It’s a fantastic time of year for all hockey fans. Global leagues are up and running, rinks are buzzing with the whispers of the game – and the NHL is back – and oh what a start to the season it has been.
But, the debate that won’t go away is once again on the lips of most ‘experts’, the debate about the ‘barbaric’ act of dropping the gloves and fighting in the NHL. Does it belong in the top league? Does it have a place anywhere in the game in any league?
It’s a debate that walks a fine line. There’s the camp that stands by the belief that fighting keeps the ‘rats’ and ‘head-hunters’ in their boxes, the belief that they would run amok without the fear of a good belting. This camp points to self-policing, and singles out grease balls the hockey world over, who run around slashing, high-sticking, taking liberties, and talking trash to stars in all leagues. We know these players…they exist everywhere…and yes sometimes they are deterred by the presence of a true heavyweight on the ice.
There’s also the side that believes that the ‘code’ is a thing of the past, and that fighting needs to disappear as the game evolves at all levels. This camp points to the excellent hockey played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (where fighting disappears and is almost non-existent), or the Olympics where the best compete without any pugilism. This group also believes that ‘staged’ fighting, where two well-known heavyweights are predestined to drop them with little to no provocation, has no place in the sport.
So who is right in this murky mist?
I would have to say that I truly believe that fighting is a part of hockey and indeed should be. I don’t like the ‘staged’ nonsense, but I believe in self-policing (in the EIHL for example, I believe that the players know far more about the game than most of the officials, thus it is an important aspect to control the trouble makers). I also believe that in the NHL, a guy like Milan Lucic is a player of fantastic skill, toughness, physicality, and yes, he answers the bell with a passion that can frighten and intimidate an opponent. He embraces the excellence of all things we like about the game when played properly. It’s one of the reasons the Boston Bruins have a recent Stanley Cup, and two Cup Final appearances in three years.
I can speak about this subject with some experience. I have been in more than a few fights on the ice…going all the way back to junior…and it was always something I didn’t mind participating in…I have a missing tooth and a past broken nose to prove it…not to mention the bad knuckle and wonky finger.
I’m not someone preaching on this either way with little to no experience. I have been around the game professionally in my broadcasting career from EIHL to NHL, Olympic Qualifiers and World Championships – with plenty of levels in between. The point is that when I have talked to people in the know on my travels through this hockey life, 75% will tell you that fighting is a part of the glorious game we all love.
You don’t need to be influenced either way by me – but what is your take on fighting?
Future NHL Hall-of-Famer Jarome Iginla has fought throughout his 530 goal career:
I decided that I would poll some people who deserve huge respect in any level of hockey – I asked if they believed that there was a place for fighting and why. The people I spoke with have played the game, and work within the game…and I believe that their opinions carry major weight.
One of my favourite broadcasting colleagues over the years has to be the one and only Barry Melrose. A former NHL player, coach, and of course now a TV personality, Melrose was a tough honest player in his day. He is one of the most frank and passionate NHL voices in the game. I spoke with him about the debate.
“Fighting belongs in hockey and should stay. It is a tool to intimidate or to stop your team from being intimidated.” Melrose told me,“It is a tool, and can be used to change the momentum of a game. Best of all it is exciting as hell. No one leaves a game during a fight.”
I also asked Belfast Giants General Manager Todd Kelman (who is also a former player), his thoughts. He is considered one of the top hockey minds in the UK game, and is an influential executive in growing the sport.
“Fighting is a necessary evil in our sport. It keeps players honest, and without it I believe you would see a lot more stick work, or dirty hits. I am not a fan of two heavyweights going into a game knowing they will have to fight, but when it happens in the heat of the game and is situational, I think it is fine.” Kelman said,“A lot of people don’t understand it, but it has always been a part of hockey, and I think it helps self-police the game. Not many minor leagues have the technology and man power to review every game and assess suspensions for things after they happen. And in my time, I have seen a lot more people get injured from a dirty hit, a bad slash or a cross check than I have seen get hurt in a fight.”
I have a lot of time and respect for Adam Keefe. He’s the captain of the Belfast Giants, and pound-for-pound one of the toughest guys in the EIHL. He’s also no stranger to dropping the gloves, and has had plenty of big tilts in his career. I chatted with Keefe to get insight from a guy that makes a living with the occasional scrap, and asked him if fighting should be dropped.
“If you took fighting out of the sport there would be a big increase in dirty hits and stick play from players, solely because there would be no deterrent or repercussions for their actions. I think instead of fights as retaliation, you would see a dirty hit matched with another dirty hit, or illegal stick work.” Keefe stated, “There are many more hockey injuries resulting from an illegal hit or dirty stick play as opposed to fisticuffs. However I do agree that staged fights do have a limited place to none in todays game.”
Take it for what it’s worth, a lot of good hockey people who make a living in the sport still think that fighting has a place. It’s an issue that won’t change over night, and certainly will continue to create much dialogue and debate. Hockey is a hard-nosed game, and fighting for the moment is still a big part of the fastest, toughest game on the planet. No one likes to see an incident like Geroge Parros getting injured last week in Montreal, I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but it’s a physical game and injuries happen. Parros himself has stated as much. Let’s enjoy the speed, skill and intensity – including the odd fight once in a while.
What’s your take on this?! As always comments and questions are appreciated! Enjoy your hockey weekend wherever you’ll be watching.
You can follow Murph on Twitter here: @MurphOnIce