Fighting in Hockey: The Sport that Evolution Forgot

Before you start reading this, go outside and punch your neighbour in the face. It doesn’t matter which one. No, don’t worry, I’ll wait… Done? Okay, good. Do you feel better? I bet your friends are pretty jazzed right now – I am. You’re a tank. After an otherwise boring day, it’s nice to see somebody finally take it upon themselves to mix things up a bit.

The best part of it all is the timing. You know, with things not really going your way these past few days, maybe this is what you needed to light that fire under you, to spark things up. I’m getting all hot and motivated just sitting here talking about it.

Myth: Fighting makes you awesome.

Myth: Fighting is crucial to the game of hockey.

In the wake of Don Sanderson’s tragic passing, it’s hard to overlook the social implications of allowing young hockey players to grow up watching their role models obligatorily swap fists in exchange for the small chance of heightened momentum. As we somberly move forward, the time is now to debate not just the role of helmets in mid-game kafuffles, but to bring into question the act of fighting in the sport altogether.

Helmets on, off or backwards, fighting is as much a part of hockey as playing in net without a goalie mask, yet primordially, we continue the barbaric ritual in fear of jeopardizing a misunderstood tradition. If fighting were eliminated from hockey, the thrill of a man advantage would be no less sweet, nor the displays of speed and agility any less profound. If fighting were eliminated from hockey, so too would be the over-testosteroned byproducts of an insecure generation.

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With so much rage fuelling the modern hockey family archetype, this misdiagnosis of a game’s identity has taken its toll on the youth that populate its community. Nearly half a million YouTube viewers have seen an amateurly-recorded fight of eight-year-olds emulating their overcharged role models in Guelph, Ontario, succeeded only by their goon parents advancing the charade on one of the team’s benches.

In response to the Sanderson incident in December, Canadian Hockey League president, OHL commissioner and overall credited hockey innovator David Branch introduced an automatic game suspension for OHL players who, from here on out, opt to shed their helmet prior to throwing punches. The rule, combined with the also-mandatory visored helmets, acts as a major deterrent to players who might otherwise fight – and it’s one of the reasons Branch is one of the most respected in the North American sports landscape.

Now, instead of stuffing noses with bloodied paws, enforcers can either rap their knuckles off the cold-hardened plastic that is a standard hockey helmet or learn to take the high road – the road on which the three other major professional sports have thrived.

The question then arises in regards to at what level there should be a call to action? Is the grass roots enough? Or should there first be steps taken at the professional level to help hammer out the flaws in our society’s perception of what is necessary in hockey?

The answer – of course – is both, as even the millionaire athletes who adorn the walls of hockey youth worldwide are often reluctant to lay their beats down or choose not to at all. Without an endorsement from the mainstream league, the quest for a fight-free hockey world is anything but simple, as the societal pressures continue to wane on a generation desperate to achieve what has been so glamorously laid out for them by the professional conglomerate.

But with said endorsement, think of the difference that it makes. Think of the more passive athletes suddenly liberated enough to play the game of hockey without fear of having to be big enough or mean enough. Let toughness be measured by one’s ability to play through fatigue, hurt and adversity, not the number of gassed left jabs to the side of an opponent’s neck before tumbling to the ground in an exhausted heap. Think of the roster spots freed, or the heightened impact of a well-placed body check. The game of hockey’s not as ugly as you thought.

Criticisms abound anytime the words ‘ban’ and ‘fight’ find their way into the same sentence, but consider then the rest of the world we live in. Banning fighting in hockey would not be the exception to the rule, it would be a logical assimilation to modern life – you can’t fight on the street without looking like a bonehead, so why do skates and a jeering crowd make a difference?

To assume that stripping the NHL of fighting is to strip the sport of it’s excitement and adrenaline is an injustice to the league and the game itself – but true fans, you know who you are, already know this.

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About the author

Austin Kent

Austin Kent is the Editor-in-Chief of The Good Point and the Network.

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