FIGHTING: WHAT COST TRADITION?

Robin Brownlee
March 21 2011 09:38PM

Is it time for the NHL to eliminate fighting?

I've heard that question asked 100 times if I've heard it once in the last 28 years or so writing about hockey for a living, and I've always had the same reaction. I'd look at the Goody Two Shoes asking it like they were some sort of drooling fool, scowl or roll my eyes and say, "Hell, no." Quite often, followed by a barely audible, "Sissy."

When somebody raises the topic or poses the question now, I find I'm not reacting the same way. I'm not sure when my opinion on bare-knuckles fighting changed, and I'm not certain exactly how far it's shifted, but the question no longer offends me.

I don't see the possibility of taking the act of "dropping the gloves" out of hockey as some sort of sacrilegious assault on the integrity of the game. I don't perceive posing the question as a misplaced bit do-good-ism, as a query to be dismissed off-hand because it clashes, rather mightily in my particular case, with the way I've always viewed fisticuffs.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm now of the opinion it's a question that is at least worth asking, even if some of you out there are bound to roll your eyes and utter, "Sissy."

TIMES CHANGE

When people used to raise the issue of fighting, I'd say," It's part of the game." It seemed like a handy default answer. Hockey players have been punching each other senseless since the first puck hit the ice, so, in that regard, yes, it's part of the game.

Then again, having goaltenders play bare-faced was once part of the game. I'm old enough to remember it. If you're in your 20s or even 30s, think about that. Goaltenders used to face shooters bare-faced -- slap shots, screened shots. Pile-ups in the crease, skate blades, sticks. Now, if a goaltender loses his mask, the referee blows the whistle.

Having players play without helmets was once part of the game. I used to figure that was a personal choice by players and so did the NHL -- use of helmets was grandfathered in and bare-headed players, Craig MacTavish was the last, disappeared. A bad thing?

Take something as basic as the netting required in the end zone of rinks to protect fans from wayward pucks. After 13-year-old Britannie Cecil died after being struck in the head by a puck in a game between the Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames in March 2002, the NHL mandated safety netting would be installed in rinks. There was great debate.

"Netting? We won't be able to see" or "You can't put netting in. We've never had netting." A young girl died but there was still debate. Do we give netting a thought now?

Times change. And when people are permanently injured or even killed because of what we do and how we do it, even allowing for reasonable risks that are inherent in a game like hockey, they should.

PART OF THE GAME

I don't like what doctors found when they looked at Bob Probert's brain. I'm uncomfortable Raitis Ivanans hasn't played a game since a Steve MacIntyre punch dropped him like he'd been shot in the head. There was a time when I wouldn't have given the brain injuries suffered by Probert and Ivanans a second throught. Part of the job.

Framed in what we're learning about brain injuries suffered by athletes and the long-term effects of those injuries, I'm wondering if we should take another look at what we consider "part of the game."

I'm conflicted about that. I've always felt something of a kinship with hockey tough guys, players who take up that last spot or two on a roster because they're willing to bend noses and kick ass, to take care of business and ride shotgun, to put themselves in harm's way.

Guys like Rudy Poeschek, the toughest player I have ever known, and Georges Laraque, a sweetheart away from the rink who I know well and spent many years on the road with. All the hammers, really.

I admire them and always have. Now, I fear for them, well-paid for being ruffians or not.

SECOND THOUGHTS

This isn't knee-jerk stuff for me. As long-time readers at Oilersnation know, I did the tough guy gig as a lacrosse player. I scrapped some as a hockey player. I had boxing gloves and a heavy bag hanging in my garage from the time I was 13 years old.

I was a big kid -- six-foot-two and about 205 pounds by the time I was 14. I liked to fight. I got my ass kicked more times than I remember because of it. Concussions? I don't know how many. Too many.

It was part of the game and it was my job and a way to be a part of the team. I did it until I got tired of getting beat up and hurting all the time. I got sick of seeing my mom with tears in her eyes because I'd busted my nose or a knuckle again or had punched out another kid. It was not part of the game for her.

Those days long gone, I still enjoyed fighting. I had all the fight tapes in the old VCR days. Later, I had all of the fight websites bookmarked on my computer. I've watched Poeschek and Craig Berube pound each other 1,000 times. Trevor Senn? Look him up. The arrival of YouTube? There's a smorgasbord of mayhem. Great stuff, right?

