Hockey; Enough or Not Enough Violence?

October 7, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

Over the past several years, debates have risen about fighting and violence in the NHL.

Some argue that it’s part of the sport, and is a necessary, integral part of the game. Others, it paints a stain tainted picture about the sport and its players.

I’m on the latter side.

First off, there is a difference between purposeful violence, hits, and accidental ones. In the moment, it can be hard to determine whether it was by accident or design. And I understand our perspective from the refs is different than actually being on the ice. We see things they can’t. They are prone to making mistakes, a bad judgment call, as much as we are.

Hockey is already a physically taxing sport on your body. You risk every game getting hit in the face with a puck, break a bone, or worse, suffer a concussion. During the early days of hockey, players weren’t wearing any sort of equipment or a helmet. As the years have gone by, improvements have been made to better protect them.

Most importantly is greater awareness to head trauma, with several players – who were tough grinders/enforcers – committing suicide as a result of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

And with the creation of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and further penalties for fighting and conduct, steps are further taken when dealing with these incidents on ice.

But still, purposeful, often malicious moments take place.

I read a book celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NHL, and a chapter looked at a moment in 1933 when Bruins player Eddie Shore hit Leaf’s forward Ace Bailey from behind. Bailey hit his head on the ice, was knocked unconscious, suffered convulsions, and was rushed to a hospital in a coma. It was so severe, a priest was called in to give last rites, believing he was going to die. Though he didn’t, his career was over. Shore did show remorse and the two made up.

It’s alleged that Bailey’s father went to Boston with a loaded gun to kill Shore, but was intercepted before anything could happen.

A modern, similarly scary incident is the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. In 2004, the Avalanches’ Steve Moore hit Canucks Captain Markus Nasland, knocking him out for a few games. It was determined to be a fair, legal hit. The Canucks, criticizing the no-infraction call, took things too far. In a rematch shortly after, Todd Bertuzzi punched Moore in the back of his head, lying on top of him, driving him face first to the ice. Moore, motionless, did recover, his career over.

What followed was a public apology from Bertuzzi, investigations, criminal charges against him, and a civil lawsuit against the Canucks. A dark moment for the NHL and hockey in general.

I believe if a player injured another so badly it ended their career, the offender gets banned for life. Doesn’t matter if you feel remorse and didn’t mean to end their career. You still intended to hurt that person. They can’t play anymore; you don’t get to play anymore.

Further steps need to be taken from the league when dealing with these incidents. Don’t let it fester; players will take rules or the law into their own hands, either on or off the ice. Doing a simple fine and a few game suspensions isn’t enough. You’re taking pocket change from these players. You’re grounding them, but not really going through with it. Harsher measures need to be taken to force players – especially repeat offenders – to change their style and be aware that their actions have real, severe consequences.  

When players like Brad Marchand – known for his dirty controversial plays, numerous fines, and suspensions – start refocusing their character and more on their scoring and puck skill, they improve not only themselves, but their team and the game. Since Marchand changed his playstyle, his goal and point totals have vastly increased.

I understand that the physical side will never go away. The checks and hits. Accidents will happen. But when you let your emotions get the better of you, then you commit something terrible. Your actions speak louder than words. Set an example that you want others to follow.

In recent years, the NHL has pretty much removed the role of enforcers and grinders from the league. The focus on speed, puck handling, skill and scoring makes the game fly at a consistent pace, providing constant thrills and memorable highlight moments. You can still have rivalries, play aggressively competitive, and still be respectful of others, and play a clean game.

I know there are certain ‘codes’ and ‘unofficial rules’ players have on the ice. Some I get. Others I don’t.

The bench brawls, fighting – stagged or real – just wastes everyone’s time and slows the game to a halt. It’s hockey, spend more time on the ice than in a penalty box.

It’s bad enough we have scary, accidental incidents. Why should we have purposeful ones?

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