SUN Hockey Pool

NHL scrappers divided over fighting issue

Chris Nilan laughs at the farewell tournament for Guy Lafleur. (Martin Chevalier/QMI Agency)

Chris Nilan laughs at the farewell tournament for Guy Lafleur. (Martin Chevalier/QMI Agency)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:13 PM ET

The suicide of former NHL brawler Wade Belak has former enforcers divided over the issue of fighting.

Chris Nilan, one of the league's top enforcers a generation ago for the Montreal Canadiens, says it's time for commissioner Gary Bettman to snuff out fighting for good.

"The NHL should ban fighting because it's no longer a factor in the games," Nilan told QMI Agency.

Belak, 35, hanged himself in a downtown Toronto hotel/condo building Wednesday.

Reports say Belak's mother confirmed Friday that her son was dealing with depression but appeared to be "taking control of that." Other reports, citing unnamed sources, say the Saskatoon native was taking medication to treat his depression.

The death of Belak -- and two other NHL enforcers, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard, earlier this summer -- has ignited a firestorm of controversy about fighting in hockey. Some are quick to blame the nature of their NHL roles for playing a part in their deaths but even those who fought for a living can't agree if fighting should be taken out of the game.

Nilan, a Boston native who amassed more than 3,000 career penalty minutes, said today's tough guys are hired only to fight, whereas enforcers in his era could also play the game. The 53-year-old recorded 110 goals and 115 assists in his 13 seasons.

"Fighters these days can even be called up before the games," he said. "Come on, it makes no sense."

But Georges Laraque, another ex-Canadiens heavyweight, vehemently disagreed with Nilan, telling an Edmonton radio station this week that cheap shots are a bigger problem in hockey than fighting. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Montrealer also had harsh words for retired scrappers who are now calling for a fighting ban.

"All the former guys I used to fight, and who think they (NHL) should phase that out, they make me want to puke," Laraque told 880 AM. "That's selfish, because there's another guy like me who won't be talented enough (skill-wise) to make it to the NHL."

Boogaard's brain is being examined by researchers at Boston University to determine if he had a degenerative condition when he accidentally overdosed on alcohol and prescription painkillers in May. The co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy confirmed that Boogaard's family donated his brain to the university.

MIKITA DOING OK

Hall of Famer Stan Mikita, who was diagnosed with stage one oral cancer earlier this year, appears to be on the road to recovery.

The former Chicago Blackhawks forward underwent 31 radiation treatments at the base of his tongue and, even though he lost some weight, the prognosis is good.

"It looks very clean," Mikita said on the Blackhawks' website. "That's what the doctors told me, and I am very thankful. Jill and I always had a happy home, but it's even happier now.

"The doctors, nurses and oncologists who treated me have been unbelievable. It's been an emotional time for me, and after I went in the other day to be examined, and got the results, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry." 


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