SUN Hockey Pool

Maybe hockey fans are ready to give up the fight

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:44 PM ET

Goals and attendance are up in the NHL, sticks and fighting are down.

Coincidence? In the absence of any empirical evidence, you have to doubt it.

With restraining fouls such as hooking and holding having been whistled into submission, one is inclined to wonder whether fighting will be next.

It will be dragged kicking and screaming -- and, of course, fighting -- into extinction, but surely the deep thinkers at the higher levels of the world's main professional league see a timeliness here.

If the fans can greet such sweeping changes in the application of the rules with the return of the game from a year's lockout so positively, maybe they are ready for legislation that will ban impromptu bouts altogether.

Hockey's violence has always been a hot topic. There are those who are dead against it, those who term it "part of the game" and those who are confused in the middle.

Got an anonymous voice-mail message recently from a fellow claiming to be a philosophy professor. Two messages, actually. After an abusive first call, he thought of a few more insults and placed a second.

It related to a column here about Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks, who will be forever known as the guy who dry-gulched unsuspecting Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche and broke his neck. I said Bertuzzi's reputation got a life sentence. University of Western Ontario professor and sports law expert Ron Watson concurred.

The caller raged as though the column sympathized with Bertuzzi. It did anything but. I thought the fellow had a reading comprehension problem and that his sonorous and repetitive call was fuelled by loudmouth soup.

Turns out the guy really is a philosophy prof.

I won't identify him in case he got too close to the schnapps before calling, but it was another example of reason falling by the wayside when it comes to hockey violence.

As it surely will if and when fighting is banned.

I dread Don Cherry's reaction.

The fact is, hockey fighting has been edging away from the centre stage it once held. There was a time every team had a resident goon on the roster solely for his fighting ability.

That evolved into an era in which tough guys also needed a modicum of hockey ability to keep their jobs.

TV analyst Harry Neale once accurately likened the entire phenomenon to international relations: If you've got the atomic bomb, you have a deterrent and if you don't, you're taking a chance.

But hockey is evolving faster than it has in the last 40 years. For the first time, players are permitted to use their full complement of skills, not see them blunted or erased altogether by liberal application of the rules toward players of lesser ability.

Those flashpoints reduced, the time-honoured justification for fights -- as a safety-valve for heated emotions -- has been equally trimmed.

The new game is faster, with more drama. Creativity, not negativity, is rewarded.

As a result, fighting no longer plays the role it once did.

There is a minority of fans who go to hockey games with the same mindset as the few who go to auto races to see pileups. Each group is widely overshadowed by folks who abhor both.

It has been said nobody looks away at the scene of a bad traffic accident. That doesn't mean anybody is looking on with great glee.

If they legislate fighting out of hockey once and for all, the only people it will hurt are those who produce fight videos. Most real hockey fans will take a solid, open-ice hit over a punch-up any day.


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