Dropping the gloves

John
John Browne
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Debate rages around local rinks over fighting in hockey

It took a death on the ice to revive the debate on fighting in hockey, but it's been the hot subject this month at all levels of the game and this province is no exception.

It's a controversial subject and the argument, which has reverberated from coast-to-cost, shows no signs of ebbing any time soon.

Newfoundlands Ryane Clowe of San Jose Sharks ( left) fights with Phoenix Coyotes center Daniel Winnik during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday night. Photo by The Associated Press

It took a death on the ice to revive the debate on fighting in hockey, but it's been the hot subject this month at all levels of the game and this province is no exception.

It's a controversial subject and the argument, which has reverberated from coast-to-cost, shows no signs of ebbing any time soon.

The subject was all over the media following Don Sanderson's death Jan. 2. The 21-year-old Whitby Dunlops defenceman died of injuries he sustained when he hit his head after falling to the ice during a fight Dec. 12. He was in a coma for three weeks.

As a direct result, the Ontario Hockey League will now hand out a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension for players who remove their helmets or undo their chinstraps during a fight in the junior league. The OHL previously fined a team $100 when a player took off his helmet to fight.

Local players who have been known to get into more than a few scraps during any given provincial senior hockey season feel fighting is as much a part of hockey as bodychecking and scoring.

Shane Gamberg of Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars refers to himself as more of an "instigator" and "s--- disturber" than a fighter which is a fine line, but he says his job is basically to take the body, stand up for his teammates and help the offence as best he can.

"My coach (Ed Oates) doesn't really want me fighting unless I have to," said Gamberg, who leads his teams in penalty minutes with 69 in 17 games to go with 12 goals with 10 assists.

Gamberg said if fighting was ever taken out of the hockey, he is "pretty sure" he could adapt his style of game in order to keep playing, but he doesn't see that happening.

"Fighting is part of hockey. It's always been a part of hockey and it always will be," he said.

"I think there are a lot of people who don't know much about the game, but are putting in their two cents worth anyway," said Gamberg of the growing number of pundits who want to see fighting abolished.

"Fighting has been blown way out of porportion because of that one (Sanderson) death," he added.

Several provincial teams in both the Labatt Avalon East Senior Hockey League and the West Coast Senior Hockey League showed interest in the services of tough guy Mike Hayes before he wound up on Southern Shore Shawmut Fisheries Breakers this season.

"It's part of the game. Every team needs a policeman," said Hayes of fighting on ice.

"It comes with it, I guess," added Hayes, who feels "there's a need for it.

"I realized how much of a need there was this winter because teams were calling me to go out west."

And, he admitted, it probably wasn't for his scoring prowess.

However, Hayes insists the Southern Shore coaching staff doesn't want him to do a lot of fighting.

"We agreed there's a time and a place for it (fighting)."

The 27-year-old Hayes ran up hundreds of penalty minutes during his six years with Torbay and got the reputation as someone who simply does what he needs to do.

Hayes, who admits he likes to fight, is quick to add, "I would never force anyone to fight who doesn't want to fight."

Hayes, who has five goals and two fights in five games, said, "all the young guys are coming in are trying to make their name off me.

"I stand my ground and they know that. There's respect among the tough guys and they know who they are."

Still, Avalon East league president Joe Maynard says times are changing "big time" when it comes to fighting.

"There's very little in our league, certainly nothing like it was, say, 20 years ago," Maynard said about a league that slaps a game misconduct on any player who fights.

"Most of the players are either students or men who have to work the next day, so they are not inclined to do a whole lot of fighting. They just want a game of hockey and have some fun," said Maynard.

The West Coast loop is believed to be the only senior hockey league in Canada that allows a player a second fight before the combatant is tossed from the game. It costs the league any extra $3,500 to cover the insurance costs for that rule.

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador president Gerry Evans says he wouldn't mind if fighting was out of game of hockey, certainly at the junior level, down to midget.

"I suppose it's part of the game to a point," added Evans, "but when they start taking off their helmets and throwing each other to the ice in what looks to be premeditated fights, it's gone too far."

Evans sees a day when players will have to at least keep their helmets and gloves on in a fight, and with more and more players wearing visors, he said fighting will automatically be reduced.

