An article today in The New York Times features Saskatoon as the focus in a discussion on fighting in hockey, particularly junior/midget hockey.
I like hockey. I love the sport, the intensity, the speed, the talent it takes to play it, the head games that go on with coaches and teams, the tradition. Watching Saturday night games with my dad - initially being more interested in watching the commercials than the actual game. Now watching games with my sons while we play mini-sticks, arguing about whether we should be watching the commercials or the actual game.
I hate the idea that fighting is necessary in the game.
I've gone on record before as saying I think it's absolutely ridiculous that hockey still has fighting in it. The fact that, in 2012, "men" who play hockey are somehow so unable to control their emotions that they just have to punch each other, bare-knuckled, until someone falls down is such an archaic thought at best. At worst, it's among the dumbest things to try and argue for today in sport.
Football has way more contact in close quarters and somehow the men manage to avoid having to fight on a regular basis. In basketball players are often nearly elbowing and punching each other, and yet aside from the occasional fight, also manage to control their emotions and play the game they're supposed to instead of pretending to be boxers.
Speaking of boxing. As much as I'm not a fan of the sport, at least they are required to wear headgear and gloves to avoid doing as serious damage to the other combatant. In hockey you're hitting with bare fists on someone's bare head/face.
Anyway, back to the article. There's so many great quotes to pull out, I'd recommend reading the whole thing yourself:
"The year before, if someone called you something, you’d punch him in the face. I believe there was a lot more respect in the game back then than there is today."
“Put the half-visor on,” he said. “Now all of a sudden you’re not as brave, and there’s a lot more respect in the game.”
Right. Respect meaning you won't say bad words about me because I'll hit you. That sounds like a great way to explain respect to your kid.
Across the street from the Palace is the city’s old arena, where Boogaard, at age 15 and playing for another Melfort team, became enraged and went into the opposing team’s bench, throwing punches. The outburst impressed scouts from the W.H.L.’s Regina Pats, who moved to add Boogaard to their roster.
The fact that a young man was so angry that he couldn't control his emotions and went into the opposing team's bench to fight impressed scouts.
Right there is what's wrong with hockey.
Despite his no-fighting rule, Seaman said that for older age groups, fighting is needed to govern hockey. “If you take it right out, it’ll change the game,” he said.
This idea that the game of hockey is this thing that's out of anyone's control and if we do X, Y or Z that it will become chaos because of a lack of respect for other players is ridiculous.
If coaches would teach real respect to their players, starting at a young age, then you would get laughed out of hockey if you started throwing around racial epithets and did the kind of things that today supposedly warrant fighting someone. You just wouldn't last if you didn't respect your fellow player or opponent.
If refs actually called the game the way it is supposed to be called, then chippy, dirty play wouldn't last. If you hook a guy, you get a penalty - regardless of whether it's the last 2 minutes of a game or not. If the refs started calling the game by the books, the players would adapt. The game would change. But it would be for the better. Skill players could actually show off their skill instead of the game being dragged down to the lowest common denominator.
It's time for the old boys club to move on and retire. I find Don Cherry entertaining as the next Canadian who's chugging a beer & eating bacon in their igloo - but it's 2012. Times change and so should hockey.
The worst thing that happens? Maybe a guy like Derek Boogaard doesn't make the NHL and is still alive.