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Does fighting still have a place in hockey?

By in Sports & Health

TRISTAN WOODSWORTH-LINAS
The Muse (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — Fighting in the National Hockey League has always been a hot topic for sports analysts. In recent years, the discussion has intensified in the post-lockout era with communication and a new understanding of concussions.

The game of hockey is slowly changing its ways to protect its athletes, with a large emphasis being placed on head injuries. For even longer than the NHL, the junior ranks have been effecting change to prevent trauma to the heads of young athletes.

Only since the NHL lockout during the 2004-05 season have concussions really been accepted as not only a viable injury, but the worst type of injury.

During the ’90s, players competing in the playoffs could take a hit that had obviously concussed them, only to return to the game later because it was the manly and courageous thing to do.

When New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens floored the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim forward Paul Kariya in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, for example, he came back to score the winning goal of the game. But perhaps this concussion was the reason his career has been derailed ever since.

Stars like Sidney Crosby miss 20 games in a season, with no timetable for a return, all due to concussions that probably would have gone unnoticed, or at least unmentioned, by the players.

With this in mind, the issue of fighting in hockey has hit another level of scrutiny amongst fans and analysts alike.

In the wake of the 2009 death of Don Sanderson, a senior hockey player in Ontario, the question has been posed frequently: Does fighting belong in hockey in this day and age?

There are those who enjoy the heart and the energy that fighting brings to the game, as well as the policing that goes behind the scenes of these teams. On the other side of the coin, there are those who see it as a barbaric ritual that has no place in a sporting event, especially not one where there are no safeguards to prevent serious injury.

Since 2005, fighting majors have skyrocketed from 466 to 714. This year, there have already been 497 fights in the NHL after 60 games. That’s a pace for about 690 fights over the course of the season.

While fighting has decreased in the last two years — albeit minimally — it has otherwise seen an increase year by year since the lockout.

Due to the instigator rule — a rule that penalizes the player who purposely seeks out a fight — there has also been a giant leap in planned fights that take place right after the whistle.

There are mixed reactions to these fights, as a lot of true-blue hockey fans see them less as a part of the game and more for the sake of getting it over with.

The NHL has come to a crossroads with regards to where fighting stands in the grand scheme of the game. Is it okay to let junior and minor-league players think fighting is the way to deal with problems on the ice? Does it affect someone’s attitude toward adversity off the ice?

Don’t get me wrong; I would be a very sad individual if I couldn’t check out hockeyfights.com for the latest tilt. However, I have a feeling that if it’s not taken out completely, there will soon be big restrictions on the methods of fighting and their place in the game.

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image: Carol Browne/Flickr

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