Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The hockey fight

Todd 'Fridge' Fedoruk

I'm a bit tardy to the topic du jour, but I imagine that's simply because I wasn't sure there was anything new to contribute to the conversation.

Honestly, I like hockey fights as much as the next guy who grew up watching the juniors throw a few every weekend at the local rink. And the schoolyard conversation on Mondays was always about Paul Kruse or Bob Westerby or Rob Skrlac and their latest exploits more than it was ever about a nice goal or a great save...

"Who fought who? Who won? Wasn't that great — and, hey, did you see the replay?"

It's funny now looking back, realizing these were 18-year-old kids from tiny backwater towns who were trading blows in front of 5,000+ mostly grown men and women, all of whom would stand, cheer and embrace hockey's code.

Todd Fedoruk had his nose broken seven times while he was still a teenager. Drafted as a 15-year-old from a small town in northern Alberta, he was fighting at 16 with the Kelowna Rockets — and he's still fighting now.

And here's the question: Should he be?

Fedoruk has had at least seven titanium plates implanted into his face in the past three years — and has 10 in total, one of which was added courtesy of Colton Orr last week.

And while it's true Fedoruk's now 28 years old, a big boy capable of taking care of himself, one thing's unequivocally clear: As long as he can scrap, he will.
“When I look back on it, I should have stopped fighting and let my face fully heal,” Fedoruk said. “But when you’re a fighter, you fight.”
It's easy to say he simply shouldn't fight, even if that means a return to life in the minors, where endless bus rides and a tenth the salary are the norm. But I know, and you do, too, why that won't happen. Every Canadian kid, whether he be Merritt's Paul Kruse or Redwater's Todd Fedoruk or any of the other hundreds who drop the gloves, wants to be in 'The Show' — and if titanium plates are your ticket to stay there, you punch it (or get it punched, as it were) and come back for more.

Like I said, I like hockey fights. But I also like Todd Fedoruk — and, if pressed, I honestly couldn't offer his six-year-old a good explanation as to why his father's lot in life was sitting on the end of an NHL bench and getting the crap kicked out of him every so often.

Is any paycheque worth that? And what sort of game do we have where the extracurricular sideshows clung to so dearly end with a man's life irreparably damaged in the aftermath?

Make no mistake, there are long-term repercussions for the kind of beatings many of these guys are taking at the hands of the new brand of super-goons like 6-foot-7, 270-pound Derek Boogaard, and for any of us to defend those as the hazards of doing business in the NHL for something as ridiculously inane as 'The Code' simply doesn't wash.

This isn't the schoolyard anymore. And the idea of retribution keeping players in check should have gone out the window March 8, 2004.



At 8:42 a.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

And the idea of retribution keeping players in check should have went out the window March 8, 2004.

Sorry, James, but that's a pretty b.s. trump card to throw on the subject of fighting.

Up the penalties if we must, but for all the talk of what place fighting has in hockey, I guess I keep asking the same question.

Why do we need to ban fighting from hockey? If it is just a useless sideshow with no real upside, wouldn't it disappear on its own? Wouldn't there already be disapproval from the fans, coaches, owners, and players?

The more legislative punishment it takes to make fighters stop fighting, the less I can support the claim that fights do not belong in hockey. If they did not belong, there should already be self-deterring mechanisms that remove them from the game.

At 10:31 a.m., March 27, 2007, Anonymous pevans said...

I think there's fighting in hockey because it's a violent sport that didn't legislate out extracurricular fisticuffs way back in the day. The first hockey player jumped another guy after a hit or a slash or something, and it was decided that his response was a predictable reaction to the play on the field. So it's been passed down and is now accepted.

Physical confrontations in sports inherently make people want to react violently.

I've been in soccer games where I've been strongly, dirtily tackled, and believe me, I would have loved to jump on the guy and just start wailing away. But I don't because I knew if I did the league would have banned me for life. I value the ability to keep playing and get back at the guy more than the ability to punch him once. But in hockey, I can do both. I'd get a 5-minute penalty.

I'm neither condoning nor condemning fighting in hockey. I stand up and cheer at fights. But I also know if they spontaneously stopped tomorrow I wouldn't miss them one iota.

