Opinion: Fighting has its place in hockey

Jared Hylton/Sports Editor

When was the last time you attended a hockey game and thought to yourself, “I hope I don’t see a fight?” Never. Fighting in hockey is essential to why people love the game. For some teams, bone-crushing checks and finesse plays aren’t enough to fill a stadium — forget the fact that the attendance for professional hockey games is at an all-time low. For instance, the Phoenix Coyotes are averaging just 11,624 fans per game.

Fighting livens the game up, draws fans and can cause momentum swings. Fighting is punishable by a five-minute major penalty in the National Hockey League and in some Junior Hockey Leagues. In International play and other leagues, fighting will get you a one-way ticket to the locker room. Fights aren’t always about two players who have a grudge, or sticking up for a teammate. Actually, it may come as a surprise to you that many are staged. Staged fights happen between teams’ enforcers. Enforcers, or goons, are players that see limited playing time, and their sole role is to cause trouble and fight.

Fights may be staged because of an incident that happened earlier in the season or to try and swing the momentum. The life of an enforcer isn’t as easy as it may seem. They don’t get any glory for scoring goals or winning games; instead, they are used and manipulated. Enforcers have lots of respect for each other, and it shows. You will see them saying, “good job” or, “way to go” following a fight.

The people who say that there is no place for fighting in hockey have a solid case though. The Minnesota Wild’s enforcer, Derek Boogaard, died at the young of 28 with serious brain damage. Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as C.T.E., a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. C.T.E. is what lead to the alcohol abuse and drug overdose that resulted in the death of one of hockey’s toughest players.

Dr. Robert Cantu studied Boogaard’s brain following his death to see if fighting was what drove him to the edge. “There’s no way to know how much was damage caused by fighting as opposed to hits to the head sustained in the normal course of playing the game. Personally, though, I suspect it’s caused more by fighting,” Cantu said.

Wade Belak, 35, and Rick Rypien, were retired fighters who took their own lives, all within two months of each other. These incidents raised many questions in the hockey community.

There’s no way to tell if these deaths are a direct result of fighting, though. With hockey becoming increasingly less popular with Americans, fighting is essential to keeping the game alive in the States.

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