Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Miss Fights in the NHL

I miss fights in the NHL. There, I said it. Now, this admission doesn't make me a neanderthal nor any less sensitive to the well being of hockey players.

And I'm not here to grandstand or stomp my feet like a four-year old making outlandish declarations that "I'm done with this sport" or "I'll never spend another dollar on the NHL."

While not easy, I've come to accept the reality that Gary Bettman and the NHLPA have decided to phase fighting out of the game.

But damn, I miss it.

I use hockey for escapism. For a few hours on game night, I'm able to forget about all the ills of the world and focus on the game I love. No worrying about paying the bills. No concerns about my kids' education. And no anxiety about work.

While watching my beloved Blueshirts, I allow myself to get lost in my emotions. From the ecstasy of victory to the misery of defeat and everything in between.

Now that I've entered my 40s, I'm scarcely able to conjure those feelings during a "normal" day. Long gone is the fevered excitement I used to get during my final stretches in the crease moments before the opening faceoff during my high school ice hockey days. Extinct is the euphoric feeling of clinching a berth into the NCAA Men's Division I Lacrosse tournament as the starting goaltender at Butler University.

So I turn to hockey.

And nothing brings out that raw emotion more than a good old fashion throw down. As soon as two willing combatants go toe to toe, my endorphins and adrenaline shoot through the roof. It's a natural high that I rarely, if ever, experience during my day-to-day routine.

While there's a segment of hockey fan who frown on this kind of confrontation, I revel in it.

Seriously, how can a die hard fan think this is a bad thing?...

I never begrudge anyone for how they choose to "enjoy" hockey, just as long as they enjoy it. However, I feel the NHL has begun to pander to a newer fan base leaving some of us old school hockey fans behind.

And don't get me wrong, I'm pro analytics. I've become a much more astute hockey fan since accepting the benefits of #fancystats, but, as I've stated above, MY rationale for watching hockey is to forget about life for awhile, not become a mathematician.

My concern is that an emotional detachment has permeated its way within the hockey fan base. It's more about the hows and whys of winning than merely experiencing the pure, unadulterated thrill of victory.

My friends and I were lucky enough to own Rangers season tickets from 2006-2010. During that time, I witnessed some amazing victories, playmaking ability and displays of skill as the Blueshirts began their ascent from irrelevance. But the play that remains one of my favorite moments at MSG?...

Non-playoffs, I've never experienced the Garden so electric. The MSG faithful were at a fever pitch for the remainder of the Rangers 4-1 victory. I still remember my wife (who I took to her first Rangers game that night) turning to me and saying "Are Rangers games always this much fun?"

Now that fighting has become all but extinct, the rabid fans in MSG's notorious "blue seats" have been reduced to parishioners taking in Sunday mass.

Having said that, I acknowledge the argument against fighting. Player safety is always first and foremost. Concussions have become a major concern in the NHL the last few years, but fighting is not the major source of head injuries. Dangerous, ill advised head shots, which the NHL does not take seriously given the lack of proper punishment, are the real problem. Fighting, which accounts for a mere five percent of concussions in the NHL (H/T Blueshirt Banter), has sadly become the scapegoat.

Now that doesn't mean I'm in favor of Tom Sestitoesque AHL lifers being on NHL rosters merely for "protection." Those kind of players have no place in hockey and their staged fights rarely live up to the hype. Unless it's Domi vs. Probert of course...

However, curbing players from getting caught up in the intensity and ferocity of the game should never become rule of law. It's what makes hockey so special.

With fighting going the way of the dinosaur, the NHL is also losing a lot of the personality in the league. Gone are the Bobby Clarkes, Sean Averys, Dan Carcillos and Brandon Prusts, who brought an unpredictability to the table that their vanilla possession hawk replacements aren't able to replicate. The antics of characters such as Sandy McCarthy are sorely missed in today's NHL.

Hell, one of the most infamous moments in Rangers history couldn't be replicated under Bettman's "war on fighting"...

While the anti-fighting crowd may point to stats proving that fisticuffs don't improve a team's chance of winning nor shift the momentum of a game, I really don't care. It's inconsequential to me. Fighting is part of the fabric of the NHL. Its existence is one of the main aspects that drew me to the sport.

