December 26 2008 02:34PM
Why do many feel the need to change the culture of hockey? Does it seem broken to you? I know it’s in our (guys’) blood to always find a remedy or cure a problem, because we strive to be the ultimate problem solver. But many times our solutions are unwarranted or completely unnecessary.
Case in point: Sportsnet columnist, Jim Kelley, who I respect as a writer, wrote that the NHL NEEDS to ban fighting, based on the unfortunate incident that has left 21-year-old Don Sanderson in a coma after his helmet fell off during a fight and he smacked his head on the ice.
Of course it is tragic what happened to Sanderson. I wouldn’t wish that on any opponent or young player playing the game. Sanderson plays Senior AAA hockey in Ontario, and just like here in the Chinook AAA guys still drop the mitts in games.
Sanderson was a willing combatant. He didn’t take his helmet off prior to the fight -- it came off during the fight. Kelley makes another typical knee-jerk reaction in declaring that Sanderson’s case proves why fighting needs to be banned.
How often has it happened in the NHL or other pro leagues is the real issue. Never is the answer. The only NHL player to die on the ice was Minnesota North Star, Bill Masterton. (On January 13th, 1968 Masterton died when he fell and hit his head on the ice.) More players have died on the ice after taking a puck in the chest or neck, compared to players dying in a fight. Some, like former Oiler Sergei Zholtok, or recent first rounder Alexei Cherepanov have collapsed and died due to heart failure.
How come Kelley or others, who get on their soapbox ranting about fighting, haven’t led the charge to get titanium chest protectors or neck protectors? Because they don’t truly care about the well being of the players, they just don’t like fighting. And unfortunately their weak argument is that it MIGHT happen. Based on that reasoning, we should all drive with helmets, or even better walk around wearing a helmet to protect us from a head injury because it MIGHT happen.
The NHL has been around for more than 100 years. There have been more than 45,000 games played and not one player has died in a fight. And this includes more than 25,000 games where players didn’t wear helmets. Sorry Mr. Kelley, there is no basis to your argument other than you don’t like fighting. Don’t tell us that we don’t need it, because they don’t fight in Europe or that it isn’t as prevalent in the playoffs.
Who cares how they play it in Europe? We play Canadian hockey, and for once in this country we should stand up for how WE do things. And they do fight in the playoffs, just not as often recently. And why is that? Because the stupid instigator rule allows players to be cheap and not suffer the consequences, because no one wants to take an extra minor that might cost them the game. It wasn’t long ago that the most intense games and FIGHTS occurred in the playoffs between the Bruins/Habs, Oilers/Flames or any of the other great rivalries.
When Jerome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, the two best players in the series, dropped them in the 2004 Stanley Cup final, fans and pundits adored them. It is still one of the most talked about moments from that series.
And whether you like it or not, those who want to ban fighting are in the minority. And too often the vocal minority is heard, and this is a case where the majority should be heard.
I like fighting. I think it is part of the game and it still has its place. Players need to be able to police the game themselves, because if they can’t we will see more and more neck injuries from cheap hits like we see today.
And the other issue that none of the anti-fighting partisans talk about is CHOICE. Sanderson made the choice to drop his gloves. He and his opponent mutually agreed and they went at it man-to-man. The outcome of that event is awful, but I haven’t heard anyone from the Sanderson family screaming for a ban in fighting, or looking to sue someone, because I believe they understand that their son made a decision. One that they themselves have made on the ice, or probably cheered when someone did it in the NHL.
Too often we demand knee-jerk solutions after watching or reading about tragic events. I pray that Don Sanderson awakes from his coma, and can return to a happy and healthy life. But one unfortunate incident should not change the fabric of our game. Of course, we are more aware of the dangers of fighting, and the possibility, albeit incredibly slim, that a serious injury might occur if we doff the gloves, but we shouldn’t be playing the game, or living our lives, thinking about "what ifs." It isn’t productive nor is it a foundation for an argument.