Monday, February 02, 2009

The reason for fighting in The National Hockey League

Copy of my Letter to the Editor of The Hockey News

In response to "The Big Question"
The Hockey News
January 26, 2009
Vol 62, No. 15

Like Pierre McGuire said, it was bound to happen eventually, that "...somebody would die during a fight."
I, too, would like to begin with my condolences and sympathy to the family of Don Sanderson.

I am a long-time hockey fan, and I have no problem with on-ice fighting in a contextual setting; that is, if the fight is for more that the fight's sake. A fight is a welcome interlude. A rare spectacle of modern gladiators, observing a code of honor, while answering a call of duty. That code of honor allows a player to decline to fight, if necessary, to stop when a serious injury has occurred, and to fight fair. (Except in cases of biting, stomping with a skate on a prone player's leg, or swinging for the fences with a player's head, of course.) Not too many things bring fans to their feet so quickly as the pairing off of two willing heavyweights.

Hockey mom Jacqueline Kovacs brushed by my personal remedy, when she alluded to the tight officiating during the WJC. My feeling is that most on-ice fights are initiated by a player who feels that an injustice has been done, or is about to be done. An enforcer will approach a player that has thrown a cheap hit, or has made some kind of dirty play, that he feels was missed, or was otherwise not called by the officials, and challenge a fight. (Usually from the front, but how is Steve Moore, by the way? - Okay, another topic...) By starting the fight, he is telling the other team that no one is going to take advantage of his teammates - this is the 'self-policing' that players talk about. An honorable system, but one of last resort. The calls should be made, in all fairness to the game.

One solution is to have a camera on every player on the ice, and enough off-ice officials to monitor every one of them for personal fouls. Leave the big-picture calls to the on-ice officials. There are already plenty of isolation cameras in use, just place a few more, and monitor them. EVERY call should be made.

There is plenty of action in our game without gratuitous fighting. The speed, finesse, ability, and talent of the players in professional ice hockey are like that of no other sport in the world. The game can stand on its own without any on-ice extra-curricular activities brought about by players trying to correct injustice. Level the playing field and remove the perceived injustices, and the debate over fighting will erode rapidly. These actions will force even the "agitators" to eliminate the "cheap hits" from their games, forcing them to find a way to perform the same function, but legally. This strategy will probably not eliminate fighting, but will likely reduce the incidence greatly.

-Wayne Cohen

PS - While we're at it, why not make it a high sticking call when everyone's sticks are up in everyone else's faces during those scrums after the whistle behind the net? Don't pretend that it's accidental when a player rakes his stick across another's face; a player always knows where that stick is. It may as well be part of his arm. It's just more convenient not to drop it when there's no penalty for it, and while everyone else has his up too. IMO, that's a place where dirty tactics go unnoticed and unpenalized.