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Colour commentary: Fighting in hockey is not necessary

by Nicholas Di Giovanni April 2, 2019
Colour commentary: Fighting in hockey is not necessary

Paul Byron’s injury sparks debate about the NHL’s “code”

After Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron suffered a head injury in a fight against the Florida Panthers’s MacKenzie Weegar on March 26, it’s time to revisit the debate about fighting in hockey.

Probably the most violent contact sport besides boxing and mixed martial arts, fighting has been part of hockey since its inception over 100 years ago. Things change over the course of a century, including the rules of hockey, so why is fighting still a part of the game? It’s because hockey players are way too traditional.

Byron injured Weegar with a hit to the head on Jan. 15, and was suspended for three games. Weegar suffered a concussion but returned to the line-up on Feb. 2, missing only four games. In the first meeting between the Canadiens and Panthers since, the six-foot tall, 200-lb Weegar challenged the five-foot, nine-inch tall, 163-lb Byron to a fight early in the first period. With a clear size advantage, Weegar landed an uppercut, which knocked Byron down, and he missed the rest of the game.

The Canadiens are in the middle of a playoff hunt and can’t afford to lose their assistant captain. Was the fight really necessary? I don’t think so, since Byron already served his three-game suspension. Weegar and Byron fought because of the NHL’s ancient “code,” the unwritten rule that players have to stand up for themselves or their teammates with a fight.

It’s an unwritten rule that comes from the dinosaur ages of hockey. It’s completely unnecessary in today’s game, and needs to be phased out in order to avoid injuries. Habs forward Andrew Shaw told Arpon Basu of The Athletic that the code is “a thing that hockey players do.”

How about this: don’t do it—it’s not worth it. There’s ongoing research about concussions and how it affects the brain long-term. Unlike a broken bone or a pulled muscle, effects of concussions can linger, and for some players, it could last years.

Like Weegar, and likely now Byron, I suffered a concussion in February while playing hockey, and it sucks. My opponent only received a two-minute minor for the check to the head, and wasn’t suspended, but I didn’t go after him the next time we played.  

Going after an opponent to avenge a previous injury is childish. I’m sure Weegar didn’t intend to hurt Byron, but the whole situation could have been avoided if there was no fight.

I don’t know if fighting will ever be banned from hockey, but staged fights like these are barbaric and useless. You play hockey to score more goals than the other team, not to knock your opponent out. Try boxing if you want to knock someone out.

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