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.