By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
In my 24 years on Earth, I have been in exactly two physical altercations. Both of which were short, embarrassing stints that featured a collective total of one limp-fisted punch.
While certainly not an anti-violence activist, I am of the general opinion that fighting is immature, and counter productive to how a society functions. I’ve never spent much time thinking about the subject, mostly because I really don’t care.
Put me in a hockey rink and my opinion changes.
Fighting in hockey is a divisive issue, and one filled with contradictions and irrational defenses.
I can’t explain my love of hockey fights. My argument for it includes a lot of “defending honor” hogwash that sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t love the sport. But for those who have a close connection to hockey, the majority will tell you there is a place in the game for fighting.
According to HockeyFights.com, since the beginning of the 1993-1994 season (my rookie year as a fan) the Boston Bruins have been issued 1,013 fighting majors. Of those, I’ve probably seen over 600. And that’s just the Bruins. I can’t even estimate the total number of hockey fights I’ve seen in my lifetime.
The topic is so vast and complicated that it’s unfair to narrow it down to generalizations or memories of scenes from Slapshot. There have been books that support and detest on-ice fisticuffs. Arguments for both side are over-dramatic and contradictory, and generally fall on deaf ears.
Fighting is in the fabric of the game, and if you grew up around it, it’s unlikely a hot-shot pacifist with a journalism degree is going to change your mind.
But the world, and the game of hockey, is constantly evolving. The idea that the National Hockey League can be trying to prevent concussions while also turning a blind eye to 200 pound behemoths hitting each other in the face repeatedly doesn’t seem to add up in 2012.
One way to try and rationalize it is to use the ever popular vehicle of context, which does play an important role in my personal view of fighting. Here are a few examples:
-If a guy crashes the crease, ignores the stop sign and bulldozes over a team’s goaltender, I fully support the perpetrator being piled onto by five players.
-If there’s a questionable hit, or if a player is running around and showing a perceived lack of respect for their opponent, they should “answer the bell”
-If a team’s tough-guy starts taking jabs at their opponent’s superstar player, the superstar’s teammates have every right to intervene.
-If two players are trading jabs while battling for a puck in the corner, and both continue to piss each other off…why not?
Example of a justifiable fight:
Now, here’s where it get’s complicated.
There’s one aspect that I’ve never been a huge fan of: the concept of “staged fights”.
This type of thing is much more common in minor league hockey, where players are trying to catch the attention of scouts or management any way they can. However, staged fights are still prevalent in the NHL as well.
Here’s the gist of it: two players will line up side-by-side before a faceoff. They’ll say something like “wanna go?”, in a tone entirely too casual considering the fact that they’re seconds away from trying to dislodge each other’s teeth.
Example of a staged fight:
Then they’re off, exchanging punches and bloodying their knuckles on the hard plastic of protective helmets (which, yes, are often kept on) while the crowd roars and the lame arenas will cue up sound clips of boxing ring bells and that “leeeet’s get ready to ruuuummmbbbllllle” thing.
The fight ends, the players go to the penalty box, and we’ve all wasted about three minutes.
I’m not entirely sold on the argument that staged fights have much of an impact on a game. Sure, it gets the crowd into the game, which in some sparsely attended cities can be a nice change of pace, but really what is it accomplishing? I’ve seen cases where a fight does seem to swing momentum in a team’s favor, but that seems to happen more after fights that result from something that happened during play. Not during a TV timeout.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule, just to make the whole thing more vague and complicated. For instance, if Player A injures a teammate of Player B earlier in the game, Player B should probably suggest that the two square off. It’s just the way things work in hockey.
And that’s where all discussions end up. It’s just the way things work in hockey. It’s a violent game. It’s a fast and dangerous game. Nothing makes much sense if you zoom in too closely. Take a step back, look at the game as a whole, and it’s a great picture that’s open to interpretation.
So of course I can’t come up with a good reason why I believe grown men on ice-skates fighting each other can be justified. But there are so many parts of being a hockey fan, or investing yourself into any sports team in general, that don’t make a ton of sense.
And that’s half the fun.