I'm just pointing out the fact that hockey's one of the few sports where you can look at your competitor after a hard challenge or whatever and say "I can hit this guy to make myself feel better and still be allowed to play the game."

Hockey players fight because they can.

At 10:35 a.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger John Richardson said...

I'm with James. I like a good fight as much as the next guy.


The problem with the "its part of the game" mantra is that fighting virtually disappears in the playoffs and isn't a factor at all in The Olympics.

At 12:12 p.m., March 27, 2007, Anonymous ken said...

I'm more bothered by the cheap shots that seem to go unpunished, especially if the offender pretends to apologize. Hits from behind, cross checks to the face, fists to the back of the head -- I'd like to see thing like that HEAVILY punished. In other words, we need a hanging judge.

The fighting, where both guys are willing participants, I find more boring than anything else. They could stay or go and I wouldn't care either way.

At 12:56 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

True, it became ingrained in the culture at an early stage and never got pulled out. But it's also worth considering that hockey is not only a violent game but a fast game. Football (North American or other) is not that fast. You have time to stop and think. In hockey, decisions are frequently simple reactions because of the speed of the play. It's something we forget sometimes if we watch it a lot, but watch a junior game then watch an NHL game five minutes later and holy crap do you notice the difference.

Maybe if the players could trust the refs and the League to dole out proper discipline at the time, fighting might have been phased out a long time ago. But there's often too much going on too quickly for the ref to catch everything, and the League...well, Colin Campbell is his own piece of work, let's put it that way. As long as players don't feel they can trust the League to right the wrongs on the ice, they're going to want to do it themselves, and given how dangerous many transgressions can be, it's a perfectly understandable part of human nature.

At 12:59 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger Rick said...

There are a lot of very strong and very good opinions on this subject.

But I don't see much, if any, data. Someone needs to do a real study on this issue so that we can know the following:

(1) Does fighting decrease or increase "cheap" injuries (e.g. Simon, Bertuzzi)?

(2) Does fighting help or hinder the growth of the sport?

The hockey punditry can shout louder and louder, but until I see some evidence either way, it's just talking heads.

At 1:03 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger Rick said...

I would add that it might go a long way toward resolving the dirty play problem if the league had published guidelines (you know, like....... laws) for what action leads to what punishment.

Currently, it seems far too arbitrary, and seems to correspond too much with the "star" status of the player, and the amount of shouting in the media.

At 1:03 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

(1) Fedoruk's injury wasn't a cheap one and it's the one I'm arguing against here.

(2) I couldn't care less.

I don't need statistical evidence to form an opinion on something I've seen happen my entire life. The idea of retribution in hockey is ridiculous and shouldn't be tolerated anymore than it is in daily life.

At 1:31 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

The idea of retribution in hockey is ridiculous and shouldn't be tolerated anymore than it is in daily life.

Who gets to call it 'ridiculous', James? Us guys on our side of the glass?

Bah, I'm not getting caught in this sort of debate--you can assign whatever labels you would like or cite whatever ugly incidents seem to have the most shock value, but in the end of the day, I refuse to believe that all participants are repeatedly acting outside of their own self-interests.

If fighters truly are dinosaurs outliving their usefulness, they won't need legislation to go extinct.

At 2:58 a.m., April 03, 2007, Blogger Colby Cosh said...

Bonus points for dragging Todd Fedoruk's six-year-old son into it (as if the kid's not going to spend 60 years of his life re-telling his father's war stories in pubs). I'm reliably informed that kittens, the Smurfs, and Grandma Mirtle don't like hockey fights either. The only question is how a sportswriter explains to his own children how he's able to make phony apple-pie arguments like this and still sleep at night.

At 12:02 p.m., April 03, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Classic Cosh retort where he fails to make any sort of argument of his own.

I'm not saying ban fighting — I'm saying let's get rid of the punching bags like Fedoruk.

At 4:53 p.m., November 25, 2007, Blogger TheAlmondTreeGrl said...

hello, sorry to bother you, but i was wondering if you knew which team is the most vicious when it comes to hockey fights? Which team has the most fouls for fighting this season?


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