So, while the tough guys continue to live by the "code" and leagues pay lip service to the inherent dangers involved, the tide may be turning.

PUBLIC OPINION

The general public's opinion appears to be changing in regards to fighting in hockey. There seems to be a growing movement, at various levels of the game, to ban fighting from hockey.

Some examples:

A new Harrris-Decima survey last week reported that a slim majority of Canadians oppose fighting in the NHL. As reported by CBC Sports, of the 1,000 people surveyed, 54 per cent said they were opposed to fighting and 40 per cent said they were fine with it. There was no indication if all of the respondents were hockey fans or not.

A recent Sun Media/Leger poll noted 59 per cent of Canadians surveyed have had enough of hockey fights. The Toronto Sun reported the majority surveyed felt fighting in minor and amateur hockey is unnecessary and dangerous and should be banned. Those involved should be thrown out of that game and face further suspensions. Another 27 per cent agree, "hockey fights in minor and amateur hockey can be serious and should be punished. Throwing the involved players out of that game (the current policy) is sufficient punishment."

Last year, the Quebec government called for stricter penalties for hockey fighting in the wake of a vicious junior league hockey brawl. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League brought in new rules to crack down on fighting last fall and there are less fights this season.

Opponents of fighting are quick to point out the world junior hockey championship, held this month in Ottawa, attracted record television viewership in Canada and there were no fights. Though fighting is up 24 per cent this season, there is very little fighting in the NHL playoffs or international hockey, in general, at any time.

Those who enjoy a good scrap will tell you no one leaves their seat when a fight breaks out and there's plenty of fan reaction during a heavyweight tilt between opposing enforcers.

The controversy is bound to continue, but a solution, or at least a compromise, may be closer than most hockey fans think, no matter what side of the debate they come down on.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Ontario Hockey League, Labatt Avalon East Senior Hockey League, West Coast Senior Hockey League NHL Sun Media Toronto Sun Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Geographic location: Canada, Avalon East, West Coast Quebec Ottawa

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Willy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Fighting is and will continue to be a part of hockey . I don't have a problem with two bruisers getting it on , but i have a big problem with mediocre lowlifes with the fat contracts who seek out star players to act out their fantasies on . We all know what Brashear , Belak , Laraque , and their type get paid to do , but you don't see them going after the superstars , but they will protect them . I don't like seeing bums like Avery or Tucker or Hollweg , game in and game out seeking out much more skilled players to take out of a game . If Ovechkin wasn't the superior player that he is , he'd be lucky to get into 25 games a year . He is one of those players that can look after himself , which is why he doesn't get suckered into fights . He lets his stick do his yapping for him . The tough guys are there to protect the good guys on the team and why shouldn't there be . Do you really expect Crosby or Kessel and these guys to drop the gloves every time a player of much lesser talent is sent out to agitate them . If the league can't do the police work and weed out the scum , what do you expect team owners to do , sit back and watch the players that fill the seats being mugged game in and game out by thugs , posing as hockey players . Take fighting out of the game and kiss Hockey goodby .

  • HockeySucks
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Hockey is played by people who were the first ones to walk upright in their families, while their fans are nothing more than drooling mouth-breathers, who speak in one-syllable words.

  • John W.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Fighting is a part of hockey. Well, you can just about say that for anything. The point being that it's ok if certain people say it's ok. What will they do next to gain attention and a better attendance to the hockey arena, drop their drawers? Just wondering.

  • Chris
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    I think if we remove fighting we will have more injuries. Dirty players play fairer when they know that a cheap shot to a goalie will land them a fist in the face. Likewise, hockey is intense. Letting two hotheads cool off with a few punches is better than having them explode and kill each other.

    I think our country's obsession with banning all violence has made us a more violent society. Look at the kids in school. They so much as say boo to each other and we have counsellors giving them sensitivity training and labelling them bullies. So like anything else, by making fighting and violence a no-no, the kids glorify it.

    Fighting, between two guys, used to be a simple scuff of a few punches, probably over a girl, and then that was it. Now its treated like a social event, recorded and shared with everyone. Why? I think because we have made it taboo and therefore cool.