HERE WE ARE

We didn't know then -- especially going back to when I was 15 or 25 or even 35 -- what we know now, what the medical evidence is telling us about brain injuries. About what happens to the players who bring the crowd to their feet when the gloves hit the ice.

So, if the NHL is taking steps to reduce the number of concussions its players sustain by eliminating headshots from the game, how long can it allow players to drop their gloves and punch each other because "it's part of the game." Because it entertains us?

I know the numbers in recent NHL studies on concussions -- Mark Spector at Sportsnet, among others, has written some compelling stuff on this -- show fighting isn't nearly the biggest culprit when it comes to brain injuries. Cheap stuff like Matt Cooke got suspended for and legal hits during the course of a game account for many more.

That said, based on what we know now, how many brain injuries are OK? What's the number? If the NHL is finds it unacceptable for a player to target the head of another player with a shoulder or an elbow, how much longer can it accept that doing it with a fist is part of the game? I don't have the answer.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
March 22 2011, 12:20AM
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stevezie wrote:

Players are not only bigger(Dave "The Hammer" Schulz was 185 pounds), they're more specialized. Have players always spent the offseason taking boxing lessons? The strength and punching skill of modern enforcers makes fighting exponentially more dangerous than it once was. Just like curved sticks and slap-shots necessitated goalie masks, so to does this change physicality call for change.

My bold solution? Get rid of fighting in juniors. Something that doesn't often get mentioned is how much worse brain injuries are for developing brains. Everyone knows it's bad to get a fetus drunk, but it's also not great to give a teenager a concussion. This will also greatly cut down on the number of super-punchers in the big leagues, because they'll have no place to develop those skills, and it's my personal opinion that enforcers cause a lot more violence than they prevent (eg. Tie Domi was one of the dirtiest players of his era. Enforcers don't do anything anyway- when was the last time someone jumped Chris Pronger?)

The main justifications for modern fighting is that players are adults who are well-compensated- juniors are none of those things. They are in a much higher risk group.

Disagree.

Take it out of junior and watch the rookies get dumbied by the vets in the NHL because the rooks don't know how to fight. Probably more dangerous this way.

Either take it out at both levels or none at all. And none for me please. The guys who fight, chose to fight. Pronger doesn't because he choses not to. No need to baby sit them.

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#52 stevezie
March 22 2011, 12:32AM
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Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy! wrote:

Disagree.

Take it out of junior and watch the rookies get dumbied by the vets in the NHL because the rooks don't know how to fight. Probably more dangerous this way.

Either take it out at both levels or none at all. And none for me please. The guys who fight, chose to fight. Pronger doesn't because he choses not to. No need to baby sit them.

That Pronger chooses not to is exactly my point; enforcers only fighting willing participants has little to no effect on dirty play.

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#53 Forrestt
March 22 2011, 01:28AM
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Great article Robin, always enjoy your thoughts. My 2 cents are this... everybody has a job. Some of the jobs out there are jobs that "pay well" but inherently threaten your health in the long run. Take the lobstermen fishers, paid great but risky buisness out on the Beaufort Sea. Chemical plant workers, again paid good but inherint long term health affects. Fire Fighters, Insulators, Mine Workers, the list goes on and on. Fighters in the NHL.... paid great and like other populations in society may also be very detremental to your health in the longterm. Is it right or wrong I don't know, but there are many professions out there that offer the same sort of risk reward benefit. It feels like society has changed in regards to hockey fighters anyways, either that or I'm just getting old lol.

Cheers.... Forrestt

PS: The people I fell most sorry now are for the poor engineers working on that nuclear recator in Japan. They truely are heros working for the greater good, but shortening there lives by far.

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#54 Ethan Kortbeek
March 22 2011, 02:41AM
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Come gather 'round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You'll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin' Then you better start swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'. - Bob Dylan

weird, how lyrics can be written 30+ yrs ago and be relevant now...great article robin, its a piece to consider for sure, even if I think the fighting should stay, it appears to be unsafe for the players but who is to say...a thinker good sir...and for better men then me to say.

well done.

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#55 Ethan Kortbeek
March 22 2011, 02:44AM
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on a seperate note, the NHL and Daly got this one exactly right...my prediction of rest of season and entire 1st round was right, but well done NHL...I honestly expected a 5 gamer, as the suspension dept has missed on so many prior to this one.

Excellent job for a change. cooke is a bum.

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#56 mayorpoop
March 22 2011, 06:28AM
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good piece RB.

you cant have change without discussion. the mere fact more people are willing to listen the arguements for and against fighting is a positive.

personally i think removing the instigator penalty would prove nothing and accomplish less.

flow of the game intensity and heat of the moment umbrage players have for one another im completely fine with. the production needs have the curtains closed on it for good.

