After a little reading I’ve been doing, I’ve been thinking more and more that there is an overwhelming amount of talk concerning the physicality involved with ice hockey, especially when it comes to fighting. Heck there is even a Wikipedia page (with surprisingly good information) on “Fighting in Ice Hockey”. All the talk brings up the same old questions. Why do they fight? Is it necessary? And should it be banned?
In any given game one can find a quality scrap, but it is generally the referees who control when a full fight may come to fruition, and that’s most commonly seen in professional leagues. It would be rare to see the type of fist-to-fist brawl in a youth or college game, though it does happen. On the other hand, anyone who has witnessed a Junior or minor league game knows how often those boys like to throw a punch.
In “Why Good Teams Fight”, an article I recently reread from October 2008 Sports Illustrated, Michael Farber discusses how NHL teams are “muscling up with a new breed of tough guy”. A few big names Farber mentions still resonate today, such as Georges Laraque, who was deemed a “good insurance policy”, and the late 6’7″, 258-pound brawler Derek Boogaard. These guys weren’t afraid to throw down and rack up penalty minutes for the benefit of inspiring their team. More recent names to be flung into this fearless class of fighters would include Brad May (career 2248 PIM), Chris Pronger (1580), and Sean Avery (1512), and personal favorite Shawn Thornton (only 740 PIM thus far, but 582 of those have accumulated since joining the Bruins in 2007).
Fighting serves a purpose in ice hockey; players know it and agree by a 98% majority that it should not be banned. Attending a game it is easy to see that it plays a fundamental role, whether to rally the team or prove a point, it’s going to occur. The common misconception amongst fans is that a fight manifests out of anger, when in reality most fights are much more controlled and used for a specific purpose. There are those fans who like to say they went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out; but in the NHL fights are used, like Brian Burke said, as a tool for the job of winning the game.
Everyone will have their own opinion on the matter, but fact is fights are a part of the game, and looks like they will be for quite some time.
Here are a few little nuggets of interest I found along the way:
Rob Ray: During scraps, Ray routinely removed his helmet, jersey, and pads, giving opponents nothing to grab on Ray’s body. Consequently, the NHL created a new rule enforcing additional penalties for players who removed jerseys or pads during a fight. Pundits saw this as a direct result of Rob Ray’s style of fighting, and nicknamed the rule the “Rob Ray Rule”, also thought to be the reason the NHL introduced fight-straps to jerseys.
Ryan VandenBussche: The Canadian played 9 seasons in the NHL, best known for being a goon, and while he only racked up 702 PIM, they are some of the best earned of any NHL enforcer. If you’ve got a free minute and want to see a quality fight, Youtube his name, guarantee you that “fight” will autofill before you can complete your search.
Wendel Clark: Nicknamed “Captain Crunch” for his hard hitting blows, Wendel Clark is a legendary hockey fighter. Early in his career, Clark fought all the league’s toughest players and managed to rack up 227PIM during his rookie year.
Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams: This guy tops the NHL all time penalty minutes list with almost 4000 NHL penalty minutes in fewer than 1000 games. That works out to about 4.12 penalty minutes per game.
What are your thoughts on fighting in hockey?