For as long as black and white films have shown, fighting has been a part of hockey.
Fighting is a way to release tensions in a game and, in some cases, it prevents animosity from carrying over into the next meeting between the two clubs. It builds rivalries while creating excitement and entertainment that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
For some situations, it doesn’t even have to be harmful. The players fight, don’t draw blood, wrestle each other to the ice and sit in the penalty box while the fans go crazy.
Fighting is an aspect of the game that brings out other intangibles that one cannot find on a scoresheet.
The heart and pride of a player cannot be measured by point total nor should they be judged on their offensive contributions. The mental contributions to the team are worth the reservation of a roster spot in some scenarios.
Recently, the NHL has seen a decline in checking and grinder forwards on the rosters. Players like John Scott, Paul Bissonnette and Sean Avery, who were instilled in the lineup to protect the talented forwards, are non-existent in today’s NHL. Instead, fans are more likely to see 12 forwards who are skilled, some more than others, or a more skilled top nine forward group and perhaps a defensive fourth line replacing a formal checking line.
The issue with rolling 12 forwards who are skilled is that none of them can stick up for themselves. If the opposing team has a hard hitter that is body checking all of the skilled players, no one is around to say otherwise and fight him.
The good thing about the defensive forwards listed is that they will fight if called upon to. While almost, if not everyone, in the league plays with pride, a lot of them do not play with brawn. No one will step up, drop the gloves and fight, potentially shifting the style of play or momentum in a game.
Impact on The Game
Martin was a more traditional grinder who fought and hit hard; on the other hand, Cizikas was defensively sound and Clutterbuck had the best wrist shot on the line.
They learned from each other and each started developing their partner’s traits. This made them a hard hitting trio, offensively productive and defensively responsible.
In contrast, there are some cases where fighting isn’t the issue, but the player is. Dozens of times throughout the 100-year history of the NHL there have been incidents that do not belong in the game at all.
For fans that are unaware of some of the most infamous incidents, see “the shoe game,” Chris Simon’s slash and ,most recently, Radko Gudas’ best impression of an axe swing. While these incidents are brutal and disappointing to watch, these do not exemplify what fighting in hockey stands for.
While there is no rule forbidding fighting from hockey, over the last few years, especially with a rise in awareness of concussions, fighting has drastically decreased. For this reason, linesmen and referees are shown interfering between the combatants more and more often.
A common solution is that both players will get coincidental minors and each will receive two minutes for roughing where 4-on-4 hockey will follow.
However, there are instances when not allowing one fight to happen can potentially taint a future game. A dirty hit or a sucker punch can create an expectation for a highly physical next meeting.
It doesn’t take much to convert some tensions in a previous game into crazy brawls on the ice: The Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames and Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins brawls are perfect examples.
Impact on Hockey’s Future
While it’s perfectly understandable for parents not to want their kids to fight in peewee and travel leagues at the ages of 14 and below, the CHL, Canadian Hockey League, is the next step to being drafted by an NHL team and it should absolutely be allowed there.
Furthermore, the ECHL, East Coast Hockey League, and AHL, American Hockey League, are also mere steps away from the show so they should permit fighting as well. With fighting across all the noteworthy leagues, the NHL will no longer have pressure on it to consider stopping fighting.
Fighting is a way that players can defend themselves without costing their team.
If a player takes a roughing penalty, it’s a two-minute minor and the team will find itself on the penalty kill, potentially altering the final score.
With a fight, two players will defend each other and represent their respective teams while taking five-minute majors that cancel each other out. The play to follow will remain at five-on-five and the two players will come out of the penalty box at the sound of the whistle after five minutes of play.
With the exceptions of certain players who actually have intent to harm, fighting absolutely belongs in the game and should remain for years to come.
Despite the recent decline in grinders, the game of hockey still needs players like Clutterbuck to see NHL minutes. If more grinders like him, Boyle, Cizikas and Bonino continue to have an identity in the modern era, the grinder won’t die; it will simply adapt and take on a more defensive role. The bottom line is that fighting as a whole should not leave the game.