Which is why, despite continuing to be emotionally invested in this amazing game, there will remain a void left by the incremental removal of fighting from the NHL.


  1. I was at the Rangers / Islanders game in 1998. It was insane, and I'll never forget it.

  2. I like your honesty of coming right out and saying "i just like it" rather than spewing the argumentative benefits. Its un-like a deer hunter who talks your ear off about "controlling the population etc" when in reality they really, really enjoy shooting deer until they are dead.

    I kind of like where hockey is in regards to fighting. Less enforcers/staged fights etc. I would like some sort of rule punishing a fight started after a clean hit (more than 2 minutes).

    The more I learn about concussions and also now that I have 2 kids (1 playing hockey) I have become very empathetic and enjoy the fights less.

    1. Appreciate the insight. I'm not here to convince anyone that their feelings on fighting are wrong. I've just seen a number of anti-fighting articles recently and wanted to offer another side.

      Hockey is dangerous and I agree on your points on getting rid of staged fights but as I say in the post, I love the emotional roller coaster of an NHL hockey game. Fights and all.

    2. Yeah I'd say there are 5 different people in this argument.

      1 - get rid of fights its barbaric and stupid and you're stupid
      2 - fights are ok if they make sense, some still don't make sense
      3 - I like it as it is today
      4 - Id like a little more, its entertaining
      5 - People on hockeyfights.com comment section who would cut Travis Konecny to have Dave Schultz back on the Flyers.

      I'm a 2 and you're a 4. I'll happily buy you a beer and we can hang out.

    3. I'm a 2 as well. A fight that happens rather than is staged is pure and that little edge that hockey has always had.

      Solid article as always Kevin!

  3. Nailed it! Name the place and time. lol

  4. I wonder how Boogaard's family feels about this topic.

    1. There's always one guy. In all seriousness, I think the Boogaard family is more upset that the NHL failed their son when he came to league with a substance abuse isse rather than the merits of fighting in hockey. But who knows, I could be way off base.

  5. Not many sports that can police itself. Hockey was able to at one time. It's part of the game. High emotion team oriented, fighting is a release. The spike in head shots is due to the lack to league adopting an anti fighting platform.

    1. i dont think there is a spike in headshots, hell it was still legal like 2-3 years ago.

    2. I miss quoted myself in my above response. I think headshots have been on the increase because game isn't allowed to police itself like in the past

  6. Could not agree more.

  7. I go back and forth on this. Similar to Kevin, I miss it, but I get it. Having just crossed over into my 30s just over a year ago, I've moved from always assuming athletes were "adults/grown-ups" to now seeing them as a "bunch of kids". I don't know how much of that is my relative age, and how much is a shift in the sport and the Salary Cap area forcing more entry level players on to teams. I watch Shanny, the wily old veteran, dropping the gloves and can't think of many players in comprable positions currently in the league. It seems like even the veterans these days are only in their late 20s.
    And so along those lines I think the game dynamics have changed, both on and off the ice. The used to be men, who bonded together on road trips, grew to hate each other and their rivals, and would literally bleed to stick up for a teammate. Now these guys spend their free time playing XBox together, and most "rivals" consist of players who played together at one point, either growing up or internationally, or on a previous team. The animosity just doesn't seem to be there any more. I feel like I'm more fired up on my couch than anyone on either bench. But definitely on AVs passive, turn the other cheek bench. So there's that dynamic, too.
    I just hope the NHL doesn't go too much further. They've done enough to pretty much eliminate the enforcer. I almost wish that now that they've gotten that far, they'd back off on the enforcer penalty. Let guys deal with the consequences of their actions. But I hope they at least leave some wiggle room so that when push comes to shove, two players can suck it up and square up like men, then go cool off in the box for 5 minutes. If they don't at least allow that, cheap shots and retaliatory hits will plague the game for years to come.

  8. Couldn't have said it better myself Kevin. You truely represent a lost generation of hockey fans, that the NHL brass have turned their backs on.