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#57 -30-
March 22 2011, 06:42AM
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@ Robin, what does it say about you liking to be fighting? Most sane people don't like to get hurt or to hurt other people.

For someone to enjoy both? Scary.

This goes far beyond violence in sport. It's a much deeper psychological thing. Violence doesn't usually start and stop on the playing field.

-30-

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#58 Clyde Frog
March 22 2011, 07:46AM
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I'm not against getting rid of fighting or forcing rules to change it.

Alter the gloves, so a player wanting to fight is at least taped up. Force players to use mouth-guards and bring in the basic medical standards every other fighting body is required to follow, ie mandatory drug testing, medical review sessions after each fight that could require players to sit for up to 6 months, etc.

If fighting is PART of the game, then the league should be required to actually govern and protect the players engaging in it at a real level.

I get that chipiness and stickwork would be expected to go up, but honestly saying that a referee could not be empowered to actually control the hockey game and enforce zero tolerance policies is a joke. They can, just like the hooking changes there would be a big adjustment period but in the end they would get it.

Hell this entire blindside hit suspension debate is just that, the league removing dangerous acts from the game without requiring one team to clear the benches and brawl.

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#59 michael
March 22 2011, 07:51AM
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With pukes like Cooke in the game.The inability of the NHL to punish the kind of hits that are worse than fighting. For me if we could get rid of those plays the need for fighting would decrease markedly.

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#60 Mitch
March 22 2011, 07:58AM
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I'll be the first to admit I love a good scrap. With all the rules of the game changing, players careers ending, yes the NHL must seriously look at getting out of the fight game. At the very least giving a game misconduct for guys that do fight. I love MacIntyre, but the way Renney uses him, I hate it, this game isn't played by tough guys anymore, yes the players no doubt there tough. Time for some serious discussion on change.

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#61 rubbertrout
March 22 2011, 08:00AM
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The irony of this whole thing is that while the NHL wants to "clean up" the headshots what's over on NHL.com to promote the game? It is the dirty little secret that although the league wants to curtail injuries it knows that many fans want to see the fights. All the videos out there celebrating the "tough guy" and the fighter move more NHL prduct than the game itself does (at least south of the border).

I like fighting in the game although I'm not a fan of brain injuries. Makes me conflicted I guess.

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#62 Kaiser Wilhelm
March 22 2011, 08:02AM
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I love watching two big men drop the gloves. Macintyre/Ivanins was probably the highlight of the season for me. Plus, I feel like hockey is one of two sports (lacross being the other) where the players carry a weapon, and I have always felt the outlet fighting provides reduces the chance of serious injuries via sticks.

That said, I get sick every time I see a player's head snap back like that of a bobblehead doll. The fact Ivanins hasn't played since that fight makes me worried for his long-term health--and don't say he has a choice, he could always be driving a truck, because that totally misses the point.

I'm in the same boat Robin. I want to justify fighting, but the more I see, the less I can justify it with my own conscience.

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#63 mayorpoop
March 22 2011, 08:20AM
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dr_oil99 wrote:

Sorry RB but I disagree. Your point is to remove fighting to increase the safety for the players, no more punches to the head. Sure there are some fights in the game that are pointless but then there are some fights that are purely done for the safety of team mates .....accountability...... When some A hole takes a run at someone and has their elbows up or hits them in the numbers there is a lot more risk of serious injury in that than the ensuing fight. The fight took place to try and "encourage" the A hole from doing that again, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't but it was done in the name of accountability (big word for safety).

For me, the only time you can get rid of fighting is when you get rid of hitting and the A holes. I'm sure none of us want to see a game with no hitting.

In a word, you get rid of fighting you get rid of accountibilty, look what the instigator rule has done!!!!

what exactly has the instigator rule done?

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#64 Sheldon Oilers Fan for Life!!!
March 22 2011, 08:22AM
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As a moral ethical person there is no place for violence in my personal life. Yet I have always enjoyed a good scrap in Hockey. This is a dichotomy for sure and I tend to agree with Don Cherry a lot on the subject. The reason I still see it as important was shown in the past few weeks. If a player takes liberties with another player the result must be serious protection by the league. Because They refuse to send a serious message to players such as Cooke and Avery whom hurt other players. Even a fist(First) offense need serious repercussions. When and only when the league takes presence of mind to protect players in such a fashion will the "Goon" become obsolete. In many ways the league has already made the players more vulnerable with the 2 minute extra for starting a fight can you see what happened to Smid happening to any Oiler in Seminko's day I say NO WAY!!! Avery would have been in a body cast before the final buzzer. I would be happy to see violence leave hockey but the league need to become the Dave Seminko for all the Gretzky's on every team.

