Fighting: it’s part of the game

As the Nation woke this morning, many of you were still smarting from the 5-1 loss in Minny. Once again, after a surprising win in Washington, the Oilers weren’t able to keep their momentum going.

Were you that surprised that they lost to the Wild and Backstrom, who absolutely owns the Oilers? Probably not, but your disappointment stemmed from not seeing a potential epic heavyweight battle between the Bogeyman and SmackIntyre. You could handle not seeing Brash v. Smack two nights earlier, because you were wiping the tear from your eye watching him celebrate his first NHL goal. But last night, you wanted it, and expected MacIntyre to exact some redemption for the Bogeyman crushing Hemsky, Reasoner and the 2007 Oilers.

But it didn’t happen. You clapped and were intrigued by the spirited Smid/Sheppard tilt, and then you were screaming at the TV after Souray demolished Weller with some crushing lefts. Hell, if it wasn’t for Souray’s KO you’d have had nothing to cheer for last night.

Of course winning a fight doesn’t mean as much as the two points, but it re-enforces why the NHL, or junior hockey for that matter, should never take fighting out of the game. Sports are a release from the daily grind, and they get you emotionally involved and ultimately entertained. While you don’t need to see a fight every game, don’t tell me you don’t get excited when the gloves hit the ice.

When the Oilers win, even if the game is boring, you still leave satisfied. And even a loss that has end-to-end action or big hits can be satisfying, but when Minnesota is the opposition the only excitement you hope for is a monumental tussle amongst the big men.

Some pacifists will argue that a meaningless fight between two heavyweights who don’t play much is pointless. But I say hogwash. In boxing and now MMA, the anticipation of a great bout is almost as exciting as the fight itself. Most of us love it because we know deep down we could never do it. You don’t cheer for someone to get hurt, but you want to see a KO. Is it barbaric? No, it’s an adrenaline rush and entertainment.

Not seeing Smack and Bogey doff the gloves last night was a disappointment for many fans, and while it didn’t hurt you as much as the loss, it left you wanting more.

Many, including myself, wonder if the decision by the OHL to suspend players who willingly take their helmets off before a fight, is another step in trying to take fighting out of the game, or just a knee jerk reaction to the horrible Don Sanderson tragedy.

There are fair arguments for both sides when it comes to not allowing players to take their helmets off before a fight. I’m a proponent of fighting and even I can see why David Branch, Commissioner of the OHL, felt it necessary to act swiftly. Sometimes players take their helmets off more for the showboating aspect rather than the protecting-their-knuckles defence. I don’t agree with his decision and I think it was knee-jerk reaction, but I understand he has pressure to try and protect the players in his league.

If Sanderson hadn’t passed away would the OHL have implemented this rule? No chance. And that’s what is disappointing. We can’t change rules because of one incident, or soon we will be changing every fabric of our beloved game.

I don’t believe the NHL will follow suit, and I doubt they will ever purposely take fighting out of the game. As much as I would hate to see it go, if in 20 years teams don’t employ designated tough guys, then I will accept that the game has evolved past that. I will take evolution over a rule change. Hockey fans don’t want to be hit over the head with a fighting ban, but like the past 20 years, if fighting continues to decline slowly at least the league won’t be alienating their true fans.

One of the best aspects of fighting is the unpredictability of it. It can happen at any moment, by any player and normally it is over in under a minute. It’s a quick jolt of energy for the participants, their teammates and the fans. It can change the momentum of the game, or send a message to the opposition and it almost always adds energy to the game.

You don’t need designated heavyweights to have exciting fights. Many of you, especially Amber, gushed openly as Souray jack hammered Weller last night. While it wasn’t the match-up you were anticipating or hoping for, it did quench your appetite.

While you ride the inevitable rollercoaster that comes from being an Oiler fan, you can count the days until the next potential Bogeyman v. Smack battle. It’s 14 days boys and girls: Jan. 30 at Rexall.

This really sucks

Just as I was getting over not seeing #24 and #33 drop the gloves, I came across the preview for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and immediately thoughts of Kate Beckinsale in that black suit came rushing to my brain. I didn’t catch the release date, because thoughts of Selene were almost too much for me to bare, so I googled Underworld 3 to find out when I could once again see the sexiest character in movie history.

If you thought not seeing the big bout last night was disappointing, imagine my horror when I realized that Selene will not be back to battle the Lycans. Ok, sure she will make some lame cameo appearance but that’s like knowing Boogaard and MacIntyre are on the bench, though you’ll will never see them on the ice.

