October 6, 2008
A fight for hockeyScraps on the ice are not a fundmental part of the sport
By EDWARD GREENSPAN
Should there be fighting in the NHL? As the hockey season approaches, this question, once again, is being asked.
Some say that hockey without fighting is like the Ice Capades. I don't know what they're talking about. I've taken my granddaughter to the Ice Capades, and the fairy ice princess throws a pretty good punch.
We all know the great Rodney Dangerfield line about how he went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.
When I go to a hockey game, do you know what I would like to see break out? How about a hockey game? Hockey needs more good hockey, not more fighting. Hockey fights are simply boring, in my view, and no longer have a place in the game.
What is so appealing about a hockey fight? I love a good scrap, but a typical hockey fight is just two unskilled goons covered in protective gear trying to see who can hurt their hand the most by punching the other guy's hard plastic helmet. Real exciting.
Every fight is the same predictable routine -- both fighters use one hand to grab the other guy's jersey, and then they pull each around in a circle trying to land a punch before they both fall to the ground and the refs pull them apart. Big deal.
I grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont., and spent many nights watching the St. Catharines Jr. A team, and we saw some pretty good, tough players. Guys such as Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. Back then, a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight -- had its place.
GOONS HAD SKILL
The "goons" used to be able to play the game. Last year Jared Boll led the NHL with 27 fights and finished the year with 5 goals, 5 assists, and 226 penalty minutes. By contrast, in Dino Ciccarelli's most penalized year he had 138 minutes in penalties, but had 55 goals.
So what's changed? Helmets. Since helmets became mandatory, it is very difficult to land a punch. Nowadays, fights are like the Michelin Man fighting the Pillsbury Dough Boy -- no one can get hurt so what's the point?
If you want to see fighting, watch boxing. Or ultimate fighting. Or Jerry Springer. It's all better than anything you'll see in a hockey fight.
Fighting fans argue fighting has always been part of the game, or simply that the fans like it. But that doesn't wash. Olympic and college hockey is great, and fighting isn't involved.
What this really is about is how to save hockey. The NHL has always been the red-headed stepchild of the sports world, and hockey fans are always defending their game, trying to convince people it is NOT soccer on ice. But when NASCAR -- cars driving in circles -- is more popular than hockey in the U.S., the game is in need of help. When bowling and poker in the U.S. get better ratings than the NHL playoffs, the game is in need of help.
Hockey fans are always having arguments with unenlightened non-hockey fans and you try to sell them on the game by saying things such as: Hockey is the most skilled game; hockey is the fastest game; hockey is the most-exciting game.
I never hear anyone say, "And it has fighting" as if that is some kind of selling point.
To the contrary, it is NOT a selling point and having fighting is a real turn off for many fans, particularly parents of young children.
Hockey is the greatest sport in the world. It would be greater without fighting.