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#65 mikehardley
March 22 2011, 08:44AM
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You cannot even attempt to compare boxing and hockey fights. Not even remotely close.

And as for Bob Probert's brain, I think his hard living lifestyle of cocaine and booze might have had a huge impact on his brain.

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#66 rubbertrout
March 22 2011, 08:49AM
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@dr_oil99

See the article from a few weeks back about what the players actually think about the instigator rule.

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#67 Zarf
March 22 2011, 08:50AM
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If fighting is completely eliminated, then I think the NHL must also move to require mandatory full face-shields on the players. Not just visors. Face-shields like they have in the NCAA.

If you completely eliminate fighting, then I believe there will be a marked increase in stickwork, elbows to the head and all of the other tools and techniques players will employ in lieu of fighting.

Yes, I'm one of those guys who believe the instigator penalty was a bad idea.

But, I'm not unlike Robin - I believe that it's probably time to look at whether or not fighting is needed anymore.

But I do think that when it goes away, there will need to be other measures taken to deal with the spinoffs because it'll be mayhem out there with the cheapshots for the first little while.

Perhaps we need to make minor penalties three or four minutes rather than two? Or how about eliminating the Montreal Canadiens rule on penalties involving elbowing or shots to the head? (i.e. the penalty doesn't end when the PP team scores).

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#68 Rick
March 22 2011, 08:55AM
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I think there is still place for fighting in the game. It has been and should still be a good pressure release valve for what can go on during the course of a game.

Of course that mechanism has been perverted by the so called arms race that emerged which switched from hockey players with a good knack for fighting to fighters that could make it out to the face off dot.

Not much different from where body contact started from and has since gone to. It went from seperating a guy from the puck (I want to think that the rule book at one time even qualified a legal body check in that exact term) to seperating a guy's head from his body.

In both cases the trick is how does the game get back to it's roots? It seems that no one really has that answer.

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#69 Gilmore Tuttle
March 22 2011, 09:01AM
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stevezie wrote "My bold solution? Get rid of fighting in juniors. Something that doesn't often get mentioned is how much worse brain injuries are for developing brains. Everyone knows it's bad to get a fetus drunk, but it's also not great to give a teenager a concussion."

True, Jesse Pearson of the Oil Kings has been out of the game since losing a fight in the first half of the season. One punch and he may never play hockey again. Unfortunately, many of these fights are of the "staged" variety with the peeling off of the equipment while circling each other before the bout. Many others are for "retribution" where somebody has to pay for a clean check.

My solution? I don't have anything novel. What about upping the fighting major to 10 minutes? Would that make a difference in Junior? Maybe as they don't seem to have the roster room for pure goons. What about sitting out the next game? Again, maybe. Unfortunately, unless the same rules are brought to the NHL, the bad behaviour will just be delayed.

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#70 J-Bird
March 22 2011, 09:06AM
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I suppose I'm a neanderthal and all that, but I say no. Consent is givin in a fight. These injuries happening these days, no consent is givin.

However, as a parent, I think we soften up. I look at the junior leagues, where these are kids, 16-20 years of age. The overwhelming majority of them will end up in the working world just like the rest of us. I think if they start somewhere with a ban, the junior league's is it.

Owners in the CHL getting rich off the backs of unpaid highschoolers, while not offering normal protection for kids under the age of 18 is nuts when you think about it. Fighting shouldn't be in junior, period.

Most of those kids will have to get a job and pay the bills someday. Very few will live the pro life.

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#71 fuck off
March 22 2011, 09:10AM
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The only way that fighting will come out of the game is if the NHL officiates and suspends cheap-shot hits immediately and with impunity. Fighting's place in the game is to counter act cowardice. You run some body, you answer the bell; that's the way it's always been. If you want to get rid of the effect you first have to remove the cause. Nobody gets run or cheap shotted, then nobody fights. Pure and simple.

This issue is entirely in the NHL's hands and the officials who are on the ice, game in and game out. Better officiating = no fighting = greater safety.

