Andrew points out why fighting is a vital part of the National Hockey League.Chances are, if you’re anything more than just a casual hockey fan, you have a strong opinion of the role that fighting plays in the game. There’s very little time for middle ground in this struggle – both from fans, players, administrators and the media – which makes the concept of fighting the most polarising issue in the sport today. You either like it, or you don’t. I am a fan of it, at least to a point. Let me explain: there is a definite place for fighting as a form of deterrent in the game. What I don’t agree with is the ridiculous scraps you often see from a face-off, and particularly an opening face-off, between players who don’t have any particular carryover problem with the guy they’re dropping the mitts to attempt to pound. That looks silly, and it gives hockey a bad name. I’ve lost track of how many times people have said to me that hockey’s just a game of brawls, interspersed by fans rioting when they lose Game Sevens on home ice. Yet, despite the negative image this country has of the greatest sport on earth, fighting plays an important role in the game that we true fans love. We all complain about thug acts that seem to pop up once or twice a season to enrage the general fan base. For example, Matt Cooke, the noted agitator who made a bad name for himself as a Penguin, was famous (before his supposed rehabilitation) for being one of the dirtiest guys on the ice, the King of the Cheap Shot. He’s arguably responsible for ending the glittering career of former Boston star Marc Savard. All of his indiscretions – and it’s a long list – have, in some way or another, come under on-ice scrutiny from opposition players, in the form of a flurry of lefts and rights. As an aside, it’s often the case that the dirtiest players are the worst fighters. Nevertheless, guys of Cooke’s ilk are made to pay for their actions. There are consequences. One of the most immediate ones is the likelihood of having your face rearranged by a guy who’s a fringe player in terms of stick handling and shooting the puck, but has amassed a considerable resume of fights. The reason we don’t see many more guys like Cooke – or a pair in Buffalo: Steve Ott, who has somehow managed to have a ‘C’ stitched onto his jersey for this season, or John Scott whose cowardly shot at Phil Kessel was derided around the league – playing dirty in the NHL on a nightly basis is because of the knowledge that there are monsters of men in the opposition line-up whom a coach would dispatch to the ice the very shift after an indiscretion has been committed. That guy, the Colton Orr or George Parros of the team, is out there for one reason: to exact a sort of revenge. More often than not, it happens soon after, or in the next game between the two adversaries. But, without fail, it happens. Hockey players, almost to a man, have long memories, particularly when it comes to dirty or at least questionable play. It’s an unwritten rule: do something dirty out on the ice, and retribution is coming. It’s a part of the Gentleman’s Code that’s been upheld (by most, but not all) for twenty or thirty years, and I firmly believe that the small amount of questionable plays from the Matt Cooke’s of the National Hockey League is as a direct result of the presence of fighting in the game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tJXuC-2wS8 Consider, for a moment, what the National Hockey League would look like if fighting was banned. Ask yourself just how many players out there currently consider laying a late hit, a high hit, or using their stick as a cleaver or something else along those lines, but decide not to follow through because they don’t want to come up against the opposition’s fourth line brawler and risk an injury and an extended time watching their team from the stands. Probably quite a few. I’m telling you: take that pretty convincing deterrent for thuggery out of the game, and you’ll open the floodgates. There’ll be fleet of goons out on the ice, ones who make Cooke, Ott and Scott seem fairly tame – remember those guys the Islanders brought into their team for that brawl-filled game against the Islanders a few years back? – in comparison, ending the careers of promising superstars who find themselves at the mercy of some of their peers who don’t mind treading a dark line. Why do you suppose Gretzky rarely took the ice without enforcers on either side during his glittering career? The same can be said for Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh at the moment. Does the NHL want to risk losing it’s best players to injury, caused by a two-bit thug on a contract that, as far as professional sport in America goes, is well below the poverty line? It’s bad enough for the League’s coffers that Crosby’s missed so much time. Imagine if Rick Nash, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrice Bergeron, to name just a few, joined him? All as a result of thugs having their way on the ice – and all because the NHL took away the one deterrent that might’ve given some of these guys pause? Don’t get me wrong, hockey is a violent game – we all know that, and understand that and love it for the continual confrontations between solid men, but even in a violent sport, there are still limits to be upheld. And if those limits are breached, there must be some sort of physical punishment forthcoming. With fighting, the game is self-regulated. Without it, the NHL’s disciplinary people are going to need to expand to handle the sheer weight of work they’ll be asked to do. Aside from the Gentleman’s Code and fighting acting as a deterrent, the one indisputable fact of the matter is that there’s very few things more exciting in the world of sport than nineteen or twenty thousand people on their feet and cheering like crazy when a fight happens. It puts butts in seats and separates the NHL from every other professional league in North America. It’s why the League, who has made adjustments over the years – instigator penalties, suspensions for leaving the bench, and the new rule where two minutes are tacked on for players removing their helmets before the fight – will never completely ban it. And nor should they, if the game is to stay as relatively clean as it is now.