No Fighting In The Fight Thread
August 16, 2011 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Rick Rypien and the crisis of faith on hockey fighting Rypien's death on Monday marked the second time this year someone has arrived at the home of a young NHL player who fought his way into the profession — literally and figuratively — to find that player had suddenly died.

Linked and quoted are two other blog posts worth reading in full:

Ottawa Senators blog Silver Seven - The Human Toll Of Fighting

Toronto Maple Leafs blog Leafs Nation - I'm Done With Fighting
posted by mannequito (84 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm ambivalent at best about fighting in hockey, and absolutely hate staged fights between goons who skate 5-7 minutes a night.

That being said, I think there's a little correlation/causation thing going on here, and I'd be careful about assigning responsibility to the institution of fighting in hockey. I could imagine the causation arrow going hockey fights -> mental problems/addiction (whether it's because of CTE or just the general pressure of fighting for a living or the opposite way (I can imagine it takes a special kind of personality to want to fight for a living in the first place). Rypien had serious problems, probably beyond those of the typical enforcer (he attacked a fan last season, for instance). But it's just a bit of a stretch to blame hockey fights for his demise.
posted by downing street memo at 7:11 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


His death is such a waste in so many ways. All the guy was valued for was his fists. I wonder if he or his mother and father imagined this is the way it would all turn out when they got up at 5am to take to the hockey rink as a kid.

Hockey, as it's played in North America, is such an ugly, awful, stupid, violent sport, and I really regret that the Canucks' success last season has made hockey a dinner-table discussion in our household, thanks to my 8-year-old son.

Of course, you can't say that you dislike hockey in Canada, oh, no. It's the closest thing to a national religion we have, and I can understand why so many lapsed Catholics hate the church.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:26 PM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


First off, . for Rypien and I'm sorry that the debate will necessarily focus on his job without any proof that it was a contributing factor in his death. But, since it will anyway...

As a hockey fan and player the answer seems obvious to me. You can't take fighting out of the game completely. In a game as fast-paced, physical, and competitive as ice hockey tempers will flair at times and guys will want to go at it. It happens at every level. Guys paw at each other for a while and get tired and fall down and then they go to the box and cool off a little and maybe get a beer later.

What doesn't happen at every level is the dressing of less-skilled goons who are only on the roster to punch guys. Maybe in the past there was some "policing" that could go on but the way the league's skill level and ruleset is now they're an anachronism who can hardly keep up with the play, only get a few minutes a game, and only get to play when it seems like the other team might ice their own goon. Every NHL team has a half dozen grinders waiting in the AHL that could contribute more to the team if there was a roster spot. Or an offensive d-man who could be a powerplay specialist. Or a blue-chip rookie who could use some sheltered NHL experience.

So, to me the answer is simple. Allow fighting in the game, but get rid of the single-purpose bruisers.

As an aside, I went to an event at a comedy club where 4 former NHL enforcers: Reid Simpson, Tom Fitzgerald, Wade Belak, and Stu "The Grim Reaper" Grimson (now a practicing attorney and part-time broadcaster) shared war stories. The guys were all super personable, eloquent, and hilarious so while they're called "goons" they're actually just decent people who found a well-paying, dangerous niche.
posted by ghharr at 7:27 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not very familiar with ice hockey so I'll leave that alone. However on the more general issue of violence in sport, yes for me there is a visceral reaction that I get when I see two players in an Australian Rules game have a crack at each other, but aside from reaction I cant condone that behaviour. The risks to the players are great.

Australian Rules used to me a much more violent sport and after a while the League put in place a system of penalties to eradicate fighting. Players can be suspended from playing the game for weeks at a time if they make even one punch to another player's head or body. There has been a certain amount of "the game is going soft" cries from some quarters, but in general the fans have accepted the change and the game is in no way less popular or less exciting due to the lack of on-field violence.

Hockey fans might moan about fighting being taken out of their game, but in time they would get over it and they'd probably end up with a better game, more skilful game.
posted by awfurby at 7:29 PM on August 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can't take fighting out of the game completely. In a game as fast-paced, physical, and competitive as ice hockey tempers will flair at times and guys will want to go at it.

Well, sure - inasmuch as you can't take fighting out of sport, completely. Because there's always going to be somebody who's going to want to throw a punch. Hell, some guy took a swing at me in a very amateur bike race this spring.

But you can still take it out of the accepted practice of the sport.
posted by entropone at 7:30 PM on August 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Why don't people ever get charged with assault?
posted by empath at 7:32 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember watching bench clearing brawls at college hockey games as a kid. It was a several times a season event. That is just simply no longer the case. The NHL has the capability to officiate fighting out of the game. They just don't choose to do so because of fear that they will lose fans.

Like most backlash concerns, I suspect this one is overstated in practice. The game is played that way essentially at two levels, AHL and NHL. At pretty much all other levels, including pond hockey as I understand it, there aren't players whose sole purpose is to intimidate and fight.

I have no opinion on these specific events aside from the tragedy of the individual loss. If it does help promote a serious discussion of eliminating pro hockey fighting however, it would not be a bad thing.
posted by meinvt at 7:35 PM on August 16, 2011


Why don't people ever get charged with assault?