I think a study needs to be done on how a game progresses and leads up to a fight or an injury/head shot. Aside from fights like Jones' last one at the start of the game; I'm confident the two highest results will be blown calls and random bone-head cowardice ala Matt Cooke. Ref the games right and you eliminate 1/2 of the problem. Issue heavy handed suspensions to malicious idiots and the game will be cleaned up; with or without a Game Misconduct or other ban for fighting.

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#72 Moses
March 22 2011, 09:14AM
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I find a good tilt to be entertaining, but other that that I see no value in fighting. It is purely entertainment as far as I am concerned. I don't believe it improves safety of other players whatsoever.

Would I miss fighting in the NHL if they cut it out of the game? Not at all. I can watch skilled fighters in the UFC if I am in the mood for a fight.

I dont not consider NHL enforcers to be exceptionally skilled fighters, and for the most part are not cream of the crop hockey players either. Watch Georges Laraque and Georges St. Pierre have a little grappling match online. Laraque would have no chance in a real fight against a professional fighter.

So what I'm trying to say is, I dont necessarily care to watch mediocre fighting or mediocre hockey. Getting rid of fights in the NHL might eliminate some of both. Just my opinion....

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#73 madjam
March 22 2011, 09:21AM
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No easy solution to concussions or dangerous play . Too many teams , games and even roids have led to many injuries of the serious note . Speed , size and equipment and other factors have all led to more serious injuries . Players tee off on one another as games gets played in smaller and smaller spaces due to goalie equipment and never making goal area any bigger . Collisions of all varities are far more frequent and dangerous . Even players with full shields/masks and football helments would have difficulty making little to no difference .

How do you slow down game and open up the ice at same time while taking some of the physical aspects out of game or reduce them so as the problem shows real signs of reduction ? Stick work also needs to be looked at as a contributing factor as well, as does even the perpensity for players to turn their bodies into a hit to draw penalties, etc..

Fighting does not help matters especially considering the size, fighting capabilities , and weight of the combatants . It's aggrevating seeing players like Boogard , etc. targetting mismatched stars of other teams fighting or otherwise .

Perhaps the best way is to slow the speed of the game down , modify the equipment and expand the goal size to have play expand outward more frequently .

It is a huge problem that simply has grown over the years in contributing factors , frequency and seriousness. No one solution can or will do much on it's own to correct it . Nor will the integrity of the game remain quite the same after all factors are taken into account .

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#74 book¡e
March 22 2011, 09:24AM
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I have a question for some of the 'oldtimers' out there. Was hockey really full of respect and honour in the 1960s?

My take on it was that there was just as much stickwork, elbow-work, etc. in the game back then.

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#75 madjam
March 22 2011, 10:01AM
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book¡e wrote:

I have a question for some of the 'oldtimers' out there. Was hockey really full of respect and honour in the 1960s?

My take on it was that there was just as much stickwork, elbow-work, etc. in the game back then.

I'd say it was far more dirty , but equipment led to players attitudes being better than todays core . Speed was less prevalent and stickwork was upped due to European influence . Hooking and holding was also far more prevalent . Respect and honour was no better than it is today - perhaps even worse . Fewer teams led to a hen pecking order back then that was easier to deal with for officials and players . At least most of the fighters stuck to a code of picking on players of their own variety than todays players whom seem to relish going after oppositions star players be they small or not . Use of red line also helped to keep speed of game in check , and thus serious injuries from collisions was noticeable or miniminalized to some extent . Back then you could actually score from all sides of the ice as goalie equipment was not nearly so big !

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#76 @Oilanderp
March 22 2011, 10:18AM
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Please don't take fighting out of my game. We might as well remove the ice as it can be pretty slippery. We could replace it with nice soft bouncy mattresses for the players to gaily jump up and down on! Hey....and take the nets and puck out of it too that way every game will end in a tie and there will be no losers! Yaaaaaayyyy!

Take fighting out of hockey? Shadddaaaaaap!

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#77 Kaiser Wilhelm
March 22 2011, 10:21AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

For me, the medical evidence of the damage that is done has shifted my perception.

I covered a lot of boxing in the late 1980s and early 1990s and you often ran into a fighter who was "punch drunk." I wrote it off as an obvious result of the sport -- a guy has 50 or more amateur bouts, 30 or 40 as a pro and gets hit in the head, what, 5,000 times, what would you expect?

We know now it doesn't take nearly that much repeated damage to cause long-term impairment. People have lives to live after their athletic careers, whatever level they played at, are done.

I worked with one of those boxers you mention over the summer. He was a great guy--but his brain just didn't work right, which made life interesting for his co-workers, to say the least.

