Fight for Your Right

It can be tough to explain fighting to someone who doesn’t watch hockey.

Try explaining this:

Three seconds into the game (yes, first period), the Rangers and Devils had three simultaneous fights break out.  That’s barely enough time to make a “Yo Mama” joke!    Gloves and helmets, report to the ice surface.

So what’s the story?

The Rangers have lost 6 of 11 in March.  The red hot Penguins (now with extra Crosby!) are breathing down their necks for 1st Place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.  A slip would knock them down to 4th and a cage match for playoff home ice advantage with the Flyers.  The Devils have similar Feb and March records, and are firmly planted in the playoffs.  They could claw into 5th, or drop into 7th, but they’re going to make it either way.

Be honest.  Was it just because the Devils had to wear those awful green uniforms on Saturday?

No(t only).  There’s a ton of history and bad blood between two teams living so close together.  It’s like fighting with your bother in the back of mom’s station wagon on the way to day camp.  Just this year:

– On December 20, Mike Rupp fought Cam Janssen three seconds into the game (yes, first period) . [video]

– On February 7, Rupp and Janssen decided “why wait?” and dropped the gloves two seconds into the game (yes, again).  Bradon Dubinsky and Eric Boulton also fought at that time. [video]

So one fight at the opening faceoff, then two fights… you see where this is going.  In the six Rangers vs. Devils matchups this season, as a total of 22 fighting majors have been handed out.

Who are these madmen?

Each of these guys is a brawler.  Starting these lines is like stepping into the ring, gloved up and ready for a heavyweight title bout.  Last night was crazy, but every one of the players was well-matched and ready to go.

And what’s the point?

Ah, the age old question of fighting in hockey.  Some say let ’em swing.  Others, like this SBNation writer, think premeditated stage fights like this need to be eliminated, lest the NHL wax hypocritical about player safety.  The discussion over fights has heated up lately, with so many man-games lost to concussions and even Ralph Nader lobbying Bettman to ban brawls [link].  (Wow, was that a slow news day.)  Others cite the NHL’s nearly 100-year history of policing itself with a little on-ice law enforcement [link].

I admit that I laughed my butt off watching this fight.  Brawls like this don’t happen often and I don’t think allowing fights promotes fighting.  We’ve all seen bad fights – attacking a smaller guy, hitting someone who’s down, even a non-fighter squaring off against an experienced combatant (Jay Beagle, how’s your head?).   For the most part, the dangerous plays (hits from behind, boarding) are being addressed by the NHL, albeit with varying success.  That alone won’t keep players safe in the brutal, physical game of hockey.  But outlawing fighting won’t change that – it could even open the ice for big guys to run other teams’ stars without fear of consequences.  Don’t tell me penalties are consequences, unless we’re getting robot referees with laser vision and the ability to stop time.  Their job is the call by the rules.  A fighter’s job is sometimes to call by the heart.  Every hockey fan has seen a fight change the course of a game, because it’s part of the game.

Overall, I say guys who don’t want to fight, don’t fight – like Stamkos [link].  Guys who don’t fight but sometimes need to fire up their teams?  Well, they fight Matt Niskanen [link].  Neither way makes them bulletproof.  That’s hockey.

Last night wasn't Bickel's first dance.

What do you guys think? I’d love to hear from someone who wants fighting banned – there are a lot of good arguments and probably a million examples I haven’t considered.

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Leave a Reply

  1. annoyed. Reply

    really? don’t diss the devils green jerseys. they are so much better than the baby blue atrocities the penguins wear. please don’t even blog about the devils. just continue do what you do best and lust after 18 year olds.

  2. Independent research puts the concussion rate from fighting at 10-24 percent; meaning between 76-90 percent of concussions are caused from elbows to the head (looking at you, Bourque), scuffles after a whistle (I’m looking at you, Thornton), or boarding a playing into the glass (I’m looking at you, Hedman).

    I think that since fighting is largely a choice for a player to engage in, banning it won’t dramatically increase player safety – changes like introducing a red line, no-touch icing and due diligence by the league to punish head shots will.

    At the end of the day you can’t make hockey an injury-free sport even when it comes to head injuries – no matter what rule changes you make accidents can always happen (get well soon, Hall!).

    My vote says fighting stays. And that Stu Bickel deserves a feature as a future Foxy Friday. Me-ow!

