The Truth About Hockey Fights

Nothing like a good old-fashioned hockey fight.

If you have a problem with fighting in the NHL, get over it.

Fighting is a part of the league like dunking is in basketball, like homeruns are in baseball. It’s a necessary evil that can used for motivational advantages, intimidation and all out fun and intrigue.

Hockey is the only sport in the world where the players police themselves. There are secret rules and codes in other sports about retribution, revenge and get back. In Hockey it’s out in the open. Got a problem with a player’s over excessive behavior? Send a goon out. Your team lacks energy? Throw your fists up. Someone going after your best player repeatedly and you’ve had enough? Pop him in the mouth.

In the NBA you get suspensions for pushing a guy too hard for coming down the lane over and over again, same in major league baseball when a batter starts raking and a pitcher gives him some sweet chin music. The NHL says you got a problem you deal with it. Unless you go Todd Bertuzzi on someone then you sit for a few games.

It’s been well-known since the inception of the sun dial that fighting and hockey go hand in hand. However, now in the year 2011 fighting in hockey is now looked down upon and thought of to be stupid.

On Pardon the Interruption this past week, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debated the recent brawl between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Wilbon stated that the league should be ashamed of themselves for allowing brawls like that to continue and that the league should get rid of it for good. Former Habs Goalie Ken Dryden has been trying to get fighting removed from the game for years because he feels that the game is better without it. After the regular season in 2009 NHL GM’s got together to discuss the possible elimination of hockey from the sport.

Thank god they voted against it.

Hockey fights aren't brainless, there are a multitude of reasons for dropping the gloves.

As much as I love Dryden and Wilbon and Kornheiser they should all be beheaded for even thinking about banishing fighting from the sport. I understand that hockey has a new fan base and that American sports have been wussified to no end (hi, Roger Goodell and David Stern) but come on, enough is enough.

You can’t hit QB’s anymore, you can’t bruise a guy for getting into the lane and you can’t brush back batters for standing on the plate, at least give us the satisfaction of grown men defending their keep on the ice.

Hockey more than other sports prides itself on toughness. You see guys like Duncan Keith pulling out his teeth to stay on the ice and contribute in the playoffs last year and Steve Yzerman years ago playing on a torn ACL to lead the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup. Hockey players love being tough guys. It’s like they were born to give up their bodies for torture and pain just for fun.

Plus we as fans idolize it. We cheer when guys drop the gloves and pummel each other in the name of honor and team, we never forget guys that give their bodies every shift and every minute just to make a single play. Primary example are my New York Rangers. There are no Crosby’s, Ovechkin’s, Lidstrom’s or any other noteworthy superstars on this team, instead it’s a hit, grind and hustle team that is among the leaders in hits, shorthanded goals and penalty killing.

It’s the most enjoyable team we’ve had in years and even though we don’t score a lot I wouldn’t trade Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal for anything.

Ask most hockey fans, sure we love the stars of our team, but the faves are the Kris Drapers’, Andy McQuaids’ and George Parros’ of the world. The tough guys and the grind guys who really make wins possible.

Find me a Rangers fan that doesn't like Brandon Prust... I dare you.

Fighting and hard play are part of the game. However, there is a difference in how you let that aggression play out on the ice and toughness turns into an all-out mess.

Look at the two brawls last week between the Habs & B’s and Isles & Pens. Both were the talk of the league and sports highlight shows last week but had different meanings in terms of the way that the code of fighting should be played out.

The Habs & Bruins are long time Original Six rivals. They’ve had heated battles going back to the 60’s and 70’s that have left a mark on the history of the game. In the Bruins 8-6 win last Wednesday a series of brawls broke out that were more than entertaining. Tough guys like Travis Moen, Scott Thornton and others threw down a few times letting their emotions run over into a fury of fists on the ice. Even goalies Carey Price and Tim Thomas appeared to scrap for a little bit even though both weren’t trying to throw punches at each other.

As crazy as it seemed with both penalty boxes flooded with players and both benches bare by game’s end, it was a good brawl in the context of the game.

Everybody that threw down did it with respect. No sucker punches or cheap shots, just guys looking at each other and dropping the gloves for a few minutes then taking their seats in the sin bin. Wilbon said the league should be ashamed, I say hell no. it was old-time hockey with no dirtiness. Two teams who are fighting for their division that won’t back down from each other and letting each other know that they’re not going anywhere.

Then you have the mess that was the Pens & Isles brawl. The back-story to this is that the last two games were super physical matchups with the last one having Maxim Talbot handing out rough hits and Brent Johnson sending Rick DiPietro to the injured reserve with one punch.

Enforcer challenging a goalie... that's a no-no in the code.

(Side note: how badly has DiPi’s career gone? He was once the future of the franchise, now he’s a verb for getting knocked the **** out. Even Tim Thomas said the no one wanted to get “DiPIetroed” between him and Price. In case you were wondering Isles fans, yes he’s still got that 12 year, 62 million dollar contract under his belt. You may now send Garth Snow hate mail.)

With that in mind the Isles took the physicality to the Pens but took it too far. Matt Martin’s cheap shot on Talbot brought back memories of Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore. Trevor Gillies elbowed Eric Tangradi then as he crumbled to the ice Gillies tried to fight him then taunted him as he left the ice. Enforcer Michael Haley challenged goalie Brent Johnson while skating towards the penalty box… it was a ton of dirty hockey. The Isles were so hell-bent on revenge that they went to no end to make sure it happened. The result was a brawl that was really something the league should’ve been ashamed of.

Thankfully the long arm of Colin Campbell acted and acted fast suspending Martin, Gillies and Eric Godard who left the bench to protect Johnson, and fined both teams. Unfortunately the actions of the league didn’t sit well with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux who said that he was embarrassed by the league’s actions and that he might not want to be a part of the league if this is how they deal with incidents like these.

Lemieux was wrong. The league acted accordingly on all counts. The Isles were in the wrong and were punished harshly for their actions. If Lemieux had problems with dirty play and too much fighting then he should look in his own backyard first.

The Penguins lead the league in fighting majors and penalty minutes and they harbor Matt

Mario Lemieux chastises the league for allowing dirty plays to continue... yet employs this guy.

Cooke who has a reputation for being overly dirty. Cooke has given players concussions and put more players in danger with his overly-aggressive play including the blindside hit of the Blue Jackets Fedor Tyutin that got him suspended for four games. For Lemieux to criticize the league for not handling matters in the right way is silly and he needs to get his facts straight before speaking up again.

The league knows what it’s doing. They know what fights are good and bad for the game and try to eliminate what’s wrong while keeping the essence of the game intact. There were no suspensions from the Habs-B’s brawl because none were necessary. The Pens-Isles games was a different story. There are such things as good and bad fights in the NHL and the league knows this and regulates them with great efficiency.

Like em or not hockey fights are here to stay. It’s an integral part of the game that shouldn’t be taken away because of brawls that happen once in a blue moon or because people that watch from afar don’t like them. It’s hockey, its physical and it’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the last bit of raw physicality American sports has left, the last place where tough guys are allowed to be tough. Let’s not ruin a good thing while we got it.

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