Gretzky now OK with fighting

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky became a hockey legend by unleashing slap shots, not body shots.

Having said that, The Great One, the NHL's career leading scorer, begrudgingly admitted yesterday that fighting does have a place in the sport.

Gretzky's opinion differs from that of many anti-fisticuff supporters, who were crying foul after watching the Maple Leafs' Kris Newbury crack his head on the ice when decked by a right hand from the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ronald Petrovicky on Saturday night.

"I'm sure the guy who feels the worst, other than (Newbury), is the guy who hit him," Gretzky, the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, said in a phone interview.

"I don't love fighting, it's not something I tell my players to do, it's not something I would do. But as stupid as it sounds, it probably prevents a lot of stick infractions.

"The unique thing about our sport is that we play with hockey sticks that potentially can be used as weapons. This is a game that is very emotional and guys are only human. Fighting gives them an outlet to release (energy and frustrations) instead of slashing, cross checking and high sticking.

"You almost never see a tough guy grab a small skilled guy and start (punching) either. There is still a code."

Gretzky said his stance has softened a bit with time.

"I've gone back and forth over the years," he said.

"When I went to Los Angeles in 1988, our sport was portrayed in the U.S. as a violent one. But thanks to the influence of guys like Brett Hull in St. Louis, Mike Modano in Dallas and Steve Yzerman in Detroit, there are more kids now playing the game in American markets.

"At least we've gotten away from those stupid bench-clearing brawls."

Gretzky, meanwhile, made it quite clear that he does not want to see bigger nets introduced to the sport despite the fact that the concept seems to be gaining momentum at the NHL level.

"My personal opinion is that it doesn't make sense," he said. "I like the things they have done to make the sport better like providing finesse players a better chance to succeed, but I don't feel bigger nets are required.

"I don't believe it's a direction we need to go, but I'm only one (voice) among 30 (teams). If they vote for it, so be it. It's a democratic thing.

"But if we had to vote right now, I'd definitely say no."


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