Rhona Mitro is okay, but compared to the stunning Beckinsale she just doesn’t cut it. She can’t pull off the black suit, and there is no way I will watch part three. Beckinsale will never revive her role; but at least there is a chance you might see some fireworks on Jan. 30.

Damn expectations. First a non-fight and now no Kate, the good news is that it can’t possibly get worse today.

  • Mike

    Going back to the legal issue – from the league's perspective, I don't see how this is something they will want to ignore.

    If a player has his helmet torn off in a fight, and then ends up crippled or dead from cracking his head, the first thing a lawyer is going to do is sue the league for not doing anything to prevent it. And the league is going to have an uphill battle to argue why they were justified in not implementing some sort of rule, especially if the OHL policy is well-received.

  • Jack Bauer

    I think Rick makes a great point about 5 or 6 years down the road, will these kids be able to handle themselves. Well the OHL has this no headshot rule. The consequence of that is guys like Brandon Sutter who go through the neutral zone with their head down cause theyve grown up knowing no one can touch them. But when they get to the NHL they have this instinct of not keeping their head up, and they get knocked out. Eric Lindros is a product of this as well.

  • Mike

    Jack Bauer wrote:

    …they have this instinct of not keeping their head up, and they get knocked out. Eric Lindros is a product of this as well.

    Eric Lindros travelled through time and played junior hockey after 2005?

    The OHL headshot rule is only a few years old. If anything, Lindros is proof that the allowing headshots from a young age does nothing to produce NHLers who know how to keep their heads up.

  • Rick

    Mike wrote:

    But I also don’t think that a rule like the OHL’s will hurt the “core” game of hockey.

    Do we know that as a fact? I don't think we do.

    If leagues like the OHL makes it so tough to fight that it becomes a thing of the past all together then the accountability factor on the ice becomes an issue.

    I agree that the pre-staged fights as they are today don't necessarily do much in terms of accountability but there are cases where it is still applied.

    Going back to the visor argument that was had 10 years ago, the thought was that not wearing a visor meant that guys needed to be more aware of where their sticks were. Sure enough high sticking soon after seemed to become more of an issue to the point where the 4 minute minor or 5 minute major for drawing blood was instituted.

    Mike wrote:

    Forcing SMac and Boogard to decide if it’s really worth a busted hand or a one-game suspension to fight in a pre-arranged brawl doesn’t make me worry about a decreased quality of hockey.

    That is fair but in 6 years will guys like Boogard and Macintyre even be around or available? If the end result is no fighting in leagues like the OHL then there are no tough guys coming up through the ranks because there is no use for them at that level.

    Pre-staged or not does having a guy like Macintyre or Boogard even just on the bench keep more guys on the ice respectful of their opposition? Or more importantly the times when these guys do fight for the right reasons.

    I guess my point is that Branch's approach may not be fully felt until there is a changing of the guard in the NHL and all there is left is the new breed of hockey player.

  • Jack Bauer wrote:

    Well the OHL has this no headshot rule. The consequence of that is guys like Brandon Sutter who go through the neutral zone with their head down cause theyve grown up knowing no one can touch them

    Brandon Sutter played in the WHL, where they have no such rule.

  • APE

    Just an FYI but alot of players take off their helmets not to show boat, but so that they don't destroy their hands on the visors they wear.

    Honestly, I think the people that are the most upset are the people that don't play the game. Do you think that when two guys are about to fight they give it a seconds thought that they might die if they take off their helmets? No. And that is because quite honestly it barely ever happens. How many fights do you think there are in 1 day in every league across Canada? And how many deaths are there? I don't know the specific stats but I'm willing to guess that the ratio of deaths to games is ridiculously low. All this talk and wanting to change everything is just another sign of the society we live in today. Nothing…NOTHING can be perfect. Deal with it.

  • Jonathan Willis

    Jack Bauer wrote:

    Well the OHL has this no headshot rule. The consequence of that is guys like Brandon Sutter who go through the neutral zone with their head down cause theyve grown up knowing no one can touch them.

    The other consequence of this rule is that the 15-to-20 junior teammates of Sutter who will never play in the NHL are guarded against that particular injury.

    I do think there needs to be a difference between the amount of legislation the OHL implements as compared to the amount the NHL implements. NHL'ers are a) adults and b) compensated handsomely for their play. The majority of junior players are neither.

  • Jonathan Willis

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    Brandon Sutter played in the WHL, where they have no such rule.

    Nice catch, and obvious in retrospect (all the Sutters are out west).

  • Travis Dakin

    Mike wrote:

    The OHL headshot rule is only a few years old. If anything, Lindros is proof that the allowing headshots from a young age does nothing to produce NHLers who know how to keep their heads up.

