Fighting should be allowed in ice hockey

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Photo used with permission from ArtBrom/wikimediacommons

A fight in ice hockey in February 2009: Chicago Blackhawks player Brett Ponich vs. Seattle Thunderbirds Devon Leblanc. Appreciated for its entertainment value, fighting in ice hockey is also part of the tactics of the sport.

Antoine Warnery , Staff Writer

Unlike boxing, fighting is often illegal and frowned upon in many sports for obvious reasons. There is no use in people settling their differences through violence. 

Serious injury could result, and even if the issues are resolved, violence will never bring the same satisfaction as a peaceful solution however in ice hockey fighting has different connotations. In the context of ice hockey, fighting has great historical significance, it is part of the sports strategies and tactics and is also a rich source of entertainment. So when the National Hockey League season started in January, a controversial question was raised once again: Should fighting in ice hockey be allowed?  

Technically, fighting in ice hockey is not allowed. In the NHL, fighting results in a  five minute penalty minimum for players who instigate it. However, the sanction imposed for fighting is not as severe as in other sports. 

In most sports, fighting would typically automatically result in being expelled from the game, with the potential for game and lifetime bans. Although in modern society and many sports fighting is not acceptable, in ice hockey it has historically been an important facet of the game as much for its entertainment value (like boxing, one could argue) as for its strategic value.

In a sport where fighting is regulated and is part of a game strategy, there is no reason to find it less tolerable than in boxing or wrestling. ”

 

Fighting has been part of ice hockey since its creation. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, ice hockey was first played in 1875, and since 1922, fighting has been formally regulated and accepted as part of playing the sport. 

In the 1970s, the concept of enforcers became a huge part of the sport. Considered the guardian deity of an ice hockey team, enforcers were  meant to respond to dirty or violent plays against their team by either checking or fighting the opponent’s instigator.

Teams such as the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers became renowned as the “Big Bad Bruins” and the “Broad Street Bullies” respectively as a result of the teams stocking up on enforcers. 

“Ice Guardians,” a 2006 documentary by Brett Harvey, recounts the history of these special players and their role in the game. Enforcers were not particularly talented players, but nonetheless they remained essential to the team. Their role was to intimidate the opposing team, consequently throwing them off their game and protecting teammates from violence. 

The sport takes strategies from both individual and team contact sports, and, as such, a component of physical intimidation and ultimately fighting becomes essential to perform well in the game. ”

Enforcers were also required to act particularly harshly against opponents who targeted  goalies or star players.

 Some retired ice hockey players who were interviewed in the documentary even argue that as a result of the quasi disappearance of the enforcer role, star players in recent years have suffered many more injuries than their predecessors who played in the ’70s and ’80s. 

In any sport, psychology is important. The enforcers, with their ability to intimidate the opposing team, were a critical part of a winning game strategy. They were also the glue that bonded the team together, reinforcing the notion of unity and defending one’s teammates.

Mostly due to social pressures, and to the dismay of many fans loyal to the tradition of the sport, fighting in ice hockey has been significantly reduced and is even frowned upon. Since the disappearance of the enforcer position, many games are now played without a single fight. 

Several other contact sports don’t receive the same backlash and controversy as ice hockey does. Taken out of context – when it’s seen as just a means to settle a score – fighting takes on a more negative connotation. However, in a sport where fighting is regulated and is part of a game strategy, there is no reason to find it less tolerable than in boxing or wrestling. 

Ice hockey is arguably the fastest team sport. Speed in the confinement of an ice rink makes physical contact inevitable. Together with the ability to check this makes intimidating your opponents a critical aspect of the game. 

Fighting in hockey is not just about trying to inflict physical damage to an opponent. It is much more nuanced and has a number of unwritten rules built around intimidation and standing up for teammates. 

It is about protecting the less physical players so they can shine in other elements of the game and sending a strong message that the team will not tolerate aggression from opposing players. 

Any contact sport includes physical risk, so in that sense ice hockey is no different than American football or rugby. Ice hockey is a sport that requires the combination of complex technical skills (skating and stick-handling) and strength (checking). 

Hockey is unique in the sense that it requires agility, speed as well as mental and physical toughness. The sport takes strategies from both individual and team contact sports, and, as such, a component of physical intimidation and ultimately fighting becomes essential to perform well in the game. 

While I am not arguing that we should go back to the ’70s, a time when fighting almost overtook some other essential skills of the game, banning it completely would be depriving fans and the sport of an important strategic and entertaining component. 

Fighting has a different meaning in sports and society. In ice hockey it is both about tactics and the value of standing up for your teammates. Like anything, it shouldn’t be taken out of context, and sensible sports fans and athletes understand the difference.