it a little further every season it seems. Why? Because there is no fear of retribution. When a player knew he would have to answer for his actions, he would be more hesitant to cross the line. You might be a little more reluctant to slash someone if you knew you would have to fight him. Whether it be a case of fear or respect, fighting creates that buffer that makes players think twice about their actions. If you have to answer for your actions, how far you're going to cross the line and be a "pest" changes. Now I'm not saying I want to see the "goons" who could barely skate and played 2 or 3 minutes a nice square off like dancing bears because they're supposed to fight. I don't want to see line brawls or bench clearing brawls or anything like hockey of the 1970's. Hockey is a great game of skill that doesn't need to be tarnished by "enforcers" who's only reason for being on the payroll is to drop the gloves with the other teams designated tough guy. Hockey is also a very intense and emotional game and when a spontaneous fight breaks out, it's between two guys who want to fight because they've pushed each others limits.
I've also heard about the effects that a career of being a fighter can have on a player. I know what happened to Bob Probert and more recently Derek Boogaard. But to blame that solely on fighting is ridiculous. Probert was once banned from playing in Canada after trying to smuggle cocaine across the border from the U.S. He had a reputation off the ice of living hard and partying harder than some rock stars. That kind of lifestyle will catch up with anyone, and it wasn't fighting that made him live that way. He choose to live that way. As for Boogaard, he died from a drug overdose, and it's a shame that he passed away so young. But there are a lot of other guys who were "enforcers" that didn't get addicted to pain medications and didn't overdose. To solely blame fighting as the reason for what happened is ridiculous. Because it comes down to this. Derek Boogaard made a lot of money as the NHL's top tough guy. "The Boogey Man" got paid a lot to do what he did. And if it wasn't for his size and ability to fight, Derek Boogaard would have never played in the NHL. And he did so willingly.
And finally, in 2012, a poll of 250 NHL players showed 98% wanted to keep fighting in hockey. So if the guys who play the game want fighting in it, where does any outsider have any right to call for it to be banned? In the case of Derek Boogaard or Bob Probert or anyone else who plays professional hockey, they are choosing to do so. They know the risks involved. They willingly participated in the sport and were paid handsomely for it. Nobody forced them to play professional hockey. And nobody forced them or anyone else to fight. If being a fighter was the only way for these guys to play in the NHL, it was there choice to do so. They could have walked away and done something else, but they didn't. And just because fighting is still part of hockey today, nobody is forcing anybody to fight. If a guy doesn't want to fight, it's pretty simple, don't do it.
Fighting is as much a part of hockey as a blindside block in football or a hard slide into second base in baseball. It's part of the game. It's always been part of the game. It's exciting to fans and accepted by the men who play the game. So leave it alone. If you don't like it, don't watch. The NHL is a billion dollar business, it's going to go on if those who don't like fighting don't want to watch the NHL anymore. The media and outsiders have sissified American sports under the guise of "safety", please don't sissify the great Canadian game of hockey. Leave the game the way it is, and let them fight.

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