The debate about fighting in hockey has once again risen from the ashes, following the opening night fight between Habs player George Parros and Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr. While some people claim that it is barbaric to have players punching each other in the head given everything we know about concussions, other people say that fighting is necessary in order for players to protect themselves and their teammates, especially their superstars.
Is there really a place for fighting in hockey? Several members of the Concordia men’s hockey team certainly think so.
“Fighting should always stay in the NHL,” said team captain George Lovatsis. “I think it’s part of the game, and I think it has to be a part of the game. It always has been, and I think it always should be.”
Alternate captain Olivier Hinse mirrored the comments. “I think there is a place for fighting, because if there is no fighting, there will be more cheap shots. So it’s there to make sure players aren’t going too far.”
The main reason to keep fighting in the game is so players have their own form of vigilante justice, according to alternate captain Youssef Kabbaj. “If you take out fighting, you get what you have in the CIS [Canadian Interuniversity Sports]. The pests do not have to justify what they’re doing.”
All three players (Lovatsis, Hinse and Kabbaj) see the value of fighting, and understand its importance within the game.
“It’s there to police and protect the players,” explained Kabbaj. “Let’s say you get hit from behind and one of your players goes to fight him, that’s fine. With fighting, if you hit someone from behind you know when you turn around someone is going to be coming to beat you up. If there is no fighting, you will just take the two minute penalty without having to answer for anything.”
After the Parros incident, several NHL general managers expressed their concern over player safety.
“I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting,” Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman, told TSN’s Darren Dreger. “We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.
Although Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, and former Habs head coach Scotty Bowman agreed with Yzerman, most players seem to disagree.
“I personally think you need fights in hockey to keep everyone honest,” Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux told TSN.
San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton also feels it’s part of the game.
“I think it would be a shame to take it out of the game,” said Thornton in 2009, according to the Canadian Press. “It’s a part of hockey, like tying up your laces or shooting the puck.”
Athletes know that taking part in any sport comes with certain risks, and accidents and injuries are bound to happen. Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges is also on record as saying he believes fighting is part of hockey.
“I see more players get hurt from hits, collisions, from pucks, than I do from fights,” Gorges told TSN. “I don’t think saying because a player got hurt in a fight that now we have to talk about taking fighting away. And I bet that if you ask George [Parros], he’ll be the first to agree with me on that one too.”
Kevin Figsby, head coach of the Concordia men’s hockey team, pointed out that fighting is actually prosperous for the NHL. “Certainly when it comes to the NHL they’re looking at the dollar figure. Every time there is a fight, it drives up their revenue and the beer sales. It heightens people’s curiosity when there is a fight. For some reason fighting is linked to alcohol sales, and their sales drive up the revenue that pays the players. From that perspective it is definitely a business decision.”
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey from 2009 showed that 68% of NHL fans think fighting should stay in the game. Less than 30% of hockey fans are in favour of abolishing fighting.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman admitted that fighting does sell tickets, and that the league is not looking into abolishing it anytime soon.
“I believe that most of our fans enjoy that aspect of the game,” Bettman said at the all-star game weekend in Montreal in 2009, according to the CBC. “I do not think it is the be-all and end-all of our game, but it is a part of the game.”
Although the debate about fighting resurfaces repeatedly, people get excited whenever there is a fight. Fights are usually in the highlights of televised games, and enforcers come to be some of the more popular players on a team.
“At the end of the day, it’s been a part of the sport since the day it started, and you can’t just radically change a sport like that,” said Kabbaj. “We don’t even know what the consequences would be if we took out fighting.”
In today’s NHL, just as many people jump out of their seats for a fight as they do for a goal. Only when people stop jumping out of their seats for fights will the NHL look at taking fighting out of the game. Until then, fighting in the NHL is here to stay.
Photo caption: The Concordia Stingers’ men’s hockey players and NHL players believe fighting has a place in hockey. Photo by Rae Pellerin