  • Herb
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    If that fighting death had occurred on George Street the cry would have been, Let's clean up the steets and stop this violence! But in hockey the argument is that it's part of the game. Give me a break! Let's get rid of the goons and have the talented players allow fans to see real hockey. Want to watch violence, surf the fight channels where at least the violence is part of the game (rightly or wrongly)

  • Jerry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I cannot watch NHL or local hockey because it looks so childish to see grown men fighting over a small piece of rubber.International games are very different- They still play the game.

  • Doug
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    While I love to watch a good scrap in hockey, it is so hard to defend these days. I feel fighting should be banned from hockey and the rules juiced up to protect the stars, not fighting.

  • Hull
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    There's nothing wrong with hockey players fighting in the heat of the game. All the problems started when teams like Boston and Philadelphia started replacing hockey players with goons. If you made the team on your hockey skills you have earned the right to fight. If not, you have no place in the game. As for the support for goonery in hockey, it generally runs about 50/50. It's interesting that logic tells us that 50% of the world's population has a less than average IQ!!!

  • Mike
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    In 10 or 15 years when fighting is banned in the NHL, people will look back on it they way we do now with smoking on airplanes.

  • Willy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Fighting is and will continue to be a part of hockey . I don't have a problem with two bruisers getting it on , but i have a big problem with mediocre lowlifes with the fat contracts who seek out star players to act out their fantasies on . We all know what Brashear , Belak , Laraque , and their type get paid to do , but you don't see them going after the superstars , but they will protect them . I don't like seeing bums like Avery or Tucker or Hollweg , game in and game out seeking out much more skilled players to take out of a game . If Ovechkin wasn't the superior player that he is , he'd be lucky to get into 25 games a year . He is one of those players that can look after himself , which is why he doesn't get suckered into fights . He lets his stick do his yapping for him . The tough guys are there to protect the good guys on the team and why shouldn't there be . Do you really expect Crosby or Kessel and these guys to drop the gloves every time a player of much lesser talent is sent out to agitate them . If the league can't do the police work and weed out the scum , what do you expect team owners to do , sit back and watch the players that fill the seats being mugged game in and game out by thugs , posing as hockey players . Take fighting out of the game and kiss Hockey goodby .

  • HockeySucks
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Hockey is played by people who were the first ones to walk upright in their families, while their fans are nothing more than drooling mouth-breathers, who speak in one-syllable words.

  • John W.
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Fighting is a part of hockey. Well, you can just about say that for anything. The point being that it's ok if certain people say it's ok. What will they do next to gain attention and a better attendance to the hockey arena, drop their drawers? Just wondering.

  • Chris
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    I think if we remove fighting we will have more injuries. Dirty players play fairer when they know that a cheap shot to a goalie will land them a fist in the face. Likewise, hockey is intense. Letting two hotheads cool off with a few punches is better than having them explode and kill each other.

    I think our country's obsession with banning all violence has made us a more violent society. Look at the kids in school. They so much as say boo to each other and we have counsellors giving them sensitivity training and labelling them bullies. So like anything else, by making fighting and violence a no-no, the kids glorify it.

    Fighting, between two guys, used to be a simple scuff of a few punches, probably over a girl, and then that was it. Now its treated like a social event, recorded and shared with everyone. Why? I think because we have made it taboo and therefore cool.

  • Herb
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    If that fighting death had occurred on George Street the cry would have been, Let's clean up the steets and stop this violence! But in hockey the argument is that it's part of the game. Give me a break! Let's get rid of the goons and have the talented players allow fans to see real hockey. Want to watch violence, surf the fight channels where at least the violence is part of the game (rightly or wrongly)

  • Jerry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    I cannot watch NHL or local hockey because it looks so childish to see grown men fighting over a small piece of rubber.International games are very different- They still play the game.

  • Doug
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    While I love to watch a good scrap in hockey, it is so hard to defend these days. I feel fighting should be banned from hockey and the rules juiced up to protect the stars, not fighting.

  • Hull
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    There's nothing wrong with hockey players fighting in the heat of the game. All the problems started when teams like Boston and Philadelphia started replacing hockey players with goons. If you made the team on your hockey skills you have earned the right to fight. If not, you have no place in the game. As for the support for goonery in hockey, it generally runs about 50/50. It's interesting that logic tells us that 50% of the world's population has a less than average IQ!!!

  • Mike
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    In 10 or 15 years when fighting is banned in the NHL, people will look back on it they way we do now with smoking on airplanes.