Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fighting, 2014, and what it means to you

In the last week we saw this play:

as well as this one:

It's probably just a coincidence that we saw both incidences 6 days apart, but its worth noting that Portland isn't really icing a "heavyweight" or a "goon" at the moment.  I'm making the argument that those things are related.

The game, like most aspects of our society continues to evolve.  The arc of the Moral Universe Is long, but It bends toward Justice - which applies to hockey as well.  There are some who feel that fighting has ran its course, and shouldn't have a place in the game - and these voices often know what its like when the shoe is on the other foot.

I get the argument that fighting is barbaric.  Concussions are a huge issue in hockey, and need to be dealt with.  Fighting results in less than 10% of the concussions in the game, so even if you eliminated it you'd still have the other 90% to deal with.  There is an argument that having a deterrent on the bench prevents even more concussions, which I believe history has proven.

When Gretzky was traded to L.A., he insisted that he bring his enforcer with him. Arguably the best player the game has ever known couldn't do it without protection.

The decade prior was marked by a team known as the "Broad Street Bullies" - who simply muscled their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

In the WHL, the 70's were known for rough stuff - primarily from the New Westminster Bruins.  I've heard stories about the New West players stealing all the pucks in warmups, planting them in their own end, and challenging the other players to come and get them.  They won the Memorial Cup in 1978 & 1979.  It was an effective strategy. I can only hope that there's video of Portland's part in this dance.

Organized hockey emerged in the 1880's, and it's been rough since the beginning:

  Early hockey, however, was also plagued by excessive violence. In two cases, one in 1905 and another in 1907, hockey players were put on trial after blows that killed other hockey players. Both times the players were found innocent, but the press and many in the country (including the juries) called on legislation to be enacted that would curb the violence.
To come back to modern(ish) times, the Bertuzzi incident comes to mind.   Full disclosure:  I am an Avalanche fan.  If you're not familiar with "the code" - you probably should be, and there's a chapter in this book about this incident.  What went down was a series of events starting with Steve Moore laying a borderline check on Canucks' captain Markus Naslund:

Say what you want to about this hit, but the Canucks weren't having it.

Threats were made. “There’s definitely a bounty on his head,” Canucks winger Brad May said, as quoted by The Vancouver Sun. “It’s going to be fun when we get him.”
The next game between the two teams was in Denver, and it quietly ended in a tie.  After that was a matchup in Vancouver:

The "code" says that it should be over, Moore answered the bell.  He fought one of Vancouver's tough guys.  Cooke had the opportunity to exact revenge.  A pound of flesh.  But it wasn't over:

I was watching that game.  I somewhat expected fireworks.  When that broke out, I was into it - I thought we would see a goalie fight, which most of us love.  Once the gravity of the situation settled in, I was sick to my stomach.  As Jim Hughston said in the above clip, "The score settling has gone to far"

The aftermath resulted in one NHL career ended, and another suspended for 20 games.  Everyone loses.

Why would I present the Bertuzzi incident in the context of calling for more muscle on the Portland Winterhawks?  Hockey, like the rest of life, is complicated.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 The idea of enforcers in hockey is not unlike the doctrine of Mutual Ensured Destruction: you don't take liberties with their top guys, as the other team will take cheap shots on your skilled guys.  I've heard stories where the Kypreos' of the world say that star players on their own teams tell guys to knock it off, lest the other teams goons come after them.

Its been that arms race / balance of power for about a hundred years.  We want to think we're beyond that, but we ain't there yet.  There remains a place for enforcers, and I'm of the opinion that Portland needs one, and soon.

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