Its a boomerang issue; one that comes back with renewed urgency every time another battle breaks out.
Im talking about the spectacle of fighting in hockey, and the calls for an outright ban that seem to get louder with each new outrage.
And I dont think outrage is too strong a word.
Weve heard a number of shocking stories lately, from the death of senior hockey player Don Sanderson in Ontario to the boy from Fogo Island who had to have metal plates put in his head, following a fight (that sounded more like an assault, if you listen to this CBC Radio interview).
As many readers are aware, my uncle, Howie Meeker, is acquainted with the game of hockey. He played right wing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, from 1946 to 1955, during which he served as playing coach, scored five goals in one game (in his rookie year) and won four Stanley Cups.
Im very fortunate to have a standing agreement with Howie, struck last year, while he was here for a visit.
Whenever you want to shoot the shit, he said, give me a call.
Last night, I did just that, and Howie who is now 85 was in top form.
Yeah, I have a very strong opinion on fighting in hockey, he said. They have to stop it. At every level, amateur as well as professional. Ive been saying for 25 years that if theres violence in the arena, the people who should be blamed are the mayor, the council, the president of the arena association, and every one of its members. Theyre the guilty ones. Theyre the ones who allow fighting.
Its not the kids fault, and its not the parents fault. Its their fault. They own the building. And they turn their backs on it.
I asked about law enforcement; if police should treat these incidents as common assault, or fighting in public, and make arrests.
Sure they should. If those two guys walked outside the rink and did the same thing, theyd be arrested and fined. So what right does hockey have, to include fighting on the rink on the ice as part of the entertainment?
Change is not going to happen any time soon, Howie adds at least, not from within.
Both the CBC and the National Hockey League control (this issue), have millions and millions of dollars in revenue coming in, and the hockey is so lousy in the United States they want fighting Youve got to have a fight in the United States. The league is full of mediocrity. Ninety percent of the teams are within .500 hockey.
Hockey fans who expect to see speed, skill and finesse, where the game is played the way it should be, are going to be disappointed, Howie said. So the players fight instead... The broadcaster is as much to blame and the NHL will do anything to make a buck.
Howie said he and his wife, Leah, recently watched five games in the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, in Port Alberni, BC.
I think we saw five games, but we never saw a fight. We never saw a player add to his speed when checking someone into the boards, trying to make him part of the boards. They were the most disciplined, skilled bunch of players Ive ever seen. And there wasnt one not one fight in the whole five games. Not once did a player question a decision, or look over his shoulder at the ref and say, You blind sonofabitch, I didnt do that. So there is hope.
But what about the many people who say fighting is part of the game; that we should let the boys have it out?
Thats bullshit. Theyve never played the game. They dont know what theyre talking about. Those who are not good enough to make the team through their hockey skills, theyll say that. Because they are only there (to fight), for when things get rough or the crowd gets restless or the team gets a couple of goals down, and the coach decides its time to start something. So he puts his fighter out there, and the coach on the other team sees it and puts his fighter out there. Sometimes before they drop the puck, the two assholes are fighting. I mean its crazy. Absolutely crazy.
Tomorrow, in part 2: Howie assigns blame, and recalls some fights of his own.