Duels no deterrent

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

On a Thursday in January three years ago, Winnipeg's Colton Orr played a hockey game he'll probably never forget.

It was Orr's first game in the NHL, with the Bruins in Boston, and the whole time he felt like a kid at Christmas.

This past Wednesday, Orr, now a member of the New York Rangers, played another game he may remember for a long time. At least, if the rumblings out of the NHL office turn into a full-throated roar for change.

By now you've heard the news, probably even seen the video. How could you have missed it -- Orr's knockout punch of Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk has made every highlight show and hockey website on the planet.

It's also re-ignited the debate over fighting's place in the game.

Actually, it was NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell who first dropped the gloves by suggesting it might be time to at least ask the question: do we still need bare-knuckle bouts in hockey?

Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish yesterday agreed, and good for him.

The fear is players are bigger and stronger and better trained as fighters these days, making a toe-to-toe scrap more dangerous than it's ever been.

Fedoruk is the perfectly unfortunate example: he had his face caved in by Minnesota's Derek Boogaard earlier this season, an injury that required surgery and could have cost Fedoruk his career.

The counter-punch to the anti-fighting argument, typically thrown by current tough guys or the coaches and GM's who employ them, is that without the fear of being beaten up, players will take liberties with each other and we'll wind up with a bunch of stick-swinging thugs who spend the whole game running each other from behind.

Even relatively mild-mannered players, like Manitoba Moose captain Mike Keane, offered up that argument yesterday.

Don't hockey players deserve more credit than that? Surely they have more respect for each other.

We don't regularly see football players taking star players out illegally. Hit a quarterback in the head or late and you're penalized for unnecessary roughness.

ZERO CHANCE

There's virtually zero chance of getting beat up, yet football seems to remain civilized. And is there a more violent game than football?

You'll notice, too, the Olympics, the World Cup, the World Juniors, etc., get by just fine without fighting.

Fighting doesn't deter dirty play. Severe penalties do. If you're getting five minutes for slashing, or a game misconduct for hitting from behind, you'll tend to behave.

So will fighting be banned in the near future?

Not likely.

That's because it sells tickets. And the NHL needs all the help it can get in selling the game, particularly in the U.S. Haven't seen any Canadian fans booing or leaving their seats during a scrap lately, either.

The popularity of fighting is a much more plausible reason to keep it in the game than the need to police the game. It's just that NHL types don't like to admit that, presumably because it sounds too barbaric.

In Orr's first game, three years ago, the former Manitoba Junior Leaguer felt he needed to prove himself. So he challenged 6-foot-8, 250-pound Steve McKenna, then an enforcer with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

McKenna, nursing a sore hand, politely turned him down, and Orr didn't play another game in the NHL that season.

Since then, Orr has worked on his game enough to get a fairly regular shift with the Rangers. Who knows, he, and other players like him, might even be able to survive without their fists.

Seems to me it wouldn't hurt to give that a try.


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