The likes of Arturo Gatti, Cris Benoit, and any of the 1960's-era NFL linemen who died at 50 have given me serious cause to question the role of fighting--and this comes from a guy who has been a fan of hockey fighting since I was able to distinguish icing from offside.

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#78 Albertaboy111
March 22 2011, 10:46AM
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While this may be a question to address in the future Brownlee, I think we have much bigger fish to fry at this point, and the fact remains, removing fighting will only force players to find other ways to vent frustration with each other. If we are trying to get rid of bad hits in hockey, getting rid of fighting won't help the cause, it will just make sure bad hits only option a frustrated player can take.

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#79 Pension Plan Puppets
March 22 2011, 10:55AM
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Good to see the knuckledraggers come out in a discussion about the serious topic of players' safety.

Personally, I love a fight that arises out of the passion of the game. The talk about it acting as a deterrent to other violence is absolute bull. It's like pretending the death penalty is a crime deterrent.

A few commenters have noted that there is consent in a fight. Educate the players and if they still want to fight then it's their prerogative. More important is to deal with cheap shots effectively. Giving a guy 17 games for his first deliberate elbow to the head and the resulting fine will do more to discourage cheap shots than the fights that never come. In addition, changes that get the useless players out of the league that serve no purpose other than to fight should be a focus.

Leave fighting alone for now.

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#80 Gilmore Tuttle
March 22 2011, 10:58AM
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Referees also need to start calling the "free" cheap shot after a goal that seems to have become accepted in the game. It is not like the whole rink isn't watching, including the zebras.

I have yet to find the exemption in the rule book that states that a defenseman gets one free shot at a player who scores a goal without fear of penalty or sanction.

Screw up your assignment and you get to cross-check or punch somebody. In reality, it should be the teammate of the defenseman who gets a free shot on them for not doing their job.

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#81 Eulers
March 22 2011, 11:30AM
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Robin, Huge kudos to you for reevaluating your position on this issue. I'm glad that the issue is up for healthy debate.

I wouldn't mind at all if the league banned fighting, though I respect other fans that want to keep it and I especially respect the MacIntyre's of the world. However, like Robin, the mounting medical evidence is tilting me towards an outright ban.

I sure don't miss fighting during the Olympics or the playoffs!

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#82 dave lumley
March 22 2011, 11:34AM
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Passion! You can rule passion out of the game. No cheap shots, no retribution, no anger, no passion. If someone take righteous exception to passionate play, let them deal with it. There are far too many snoozer games we pay top dollar for. Please don't do anything to reduce the passion.

There are always guys that need to be dealt with with muscle in this world and we are never going to eliminate that. Just look at our friend in Libya. He picked a fight and now he gets a punch in the nose. Wow, a ceasefire.

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#83 Sheldon Oilers Fan for Life!!!
March 22 2011, 11:36AM
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MR. Brownlee I almost never see any "PROPS" given I know it wont work when I am on the page. Are many other having the same problem?

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#84 John Andress
March 22 2011, 11:39AM
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Oh dear! Oh dear! I wonder what Don Cherry will have to say about you after this? I, on the other hand, agree with you entirely and appreciate your thoughtful approach to a problem that, amongst hockey fans, is an emotive and divisive, issue. I am a, shall we say, "mature fan", and I, too, remember the days of bare faced goalies. I have seen many changes in the game designed to increase the safety of the players and the entertainment value of the game. When I watch old, classic games that electrified me when they occurred I am amazed at how slow and pedestrian it all appears. So it is without question that the game has changed and, for the most part, it has been for the better. I believe that it is time for the game to embrace the change and eliminate fighting. If the NHL does what it should and takes the lead in promoting player safety (the NHLPA has a role in this as well but seems to prefer to remain nearly silent and let the NHL take all the heat), the final argument in favour of fighting, that ultimately an enforcer must make a player responsible for his actions on the ice, is eliminated. Hasn't worked very well anyway, has it? See Matt Cooke et al. The game is played by healthy, young, testosterone-fueled males and collisions will inevitably happen. If they are dealt with effectively and the teams involved suffer penalties as well, it will be virtually eliminated from the game. As in soccer and other physical sports, immediate ejection of the combatants from the game makes these events a rareity and those of us who prefer to admire the grace, speed, skill, and, yes, toughness of this magnificent game can enjoy our viewing secure in the knowledge that no-one's brains are getting scrambled in the process.

