Canada is well known for its love of the stick-and-ice sport, hockey. With the number of fights that have occurred in the 2013-14 season so far, hockey in the NHL is becoming more like UFC. Children admire and imitate NHL players, and when kids play, they see fighting as acceptable, which can lead to youth injuries. The effects of concussion on a young, developing brain are very serious. Some may say that fighting is too engrained in the sport for it to change, but if international hockey has banned fighting, and it’s the best skill-based hockey to watch, the NHL should too.
The NHL has projected (based on present stats) that in the 2013/2014 season, there will be 447 games with fights, amounting to 36 per cent of the total games played. Of the current injuries in the NHL that involve concussions, five of the eight players suffering from concussion or post-concussion syndrome (PCS) will not return this season, or are out indefinitely. This is an alarming number, considering the seriousness and longevity of the injury. The acceptance of fighting needs to change and is an issue not to be taken lightly.
The NHL is trying to input rules to reduce the amount of fighting. One of these rules reads, “If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.” If this player takes off their helmet, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty does not apply. By this logic, fights without protective headgear reduce penalty time. That makes no sense. It is contrary to the objective of reducing injury due to fights.
The penalty for fighting in the NHL is a five-minute minor. This makes it a mere slap on the wrist for an act that, in society, is deemed as assault. Fights in the Olympics result in a match penalty and the player being ejected from the game. In international play, a fight can sometimes lead to suspension as well. This provides more incentive to play a game of skill-filled hockey and not a boxing match.
To provide an example of recent detestable NHL hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers put on a stomach-turning show against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 1. In a display of revolting, unsportsmanlike conduct, a Flyers versus Capitals game (a 7-0 win for the Capitals) started with a fight between Flyers right wing Steve Downie and Capitals forward Aaron Volpatti. The game later escalated into a wild line brawl in the third period: an unnecessary goalie fight between Emery and Holtby, a fight between Simmonds and Wilson, and a grapple between Lecavalier and Oleksy.
The fight involving Downie and Volpatti left Downie with a concussion. He was taken away from the game on a stretcher, and was still in hospital the next day, released Nov. 3. Lecavalier, also hurt, took it “day-to-day” with facial injuries.
The brawl started off with Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, in a childish rampage, knocking over and hitting two Capitals, which led to Capitals right winger Tom Wilson engaging Simmonds in a fight. Violence answered more violence, devolving the game into nothing more than a street fight. While this was underway, the Flyers’ goalie, Ray Emery, skated 200 feet to start an unwanted and unwarranted display of aggression against Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ goalie. Holtby was very obviously disinterested in starting a fight with Emery, but Emery said, “Protect yourself,” and burst into an onslaught of enraged violence.
This spectacle resulted in a total of 118 penalty minutes in the third period, 29 of which were a result of Emery alone. And how does the NHL respond? By awarding Emery the third star of that game. It only supports the violence that he displayed, the utterly juvenile response to losing a 7-0 game. Losing is a part of the game; fighting should not be.
This is not UFC or boxing, where spectators pay to watch people beat each other. It is a sport that many Canadians are proud of and passionate about—a sport of skill and excitement. Through the offensive sportsmanship of many teams, and the rules laid out by the NHL, the skill and excitement of this sport cannot be properly portrayed. Many claim that Olympic hockey, in which fighting players are ejected, is the most exciting hockey to watch. Other contact sports, such as rugby, soccer, and basketball, do not involve fighting and still enjoy great fan support. So why should hockey be any different? Get a hold on it, NHL, and there will be fewer injuries, fewer lifelong traumas to navigate, and a better game to watch and call our own.