    Lindros was 6'5 220lbs as a 15 year old playing in junior. He didn't really have to worry about head shots too much.

  • Mike

    Rick wrote:

    If leagues like the OHL makes it so tough to fight that it becomes a thing of the past all together then the accountability factor on the ice becomes an issue.

    …but in 6 years will guys like Boogard and Macintyre even be around or available? If the end result is no fighting in leagues like the OHL then there are no tough guys coming up through the ranks because there is no use for them at that level.

    Accountability has been an issue since the instigator, but it's not like the real top-tier heavyweights are ever grabbing shitheads like Matt Cooke and beating the tar out of them.

    If accountability comes from guys like Souray, I would be just fine with that. A guy who can handle himself, actually play hockey, and doesn't care if you wear a helmet or not because he'll one-punch you if you get him riled.

  • Travis Dakin

    Mike wrote:

    If accountability comes from guys like Souray, I would be just fine with that. A guy who can handle himself, actually play hockey, and doesn’t care if you wear a helmet or not because he’ll one-punch you if you get him riled

    Thanks for bringing that up again. Wasn't that awesome? Isn't he awesome?

  • Jonathan Willis

    To elaborate a bit:

    Junior leagues across Canada need legislation to protect the health of their players. Let's consider two scenarios:

    1) A 17-year old junior player smacks his head on the ice, and suffers a career-ending injury.

    2) A 27-year old career enforcer smacks his head on the ice, and suffers a career-ending injury.

    The career enforcer goes on IR, and continues to be paid his professional paycheque for the rest of his contract. He's fairly messed up, but he's an adult, and he probably has some money put away that he can use to get some form of education. He may have a job in broadcasting or elsewhere in hockey, and even if he doesn't he can probably parlay that education into a decent job.

    The junior player flushes away his future hockey career, and now is plagued by post-concussion syndrome, or the like, as he tries to figure out what to do instead. Maybe he has some education money put away by his CHL team; off the top of my head I'm not entirely sure how that works.

    The point is that when you're a league governor writing rules, it makes a world of difference if the people who have to follow them are paid, adult professionals, or kids who may never make a living from the game.

  • Gerry

    Am I missing something? MacT said he thought the Oil did a lot of things right last night and worked hard….they lost 5-1. The other night he said it was a great team win over Washington and the Oiler website says we "crushed" the Caps. We got outshot 36-23 and 19-9 in the first period. If Theodore hadn't stunk the joint out we would have lost that one too. This team has changed the meaning of "Oiler Hockey" to be "terminal mediocrity".

  • Rick

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    I do think there needs to be a difference between the amount of legislation the OHL implements as compared to the amount the NHL implements. NHL’ers are a) adults and b) compensated handsomely for their play. The majority of junior players are neither.

    Yeah and that is what makes the debate so difficult.

    What Branch did is probably appropriate (actually banning it all together is probably the most appropriate and less hypocritical if you were to use the safety argument) considering the players he is governing over.

    They are kids and the vast majority won't have pro-hockey careers when they graduate from the league.

    It's just too bad that because it is where the best pro players eventually do come from it will no doubt impact the overall game at the professional level as well.

  • Mike

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    The point is that when you’re a league governor writing rules, it makes a world of difference if the people who have to follow them are paid, adult professionals, or kids who may never make a living from the game.

    Absolutely right, Jonathan. But I still wonder if the paid adult professional has an argument to be made that "hey, I never consented to having my helmet torn off in a fight, and the league knew it could happen but doesn't punish it".

    It's essentially the same argument that Steve Moore is making – in contact sports there's obviously some risks you have consented to, but is this one of them? Or is it above and beyond what is necessary to play pro hockey?

  • Rick

    Mike wrote:

    Accountability has been an issue since the instigator, but it’s not like the real top-tier heavyweights are ever grabbing shitheads like Matt Cooke and beating the tar out of them.

    I don't buy the argument that because there is less accountability today then there was in years past that lessening it even more will make no difference.

    I think we just have differing positions on this one and agree to disagree.

  • kingsblade

    @Mike

    Before plying us all with your first year law school torts class lessons why don't you try looking into existing law before wildly speculating. Your line of thinking ignores the fact that professional sports leagues have exceptions made and allowances for the fact that they to govern conduct within their own league to a substantial extent. You are trying to apply tests where they don't apply.

    For example – your idea that a player would not have consented to having his helmet removed doesn't apply because it is a risk taken when playing hockey and would fall under the leagues self governance.

    Hell, if you went by the very basic first year tort law you apparently wish to impose, every injury would result in league liability because a person cannot by law consent to bodily harm.