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#85 Chaz
March 22 2011, 11:51AM
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Pardon my self-indulgance, but I just love the fact that my avatar makes an appearance in this article.

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#87 D-Man
March 22 2011, 12:09PM
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I don't think you'll ever see fighting leave the game.. As many have already said - there is too much testosterone on the ice to eliminate completely. I'm not even sure an immediate ejection from a game would deter a good scrap. The game is evolving on its own - the Smakintyre's of the world are becoming a dying breed. If a player can't skate at an NHL caliber, he won't be playing - regardless of how good of an enforcer he is.

I think the NHL should focus more on allowing the players to police themselves. Take the instigator rule out of the rule book. In my days of old time hockey - Matt Cooke would never have made it off the ice in one piece for that dirty elbow. If we allow the skilled power forwards such as a Lucic or an Iginla or even a Morrow to deal with that crap - I think you'll see concussions drop even further.

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#88 Druds
March 22 2011, 12:16PM
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I don't know where to go with this, I appreciate what your saying but I also feel it's starting to sound like social engineering. I want to believe that people who go into a career know and understand both the benefits and the risk involved. Do we not allow Firefighters to enter burning buildings because they might get hurt? These are grown men who are payed money and they have all the information they need to make an informed choice about their careers. If we follow this line of thinking we end up with shinny on a pond which is great but I do not want to pay to watch that.

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#89 oiler_head
March 22 2011, 12:21PM
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The fighting in hockey needs to be evolved...

1. Eliminate it from junior or mandate that gloves remain on.

2. Get rid of the staged fight. That's ridiculous to watch. Spontaneous = good; staged = bad.

3. If the players' get thier fight on, immediate game misconduct for remainder and the for the next.

4. Heavily penalize stickwork and headshots consistently. Punish the lazy dumb players and the teams employing them. SMac contributes well enough when given a chance and doesn't take dumb penalties he is not lazy or dumb.

The NHL has created its own monster. It is inconsistent in its penalities and messages. It glorifies fights and hits that injure and that needs to stop. Showcase the speed and skill of these players and not the thuggery.

Finally, I kind of like the idea of gloved fighting but I am not sure if it will gets end up as jersey tugging.

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#90 Kris
March 22 2011, 12:25PM
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Great article Robin. Balanced, passionate, interesting. Really great piece.

I recommend everybody read former football player and WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski's book: "Headgames Football's Concussion Crisis." He also did a great interview on Terry Gross's NPR show. Nowinksi says we have to minimize concussions. I think Robin's point is excellent: minimizing unnecessary fighting is an easy way to do that.

And everyone is right that you can play an intense, physical, passionate game without much fighting at all. The examples are endless: the Olympics, the old Canada Cup, the playoffs nowadays.

And the NFL and CFL are physical, too. Some melees break out, but everyone is expected to calm themeselves and collect themselves.

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#91 Chris.
March 22 2011, 12:35PM
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Am I missing something or is fighting already not allowed? People who fight get a five minute major penalty... Adding a game misconduct, or fine, or short suspension will not eliminate fighting... at least not the real fights born of true emotion or the desire for retribution. ~Ban~ fighting and watch the total resurgence of the roughing penalty.

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#92 Philip
March 22 2011, 12:42PM
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Fighting used to be a part of the game when it was Gordie Howe or Maurice Richard doing the punching. Now we have staged fights between guys that work on their MMA style fighting instead of working on skating or stickwork during the offseason.

The game of hockey like the invention of the automobile has become a specialized career. You are a "stay at home defenseman" or a "power forward" or a "puck moving defenseman". Then there is the other one, you are a fighter. It used to be that you could characterize a huge number of players with each one of those titles but not anymore.

So I say, get rid of the fighter, get rid of the thing that slows down the game and does nothing but make us a circus sideshow to americans. Yes it's our game but it must grow and to do that, we must sell it. So sell the speed, the toughness, and the ice. Leave the fighting to UFC which is where McIntyre could probably excel!

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#93 Chris.
March 22 2011, 12:47PM
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I was sitting next to a guy from Holland in my local bar. There was a replay of a hockey fight on TV. He said he was a soccer fan and was utterly disgusted by what he was watching and said both players should be banned for life. I told him that the players were not undisciplined, but were just doing their job. In Canada we believe it's way less disgusting for the paid professionals to do battle on the ice than to have so much violence in the stands.

