Coaches culpable on staged fights

JOHN SHORT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

NHL bosses are going the wrong way in their bid to wipe out fights by appointment.

If the league really wants to get away from arranged scraps on the first shift of a game or right after a faceoff, all it has to do is point the finger at coaches.

Who else do you think taps Georges Laraque or Zach Stortini or big, bad Derek Boogard on the shoulder before a line change or at the start of a period and says: "It's time to get something started out there?"

I passed the idea through the quick mind of a former NHL tough guy --not the legendary Dave Semenko, but a guy who tangled with him often enough -- and he confirmed that he got regular indications that it was time to start bruising his knuckles.

"Every fighter in the NHL can tell the same story," he said. "If a coach gives the signal and you don't step up, you can be headed to a new address in 24 hours."

As he spoke, an old Laraque story came to mind. When the big brawler was traded from Phoenix to Pittsburgh a couple of seasons back, coach Wayne Gretzky admitted in public that the deal was made because Laraque failed to follow instructions.

As an Oiler, Laraque went through much the same thing. If he didn't feel like fighting, he didn't fight.

You have to believe the same thing has happened at each of his big-league stops.

The easiest way to hit the coaches is in the wallet, but fines of a few thousand bucks don't count for much when your annual cheque is registered in the millions.

A far better way would be to start issuing game misconducts.

Draw this picture in your mind: the Minnesota Wild puts Boogard on the ice at the start of a game. Then Craig MacTavish sends Steve MacIntyre over the boards for the Oilers.

Nobody could possibly think the two massive pylons were out there to score, except on the 10-point must system.

At that moment, MacTavish and Jacques Lemaire could (should) both be instructed to leave the bench and maybe vacate the building, too.

I guarantee both of them would hate watching the game on TV in the dressing room or in the bar across the street.

The biggest problem is that the NHL has no idea what to do about fighting.

People who buy tickets are the only ones that count, and many believe no game is complete without a couple of bare knuckle dust-ups.

I'm still convinced that a great number of those so-called fans are still ticked off because, years ago, the NHL wiped out the bench-clearing brawls (20 on 20, sometimes including trainers) that used to be regular occurrences.

Whenever the so-called "violence" debate pops up, talk shows and newspaper columns are full of words from those who say they avoid hockey because fighting is bad but figure skating is good.

It's hard to argue with the crystal-clear NHL logic that those who don't buy tickets don't have the right to vote on this issue - or any of the others that come up from time to time.

Obviously, that disdain extends also to the columnists up in the press boxes who eat free popcorn and drink free coffee.

Otherwise, the tall foreheads that run pro sports would do the smart thing and pay more attention to us.

Puck had his good points

Because I spent two years as Peter Pocklington's public relations director many years ago, I've faced lots of recent questions about his current situation.

It's fair to say he deserves whatever he gets - that applies to all of us - but it's also fair to remember that Edmonton was one of the best sports cities in the world in the 1980s and the Oilers, baseball Trappers and soccer Drillers had a great deal to do with our enjoyment.

Without Pocklington, we'd have had none of them.


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