Hockey violence continues
// Michael Bastien

What do you get when you cross Chuck Liddell with Elvis Stojko? Violence in ice hockey has been a controversial topic between sports fans. Some believe it takes away from the sport, while others think that the violence is the most exciting part of the game. If a player was to hit another outside the rink, he would be charged. So why is it all right on the ice?

Violence is something that appeals to our primitive nature. If our lifestyle is mundane and routine, a little chaos that upsets the established order can be exhilarating.

Hockey celebrity Don Cherry is rather vocal about his love for violence on the ice. The Coaches’ Corner star stated, “It’s a tough sport, fans like it, I still like it.”

These players are paid millions of dollars to entertain us, and fighting is certainly entertaining to many viewers. Fans compile “Top 10” hits and fight videos, and love it when an opposing player gets their just desserts. In the words of celebrity Canuck fans the Green Men, “Did anyone else enjoy Volpatti churning Carcillo into a human punching bag as much as we did?” Fighting isn’t exciting just to the fans, but also the players. The rink is a place where society’s rules don’t apply, and you can brawl with little consequences.

Violence has always been a part of hockey. With huge players moving quickly across the ice, accidents are unavoidable. It is when anger rises and fists start flying that people become concerned. Some cases of violence on the ice have been so severe that a player has been expelled or even convicted. In the early 20th century, players were dying on the rink.

Owen McCourt was the first hockey player to die from an on ice injury, after being struck in the head by another player’s stick in 1907. There have been several other incidents of severe violence such as the brawl Billy Coutu started, or Eddie Shore’s hit on Ace Bailey. The latest player to be charged was Todd Bertuzzi in 2004. The former Canuck sucker-punched Steve Moore in the back of the head, resulting in the end of Moore’s professional career. Bertuzzi received a 20-game suspension and was given a conditional discharge. Fighting in hockey is accepted by the public because people are drawn to the violence, and purists believe it is a tradition and part of the sport; however, if people want to watch a fight, UFC and MMA are more legitimate forms of competitive combat. The hockey traditionalists need to accept that things have to change to become better. Generations of children are brought up thinking that hitting someone on the ice is a good thing, and carry this ideal throughout their lives.

Hockey teams have decided to deal with violence by fighting fire with fire. One or two players on each team are given the role of enforcer, or “goon”, as they are sometimes called. No other sport has an equivalent position to the enforcer. These players are drafted not due to their skill, but because of their size. It is their job to protect the smaller players on their team and hinder the opposition. The goons are usually forwards, because this way, they only play a few minutes per game and let the talented players have more time on the ice. These goons rarely get any ice time during important games such as the play-offs. Not a single enforcer has played centre, a position played only by the best of the team.

It is a shame when these hired bullies injure legitimate players. Such was the case when hockey prodigy Sidney Crosby sustained two head injuries in the span of four days, resulting in the Pittsburgh Penguins floundering in the play-offs. Only time will tell if Crosby’s short and successful career is over. In today’s league, enforcers are a necessary evil, and act as guardians, protecting the smaller players from being bullied by other goons. A team without an enforcer would be crushed unless the league removes the need for the position by implementing safer rules.

Despite the roughhousing, hockey is still a great sport. The amazing plays, incredible saves, and the tension are far more exciting than any fight. One of the greatest players of all time, Wayne Gretzkey, never got into a single fight during his 21-year career.

Physical contact and penalties are unavoidable, but a line has to be drawn. The NHL should install harsher penalties to discourage violence and ensure the safety of its players. If things don`t change, in the future we’ll be saying, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.”

// Michael Bastien, Writer

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