March 26, 2007
Fighting has become dangerous
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media
"THE POWER OF HEAVYWEIGHTS (IN HOCKEY) IS, FRANKLY, DANGEROUS."
Someone is going to die.
It's no longer a matter of when or if, but how and why?
The words aren't necessarily mine, even if the opinion is shared.
The words belong to Tie Domi, who made a living fighting in the NHL and now in retirement, now having stepped back to watch and commentate, he shakes his head in both amazement and fear over the hockey life he led.
And over those who live it now.
Fighting has become that dangerous in the NHL. The days of shrugging shoulders and the simple notion that it's all just part of the culture and part of the game, is over. The idea that nobody gets hurt in hockey fights is an old wives' tale and in this case, the old wife happens to be a liar.
Nick Kypreos has made a fine career for himself as a hockey broadcaster at Rogers Sportsnet. He got an early start. He was a tough guy, a fighter. And his career ended ostensibly from one pre-season punch from somebody named Ryan Vandenbussche.
His head hasn't stopped spinning since.
Throw one punch in an NBA game and you might end up, as Nate Robinson of the Knicks found out, with a
10-game suspension. The suspensions and the fines are lighter in MLB and NFL but one thing all three pro leagues have in common: You punch somebody and you are out of the game. No questions asked.
In hockey, it's a five-minute penalty and a pat on the back from your teammates.
Even in minor hockey, where checking from behind can bring a three-game suspension, fighting tends to bring only a one-game suspension. Even in our kids' games, we haven't got that part right.
The change, though, has occurred at the NHL level, where the tough guy was once 5-ft. 11-in. and 190-lb., the way Dave (Tiger) Williams was, or
6-ft. 1-in., 185-lb. like a Dave Schultz, or think of the menacing vision of John Ferguson, who weighed in at 178-lb. for the Montreal Canadiens.
Fast forward to today: Derek Boogaard of the Minnesota Wild is 6-ft. 7-in.,
270-lb. Wade Belak of the Leafs is 6-ft. 5-in., 223-lb. Colton Orr of the Rangers, who knocked Todd Fedoruk of Philadelphia unconscious (and hands up all of you who haven't knocked Fedoruk out) are similarly sized at 6-ft. 3-in. and 220-lb.
The impact of the blows are greater than ever. The fall to the ice is farther. The power of the heavyweights is, frankly, dangerous.
And both the league and toothless Players' Association haven't even made the strapping on of helmets mandatory.
Protecting the player has rarely been addressed at any length: In boxing, if a fighter gets knocked out, he is immediately suspended for somewhere between 60 and 90 days, depending on the rules of any particular jurisdiction. If it happens a second time (a la Fedoruk) that would make him ineligible in some places.
In hockey, they're told to go out and do it again. And again. That's your job. This is the code.
Until somebody gets knocked down and doesn't get up. Two fights in two nights this past week, both with serious injuries in the NHL. How long before the first funeral?