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#94 JB
March 22 2011, 01:02PM
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I'm not so concerned about fighting in hockey. However the only professional leagues (and junior) where it is even tolerated is here in North America. No big deal one way or the other for me. I dont even think the NHL needs to rule on head shots - there are rules already that take care of this. You want to stop the Matt Cooke's of the world from the kind of crap he pulls? Then get rid of the armour these guys wear today. Mark Messier didn't take a run at a guy with his elbows up covered by anything more than a little leather. The shoulder pads a wee tiny plastic cup on the top of a bunch of cotton stuffed padding. The equipment has had a way bigger impact on the lack of respect players show one another. If you were gonna through that elbow or blindside shoulder to the head, you would have to deal with the consequences...now they dont even feel anything.

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#95 Oilers21
March 22 2011, 01:39PM
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The 2 comments I take issue with that you hear way too much are "X is part of the game, you can't take it out" and "players have lost respect for each other". These points just dissolve under any sort of scrutiny. If we couldn't change hockey because things are "part of the game" we would still be playing with a rover and no forward passing. There would be no glass along the boards and no one would wear helmets. I could go on forever. To say that fighting is "part of the game" and shouldn't be removed for that reason is just ridiculous. Likewise the point "players have lost respect for each other". Just watch any game from the 70s and prior. Where was the respect when Dale Rolfe was beaten so badly by Dave Schultz that his teammates were afraid to come to his rescue? Where was the respect when Rick Jodzio pummelled Marc Tardif with both fists while Tardif lay unconscious on the ice? It may seem I'm pointing to specific isolated cases from the past but anyone who watched hockey from the '70s would know that's not the case. Not saying that there aren't players that don't respect each other, but I just can't believe that all of a sudden players "lost" some sort of mythical respect that they all used to have for each other.

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#96 ricky p
March 22 2011, 01:56PM
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I agree. Call penalties that are slashes, cross checks(even in front of the net), hits from behind, elbows . Like in football, make it a penalty for a late hit (2 seconds after the puck is gone). The league now calls all these cheap hooking calls, even if appears you reach in with the stick. But a guy can take a nasty cross check from behind in front of the net and it is not called. Less fights will occur if the league takes action on the crap. Let the emotional fights still go.

NHL hockey is in trouble. Too many teams, too many marginal players, no consistent discipline. When it is about economics and markets and not about product, the game will suffer.

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#97 Dman09
March 22 2011, 02:54PM
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I would like to point out that there are at lot of jobs out there were the rate of permanent injury or death is a lot higher than hockey and those professions do not make anywhere near as much money as hockey players.

Also I think that some of this has to go back to the players. A fight doesn't have to be nasty. You don't have to swing so hard that you know if you connect your breaking bones. Or if you notice the opponent is cut open then that's where the fight should stop. Maybe an appropriate course of action would be: if a player is injured in a fight, the fighter causing the injury will be suspended until the injured player is healthy enough be back in the line up.

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#98 kawi460
March 22 2011, 04:46PM
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I remember in jr b they put cages on players..... this caused a lot more of trash talk and stick play, a couple of years later they went to visors and there have been less cheap shots, and trash talking as players don't want to get in a fight or get a glove in the face.

IMO fights belong in the game for several reasons, to police the game and for momentum changes to name a few,

good read

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#99 John Andress
March 22 2011, 05:56PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Once again, I agree with you entirely. It appears that the NHL has at least taken a few tentative steps on the road to ensuring that the equipment used, the arena they play in and the rules regulating the game maximize the protection afforded the athlete without compromising the essence and integrity of the game. For me, this also includes an "acceptable level of risk" as a result of the physical aspect of the game. I want to see the physical contact regulated, not removed. I also believe that it is time for the NHLPA to get involved in developing the awareness and attitudes of their membership to the desirability of playing in a way that does not endanger the lives, livelihoods and health of their union brothers. The NHLPA is uniquely positioned to do this having the capacity to administer the ultimate sanction: if you repeatedly and intentionally play outside the rules and endanger your fellow union members, you will be denied membership in the union. I am tired of being called a pansy or accused of not being a hockey fan because I do not feel that intentionally injuring another player, a rival or opponent, not an enemy, is "a part of the game." For those who's tastes run to watching men beating each other into submission there is MMA and they can indulge to their hearts content without obliging the rest of us to participate as well.

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#100 Robin Brownlee
March 22 2011, 09:30PM
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@John Andress

I understand the sentiment, but you will never, ever see the NHLPA turn out one of its own. No chance. No way. No how.

What clearly-stated stance has the NHLPA taken during this whole head-shot issue?

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