Saturday, December 09, 2006


Embracing the Fisticuffs

by Greg

Washington and Anaheim threw down a few times last night, which confused me a bit -- I've been under the impression that the Caps are the league's cleanest team, only resorting to violence when pushed too far by nasty ol' Bob Hartley and the Thrashers. But despite their undoubted reluctance, I'm glad to see it -- always enjoy games like that.

It comes in the wake of this Allan Muir article on, that lodged in my craw -- because I simultaneously agree with it, and don't see the point.

The discord first: I think Muir's manufacturing the debate to a degree. I haven't heard any controversy over the Laraque-Ivanans fight, and I don't see any renewed push to get fighting out of the game. Yeah, the new rules have pushed it down (because of the emphasis on speed), but it's not out, and it's not going away.

It's sort of like the "War on Christmas" everyone down here makes such a fuss over -- I don't think there's really any sustained anti-fighting forces. Over the years, aside from the occasional huffy newspaper columnist, I can think of one hockey fan I've known that hated fighting: a guy I knew back in college, who used to stand up during a fight and turn his back on the action. The guy was one of the world's biggest jackasses, and his anti-fighting stance should be taken as an endorsement.

But I digress, I stray far afield. What I like about Muir's article is its uninhibited support of the nastier side of the game. I freakin' love fighting, with no apologies, no "it keeps players honest" justification. It's an adrenaline rush, exciting as hell. I remember watching (on television) Chris Simon pummel Bob Probert during the '96 playoffs, and only realizing afterwards that I'd been pacing the room and shadowboxing during the fight and its replay.

Many of my favorite (non-Czech, natch) players over the years have been fighters -- Simon, Willi Plett, Basil McRae, Jeff Odgers. The best I've ever seen, though?

(drum roll)

Tony Twist. His time as an effective NHLer was brief -- but in the mid-'90s, he was a delight to watch (if, granted, you extend the definition of "delight" to include large bearded men punching each other). Better than Probert, better than Odjick, better than anyone I can think of in my time. I had (ok, have) a Twist fight tape, and friends and I used to think there was no better way to spend the night than to bring in a case of beer, fire that up, and watch Twister pummel Rob Ray. In retrospect, not the best way to spend a chunk of my 20s, but pretty fun nonetheless.

I remember finding one of those hockey fights web sites one day while I was at work...I locked my office door and watched Basil McRae and Probert and Rob Ray for like 45 minutes, more secretive than if I was watching porno on the clock...but anyhow, I really don't think fighting will ever be eliminated. While the goons may disappear, what we'll get instead are decent players who can use their fists, too -- guys like Paul Gaustad from the Sabres...and that's definitely a step in the right direction. Forget Allan Muir, I think half of what he writes is supposed to be "controversial" just to get a rise out of hockey fans and pump up the traffic to SI's hockey site...because why else would anyone go there to get their hockey news?
There were quite a few anti-fighting article the day after Ivanans and Laraque and TSN beat it into the ground for a bit. Muir didn't manufacture anything.
i don't think there are many hockey fans who want to see fighting removed from the game totally, but there are some (like myself) who are kind of annoyed by the sideshow aspect of modern hockey fighting, which is what the Laraque incident exposed. personally, i want players to be able to fight whenever they feel they have cause to, but, for me, having two enforcer-types with no real skills who get maybe 5 minutes of ice time wail on each other for a while is just boring, just another thing that delays the game, the same entertainment value as waiting for the refs to check a marginal maybe-goal on the replay.

if i might ask, what's the appeal of hockey fighting over just plain old fighting? i mean, if your interest is in watching a fight, why not just watch boxing or something? in the cases where the combatants are the proverbial goons, why does it even matter that they're on skates, in a rink? i don't ask to criticize, but just out of curiosity. i'm comparatively new to the culture of hockey, and don't always understand how other fans perceive the game.
David - I stand corrected on the anti-fighting articles, but I still believe the threat of the anti-fighting forces was exaggerated by a factor of about one hillion jillion.

E - a good question, and one I had to think about. I can't stand boxing and had no interest in the "Challenge of the Goons" or whatever it is.

I suppose it's that fighting seems (to me) like a natural outgrowth of the game -- a product of the adrenaline, of rising tempers. It's a contrast to the regular action, and one that's still exciting and interesting.
As hockey fights go, give me middleweight v middleweight every time. Those are usually more spontaneous and typically ignited by a situation where umbrage is genuine and justifyably taken. MWs pairing off (not really the best term...that's what the HWs do) are indeed often stepping up from their roles as scrappers, but usually there is more heat in that heat of the moment. And unlike the HWs, they are not really a part of a specific fraternity which regard fighting as the larger aspect of a more limited *role*. The fraternal code among HWs almost seems to assure a business like waltz when they pair off, rather than an angry MW encounter where the pugalists are less preoccupied with fulfilling a condition of employment.

Yeah, that Twister/Ray fight was one on the most unique that I have seen. I remember Twist collapsing Ray's face and Ray sitting in the box with an ice pack over it. I think that may have even shown Ray in the box on the scoreboard and the fans going nuts.
1. I agree with the middle-weight dealio. Heavyweight fights used to be the bomb, but now it's just dancing...too well-trained and not enough passion

2. The instigator penalty and the liberal use of it does hurt fighting and discourages guys from avenging someone who got injured (Re: Ovechkin incident)

3. I go to games with a guy who hates fighting, yet he loves hockey despite the violence. If you don't like hockey, it's most likely not just because it has fighting.

4. I love fighting and it does give me a bit of a rush. I don't like boxing, because it's so constricted and not spur-of-the-moment like most NHL fights. The surprise element adds to the moment.

5. Twister is one of the all-time best. The way he'd 'twist' guys around was hilarious. He had so much brute strength.
Twist better than Probert? Never. Probert also had a modicum of offensive talent, as well. Jeff Odgers was only good at bleeding all over whoever he was fighting against. Seriously, I have never seen anything more reliable than Odgers getting opened up in a fight, at least during the last few years he played.
I didn't say Odgers was a GOOD fighter -- just that I liked the guy. And after seeing Warren Rychel get a few go-rounds with the Avs, Odgers seemed very competent by comparison.

Twist vs Probert was strictly fighting in my evaluation. I'll acknowledge that I didn't see as much of Probie during his Bruise Brothers (or whatever) heyday, but there was always that Mike Tyson feeling with him -- that if you got a few good shots in, he was just going to go bull-in-the-china-shop insane. Twist was just a straight-on destroyer.
Is there any way to flip around the instigator to get rid of staged goon battles, but encourage guys who feel slighted to punch each other in the face repeatedly? That would rock.
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