Fighting in hockey is a tug of war of affection for me. Last night’s action provided perfect examples as to why.
During the Leaf game (a spectacular game btw) Keith Aulie got into it with Scott Hartnell and KO’d the stooge (Sorry Scott; but I hate your team so I have to call you names). It was awesome. This kid in his first NHL fight took on an established power forward who is a regular scraper (49 career fights) and took him down. What a lift to the team… the Leafs weren’t going to get bullied out of this building. I found myself jumping out of my seat, cheering on Muhammad Aulie and feeling good that he laid a beating on Hartnell. It was a good fight, not one of those prearranged goon fights that happen so regularly. Fights like these don’t bother me. Hartnell is hard-nosed (not a goon) and Aulie rarely fights; the fight happened spontaneously and nobody got hurt.
On the other side of the rope in Edmonton, Taylor Hall had his first career fight with Derek Dorset of Columbus. Hall also decided to go up against a regular scraper (41 NHL fights), but this fight didn’t have a happy ending. Taylor Hall lost the fight and hurt his ankle when his skate twisted as he was taken down. He left the arena in a cast and who knows how serious the injury will be or how long the lowly Oilers will be without the young star. A huge loss for the Oilers and the NHL.
These two fights sum up the problem that the NHL has with fighting in hockey. I don’t like fighting, I think it takes attention away from the parts of the game that make it so wonderful. The amount of skill necessary to be a good hockey player is enormous; shooting, hitting, passing, stick handling and to do it all while having to do something so unnatural like skating is crazy! No other sport is like it. When a fight happens it interrupts it all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting to see two guys go at it and it can lift a teams emotion; but it’s car accident exciting. It appeals to our dark side and I hate that about my favorite game.
Last night the Leafs dressed a team minus a stereo typical “tough guy”, no Colton Orr and no Jay Rosehill. But I still think the Leafs dressed a tough team. We had guys in the lineup that could step up and not allow the team to be intimidated and it was a great hockey game. The fight added to the entertainment; I felt it meant something to the flow of the game. Having Orr in there fighting O’Donnell in a meaningless scrap would have just slowed it down and irritated me. The bottom line is that I was so happy to see Joey Crabb dressed instead of Rosehill because at least Crabb can put one in the net.
Now, if the NHL would man up (ironically) and recognize that hockey fights don’t really do anything to help the game and decided that maybe a game misconduct penalty would be appropriate for a player who involves themself in a fight I think the game would have the best of both worlds. Fights would still happen; but they would be a result of the action not the result of an obligation of two paid goons and there would be more skill in the game; there are no Goons on the perpetual Stanley Cup contending Detroit Red Wings! And please don’t give me the crap about how dirty players would take out all the stars because “stick-work” would increase; the new rules on head shots and zero tolerance of stick infractions would be penalize teams for dirty play and the added skill would increase scoring making teams pay for taking dumb penalties. No need for the players to “police” themselves.
The true fact of the matter is that the best hockey is played without fighting. Watch the Olympics and the Playoffs and tell me different, if you do then you’ve taken too many shots to the head.