Sad message for game

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

H. L. Mencken had it right more than a half-century ago.

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public," the noted author wrote after witnessing foibles of the passing scene since 1880.

Having died in 1956, he wasn't around long enough to see many of the things that validate his observation, from the current rush of contrived reality television shows to the White House.

Had he been present in Prince George, B.C., on the weekend, he'd surely have included a segment of the Canadian public in his observation. That's when about 3,000 paid between $35 and $200 to watch the Battle of the Hockey Enforcers.

Must have been no dog-fights in town.

First, let me say that whatever turns your crank in the field of legal combat is fine by me. If 16 hockey sluggers decide to line up to trade punches for 60 seconds a pairing at centre ice, go ahead.

But even the least-discerning hockey fight fan would see that a key element of their peculiar passion would be missing. Hockey fights are usually impromptu things, not stage-managed punchups.

They usually come in the heat of hockey action, unpredictable flareups that most often result in draws. Whether they're being entirely sincere or not, players on each bench make gestures indicating their man won.

The advisability of donning your hockey equipment, minus stick and gloves, to engage another person of like macho tendencies aside, the motivation that runs through all professional hockey was there. The winner was a guy named Dean Mayrand from Windsor, who got $62,000, or several seasons' salary for what he does with his hockey stick in his hands.

His six-year minor league record apparently indicates three goals and 1,241 penalty minutes.

The question is why anyone would pay to see the spectacle.

Some who paid didn't. They walked out when hoped-for National Hockey League heavyweights were not part of the blood-letting.

But there was former NHL badman Link (the Missing Link) Gaetz (San Jose, Minnesota, three seasons, 65 games, six goals, 412 penalty minutes), whose last club was Thetford Mines. He was nailed with a haymaker and dropped to the ice and out of it.

Western professor of psychiatry Larry Littman felt people who attend such events "get some form of vicarious pleasure" from them. "I think they tend to identify with one team or the other or one individual or another fighting."

Littman wondered about hockey generally and whether players who engage in fights during games do so as part of the game's marketing. And whether there is a deeper reason than just getting even with an opposing player.

"It might have the effect of demoralizing the other team and increasing your team's chances of winning," he added. "I suspect people who engage in it are predisposed to be that way. They may have a history of aggression and this is just another modality in which to express it."

The range of forms of combat nowadays for a public willing to watch it goes beyond Roman times and manages, as the oft-moved card that wound up in Prince George proved, to always find a venue.

There was a time world heavyweight boxing championships were held in farmer's fields or on barges. There've been bouts with six or seven blindfolded men in a ring swinging until one was left standing.

There have been bootleg fights, bare-knuckle fights, Hudson Bay Rules fights, boxer-wrestler fights and just about every other form of hand-to-hand combat over the years.

But it's interesting that of all sports, it's hockey that pits man against man with an intent to harm one another.

There's a message for the game there somewhere.


Videos

Photos