Thursday, January 22, 2004

Fights Gone Too Far

I love to see good fights, but what happened Monday in the game between the Bruins and Rangers was totally unacceptable and sickening. A passionate brawl between the teams definitely went too far. Joe Thornton was "punched" during a fight with Eric Lindros and a got fractured right cheekbone. The punch was more like a WWF uppercut that bloodied Thornton's face. In addition, Darius Kasparaitis will miss the remainder of the regular season because of another dirty play. Dan McGillis gave Kasparaitis a knee-check in the second, breaking a bone in his left leg and spraining a knee ligament. McGillis was given a match penalty on the play. While this wasn't a fight, it was a malicious and intentional attack on Kasparaitis that was part of a larger system of fights during the game. In November 2001, Kasparaitis knee-checked Matthew Barnaby and put him out for months. And Barnaby was quoted: "He's a good buddy of mine, a good friend. He plays a tough game, but you live by the sword and die by the sword. This isn't my last year in the league. It will be rectified." So while many may say Kasparaitis got what he deserved, I just think that's silly because that cycle of injuries is totally unnecessary. In a league with scoring way down, we have Boston's leading scorer (with 44 pts in 47 games) and one of the top stars in the league turned to a bloody pulp and knees being blown out every-other night. NHL fights/brawls/beefs should never go that far. I don't care if you cite Old Time Hockey memories of Howe doing the same thing, because it doesn't mean it's right just because Mr. Hockey (Mr. Copyright) layed down the law that way in the '50s. The game has changed. A hit is not "clean" just because it is technically legal but should also be sound in intent. You can say hockey is a tough game and this stuff is to be expected, but it's starting to scare me. There are enough injuries this season, particularly groin pulls, that we really don't need guys going after the opposition's knees (remember Pronger's run on Yzerman), breaking their cheekbones in fights, and dirty stickwork (Zetterberg broken leg on a slash, and Al MacInnis, Darcy Tucker, Berard eye injuries off high sticks, and everyone remembers the Marty McSorely incident). That's just ridiculous. Totally unjustifed extracuricular action that only brings the league down and isolates the general population of prospective fans, just as the NHL is trying to become a mainstream sport in the United States. If I saw that stuff when I was flirting with the idea of becoming a hockey junkie, I might have reconsidered. Fans like fights for them being fair and between two gritty/willing players: these are the "good" fights that have a place in the league. Tie Domi fights are an example. These fights don't generally result in injuries, because the "fighters" of the league are the ones that survived their first NHL fight and know how to stick it with the best of them the right way. I believe there are ethics/unwritten rules in fighting. While it may appear like a blood-hungry battle between two mugs, most guys know where to cross the line and don't try to injure their opponent. Respect. It's usually a game, and often happens between off-season buddies. Guys who have a ginger-ale together after the game. Lindros certainly crossed the line, a line that is crossed way too often in the high-contact era of the NHL. What made Howe-Era fighting more credible is that the guys respected each other, and today's fighters/checkers/stickhandlers are moving increasingly away from the respect level that has kept fighting in the game. No matter how much equipment we engineer to protect our players, the only real thing that can protect them is themselves.


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