There is an obvious debate in today’s game about fighting in hockey. With the recent deaths of enforcers in the game it’s caused even me to just “think a little harder” about the necessity of fighting.
I had this conversation less than two years ago with a great friend of mine while watching the Devils vs Maple Leafs at the Rock in NJ. My friend is a prominent NJ attorney and a leading expert on head trauma. We spent most of the game taking about concussions and fighting in the game. He’s also a long time hockey expert and has two Son’s that play the game at a high level, one just finished a very successful Collegiate Hockey career. He adamantly said there is no place for fighting in the game and spoke in detail about head trauma and the lasting effects of concussions. He used data, facts and his professional knowledge to outline why fighting should be out of the game (he is of course an attorney and can be very convincing!).
I countered with the fact that fighting has a role and helps “keep the peace” in the game; meaning it helps to prevent cheap shots and taking liberties against players. It also at times can forge both energy in a team that’s not performing well as well as inspire a life-less crowd.
Working with the NHL teams as we do, it’s easy to understand the concept and sometimes the necessity of “enforcers” in the game.
This all being said, it’s becoming more clear to me that the role of the enforcer is getting to the younger players of our game. Though fighting is banned in most youth hockey and college, it is prevalent in Junior Hockey and we have very talented players filling a role of an “enforcer.” This I have a problem with. Developing, encouraging, asking or requiring a 16 year old to “shed the mitts” to be the enforcer is ludicrous. If you don’t think this is happening, then you’re not watching hockey.
Defending your mates is one thing; everyone has the responsibility to protect the man or woman on their left and right. It’s EVERYONE’S responsibility; it’s not a distinct mission of one. If the gloves come off & a fight happens, it happens. But having a player on a roster whose purpose is to “fight on command” has both mental and physical lasting effects which has come to light with the recent deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak (Rest in Peace Warriors!).
Toughness, battling-hard & fisticuffs is a part of being a warrior! I can remember as a young Army Ranger having “King of the Pit” battles every Friday after PT. Basically a platoon of Rangers battling it out until there is one man standing in the pit! Hockey is a tough game, played by the toughest warriors out there. I often say if these men weren’t playing hockey they would be serving in Elite Military Units. It’s their make-up, their core, their passion.
I’m not saying fighting should be out of the top levels of the professional game, I’m just questioning a distinct role of an enforcer.
Your comments welcome!
Lead Consultant & Performance Coach
Elite Leadership Training LLC