Saturday, 9 March 2013

One Punch Sets Off Fighting in Hockey Debate

Just 26 seconds into a Toronto Maple Leafs versus Ottawa Senators match another fight broke out.  It was no different than the thousands of fights that the NHL and NHLPA have tacitly approved over the past decade.  Players fight to send a message, to intimidate an opponent, to exact revenge for some real or imagined slight, or to simply prove that their role on the team is relevant.   But this one was different.

Leafs forward Frazer McLaren dropped his gloves to take on Senators’ rookie winger David Dziurzynski.  After just a few moments of trading blows McLaren connected with Dziurzynski’s chin, knocking him out and he fell heavily to ice unconscious.  Many journalists would use the word “sickening” to describe the outcome and the Air Canada Centre fell silent.   The Senators announced later in the game that Dziurzynski suffered a concussion and would not return.

Over the next few days there would be hundreds of articles written, by mainstream sports media and humble bloggers, about this single punch.  I read approximately 20 of them, all with the position that it was time for the NHL to take steps to eliminate fighting from the game.  Some only called for the end of staged fights while others made no distinction.   The majority of these authors will now fade into the background, having ridden the wave of disgust from the event.  The pro-fighting crowd will lay low for a few days or weeks and then go back to publishing their regular support of fisticuffs, because it keeps the game honest and players respectful.

One of the first media posts I read was from Dave Feschuk at the Toronto Star.  Here an excerpt:

There was only the sound of uneasy murmuring in an arena not quite sure if they’d just seen a man fall on his face unconscious or fall on his face plain dead

Perhaps that’s a bleeding heart exaggerating. But watching Dziurzynski hit the ice as if shot by a gun didn’t do much for anyone, save for raise the question of how close we’d just come to seeing an NHLer dying in an NHL game.

Many commenters on Dave’s article made the point that perhaps he was exaggerating when he used this phrase but I didn’t think so.  I watched the game and saw how hard Dziurzynski hit the ice.  My first thought was how badly hurt he was from that impact, not from the punch, and that initial reaction prompted me to turn off the game.  I had enough of hockey for the evening.

KenCampbell of the Hockey News regularly posts articles in support of a fighting ban.  In his write-up of the McLaren-Dziurzynski bout he also made the point that the NHL dodged a bullet.  The outcome could have been much worse.  But the other point he made was about leadership:

Perhaps what was most depressing about the whole thing was Daniel Alfredsson’s reaction to it. As captain of the Ottawa Senators and one of the most respected players in the league, Alfredsson had the opportunity to speak out against staged fights. But when asked how the Senators reacted to Dziurzynski falling face-first to the ice after being knocked out, he spoke about it like it was a split lip.

I share Ken’s disappointment that key players in the NHL will do nothing more than spout support for the culture of fighting that pervades the league.  The NHLPA has to share equal blame for keeping this sideshow as they have blocked increased penalties suggested by the general managers as recently as 2009.  Perhaps they don’t want to give up the privilege of attacking a fellow association member to take retribution.  Maybe the majority are afraid that if enforcers are forced out of the game, they would have to personally take the punches to the face.  They obviously don’t care that their inaction continues to put players at risk of injury while they celebrate them from the safety of the bench with stick taps.

Over at Yahoo Sports, Greg Wyshynski made an important point about bad fights versus good fights:

Here’s where I am on fighting, as an issue of player safety: You can’t be “a little pregnant”, you can’t have a “mild concussion” and you can’t crucify the existence of one type of fighting for its dangers while endorsing – either implicit or explicitly – another more seemingly valorous brand of fisticuffs.

Bang on Greg.  Any hockey fan, that truly loves the game because the skill demonstrated and fast paced excitement, shouldn’t be defending two hockey players pounding each other in the head.  It’s sickening whenever it happens, not just because someone dropped unconscious.  Coaches and players used the standard line when discussing this incident, “you never want to see someone get hurt”.   But the objective is to punch the other guy in the face so why the surprise?

An important survey was overshadowed by this week by all the anti-fighting articles.  Roy MacGregor provided anoverview in the The Globe and Mail of a recent Angus Reid survey that showed Canadians, including hockey fans, were tired of the fighting nonsense.  It’s important that you follow the link and read the details but this one survey result stood out:

While 95 per cent of fans believe skating is an “essential component” of the game, and 93 per cent believe shooting is important, a minuscule 7 per cent say the ability to engage in on-ice fights is important.

The results of this survey are pretty conclusive.  A similar survey conducted at about this same time in 2011 reported that 42% were in favour of ridding the game of fights.  The shift in the last two years has been dramatic when you consider the history of the enforcer and how rabid fight fans are.  And this was survey was conducted two weeks before McLaren dropped Dziurzynski on national TV.

Most journalists will fade away until the next sickening act but a few will continue to publish anti-fighting articles on a regular basis.   Those few that remain have to start encouraging fans to send a message to the NHL and NHLPA that they want fighting eliminated from the game.  This may not be enough to convince the league and players but advertisers and sponsors will take notice.  If there is anyone that the NHL listens too, it’s business partners who are handing them cash.

Things will be quieter this week, until hockey lurches into the next disaster.

Angus Reid Survey - Canadians, Hockey Fans Ready to 

1 comment:

  1. As parents we take our children to minor hockey games and expect them to be good sports. At times, we witness awful antics by coaches and parents who seem to believe that the children on the ice are professionals. The sad thing is that as these kids mount the ladder, their behaviour is encouraged to become worse and worse. The "dream" of any kid who loves hockey is to make it to the NHL. So kids watch their heroes misbehave nightly, and then they take that same bad behaviour to their games. There's no way we can teach kids to respect other players if the NHL continues to allow its players to blatantly disrespect one another on a daily basis.