  3. Tiffany Reply

    Yay! An entry about the Devils! When my brother texted me that 3 fights happened within the opening 3 seconds and showed me the bloodon the ice because I was at my friends wedding, I was like wtf. I almost bought tickets to this game in February. I love watching these two teams, so much bad blood (literally) and hypeness (a word?), it gets the fans going. Sadly, Devils couldn’t capitalize, but what a way to start the game, huh?! LETS GO DEVILS!

  4. So, hockey n00b here, but I love (intern Jeff Skinner and) fights in general. Is the fight in hockey analogous to the brush-back pitch in baseball. Is that right? A way of marking space, enforcing unwritten rules, announcing your presence with authority?

  5. PX Reply

    Staged fighting in particular really bothers me. I just dont see the point, and if I wanted to watch people fight, I’d do it properly and go watch a boxing match (seriously – has anyone told those guys how ridiculous they look trying to fight while not falling over?). This blog post (after the last Rangers-Devils match incidentally) sums it up:

    There was a great post on the Backhand Shelf blog a few weeks ago ( about how sport (and ofcourse ice-hockey) has evolved over the years, but how each generation clings onto things that they dont want to let go of becase ‘thats just how it is/has always been!’ Its a part of CURRENT hockey culture, and given that there are already moves to ban fighting altogether in lower levels, I would be quite happy to see that propogate up to the NHL.

    Arguments about how banning fighting MIGHT result in dirty players having more leeway strike me as distraction tactics. International (and European) hockey has no fighting. Do we see a ton of dirty hits and illegal plays happening there? Not that I’m aware of. Another solution is to do what they do in rugby where after a match, the game tape is reviewed by a commission, and any player found to have done something illegal gets warned/banned for x amount of games. So that deters players from dirty play. Problem solved and no need for fighting (hurrah!).

    • I knew someone would have a great anti-fighting argument. I particularly like this point: “after a match, the game tape is reviewed by a commission,” since they are already reviewing games for suspensions and fines, even when a penalty is not levied during the actual game.

      I found this interesting too, as it cites that NHL executives believe fighting will phase itself out as roster spots go to what this calls more “skilled” players. It’s a bit of an excuse to do nothing now (as you said, that’s how it’s always been!), but I could see it reducing the number of fights. It won’t eliminate them, of course, since plenty of “skilled” players are also fighters (hello Scott Hartnell’s 35 goals).

      Thanks for that, PX. Well stated.

  6. Farah Reply

    I would love to say that I hate the idea of fighting, that its dangerous, that it leads to serious injury, that it should lead to Shanabans etc, etc. etc. I know that’s what my response, as a proper woman of Christian upbringing, should be. But if I’m honest with myself, I LOVED watching this. It was exciting. The kind of adrenaline and gametime hatred you only get with the most bitter of rivalries. That adrenaline and hatred that makes me love watching sports. I might like it even better when I’m not invested in either team because…well…its all the fun without the stress of worrying about my players. I also have a little special place in my heart for Ryan Carter from his days as a Green Bay Gambler, and the fact that he landed a few real good punches made me proud. Is that bad? I mean…probably. But its the truth, so, there it is 🙂

  7. I HATE the argument that is causes all these concussions…Nathan Horton and Marc Savard anyone…? Let them fight. It’s exciting to watch and gets the fans and players going. Instead of banning fighting, let’s take all the players with career-threatening/ending late hits and ban them instead…(I’m sorry, I’m bitter). But honestly, it’s the being unprepared for the elbows and boards that are the bigger concussion problems than fighting. Fighting is more for broken noses and black eyes…

  8. Deanna Reply

    I LOVE a good hockey fight. It gets my blood pumping, that’s for sure. What I don’t like, however, is fights like this one. There’s no reason for a fight 3 seconds into the game. Nothing anyone said to you in warm ups or while skating into your face-off position should be enough to ignite you that early. If it’s because you’re hyped up due to your dislike for a team or player, you’re not really focusing on playing the game itself. A fight in the middle of a rough game or after bad hit is understandable. This off the opening face-off BS is not.

  9. I am glad that fighting is still an iarmptont part of the game, and I am looking forward to what the Boogie Man could potentially bring to this team.The “new” NHL has made it difficult for guys that are one dimentional fighter types to be productive in any way offensively. Makes you wonder how a guy like Bob Probert would have one if he played in today’s NHL. The guy may have been the toughest S.O.B. to ever play the game, but he also had a decent set of hands and could put the puck in the net. He had his demons off the ice but still went way to young. RIP Bob Probert