Don't know about other sports, but it happened at least once in Australian Rules:
In 1985, Leigh Matthews infamously king hit Bruns and broke his jaw. Although no reports were made at the time, the Victorian Football League (VFL) Commissioners subsequently investigated the incident, found Matthews to be responsible and deregistered him for four weeks. Matthews then faced a criminal charge of assault, to which he pleaded guilty, and was fined $1,000. This resulted in much debate over the role of the police in sporting incidents.[3]
(from Wikipedia).
posted by awfurby at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Washington Capitals had a pre-season game after 9-11. It was the first big public event in DC after the attacks. There was a hockey fight in the third period that went on for a long time. It was exactly what the crowd wanted. The feeling of joy and releif at seeing this trouble me today.
posted by humanfont at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get why the fighting is allowed at all. Someone further up said that in such a physical, fast paced sport fighting is given. Really? I don't see it going on in football, which I played in high school. Tempers flared and players wanted to throw punches sure, but it wasn't part of the game so you channeled it into the actual play. The fighting in hockey is a joke in my opinion and should be totally eliminated.
posted by meta87 at 7:44 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why don't people ever get charged with assault?

Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley both have been, although neither incident was really a fight. The Montreal police are currently conducting an investigation into a hit Zdeno Chara gave in a game last season, which, again, isn't a fight, but on-ice incidents do turn into criminal charges in some cases.

As for why in-game fights don't routinely turn into assault charges, I'm under the impression that a fight between two consenting parties is legal. I'm not speaking from experience here, but if two drunk guys scuffle outside a bar, I'm pretty sure they won't both get charged with assault just for hitting the other guy.
posted by Copronymus at 7:49 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Washington Capitals had a pre-season game after 9-11. It was the first big public event in DC after the attacks. There was a hockey fight in the third period that went on for a long time. It was exactly what the crowd wanted. The feeling of joy and releif at seeing this trouble me today.

Old Man Murray also retreated to hockey in the aftermath of 9/11
posted by empath at 7:49 PM on August 16, 2011


In the US, at least, and presumably most other common-law countries, people playing sports are deemed to have assumed the risk for violent behavior within the normal scope of the game. That is, a football player (American) can't sue or prosecute (civilly or criminally, respectively) for being tackled. It's only when the violence is outrageous in terms of the game that it violates the consent that was given. So in boxing, throwing a punch is obviously consented to; the police would laugh in Manny Pacquiao's face if he tried to file a criminal complaint on someone for punching him during a bout. On the other hand, ping pong is not known for its punching, so going after your opponent during a game would be prosecutable.
An interesting and fairly readable journal article on the subject is available here.

After Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich in the face in 1977, basketball cracked down on fights on the basketball court. (From the Wikipedia article: "On-court fights had been all too common in the 1970s, often including bench-clearing brawls. In the season opener, when Jabbar punched Benson, no suspension had been levied. However, Washington's punch resulted in the league enacting strict penalties for on-court fights. Current NBA commissioner David Stern, then the NBA's chief counsel, later said that the incident made NBA officials realize that "you couldn't allow men that big and that strong to go around throwing punches at each other."")
I'm sure those fights seemed like a natural part of the game at the time, but clearly we do okay without them now.
posted by katemonster at 7:50 PM on August 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


to, to me the answer is simple. Allow fighting in the game, but get rid of the single-purpose bruisers.

Yeah, totally simple. How do you propose that the league define a "single-purpose bruiser?"
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:52 PM on August 16, 2011


Why don't people ever get charged with assault?

The Hanson Brothers got charged with assault, but Reggie Dunlop bailed them out.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:56 PM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


CBC's the Fifth Estate did a wonderful examination of fighting in hockey called "The Code". Very good examination of this issue in hockey, and the toll it takes on the players. It's been very much on my mind today as I digest the news of Rypien's death.

I love the game of hockey. My loathing for the fighting in it and its defenders grows daily.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:59 PM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suppose "can't" was a bad choice of words, I think fighting could be largely eliminated from the game. But when people think of fighting in hockey they think of the two goons who train MMA in the offseason slugging each other in the head. Skill players going at it looks more like this, or maybe some sort of huggy strip fight. And honestly, there are a lot of ways you can cripple someone in hockey. If someone's hot at me I'd much rather they try to take a few swings than hit me in the numbers while I'm facing the boards or slewfoot me while the ref isn't watching or "accidentally" blindside me in open ice. Those are dangers that aren't really there in other sports where you have your feet on the ground, are moving at lower speeds, and aren't surrounded by walls.

Yeah, totally simple. How do you propose that the league define a "single-purpose bruiser?"

More than 4 (or something?) fighting majors in a season = suspension for the rest of the year? Reducing the number of roster spots to 22? I think a lot of teams are going this way voluntarily but the league can definitely do something to encourage it.
posted by ghharr at 8:00 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obviously fighting is a serious hazard just as it is for boxers, but I'm not at all sure that fighting is the main risk factor for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I've never seen someone knocked unconscious after a fight -- it's checking (clean or dirty) that seems to cause the most obvious concussions. Hockey's got more than one problem.

Roller derby is a much more sensible full contact sport. Hard hitting, but because everyone is headed in the same direction players don't come crashing to a dead stop. Roller derby can still be pretty savage and injury packed, but head injuries are far less likely.


I don't get why the fighting is allowed at all.


Historically, the worry that the refs wouldn't/couldn't keep control of the game and that star players would be deliberately injured without a deterrent. Better officiating and stiffer penalties for flagrant attempts to injure make fighting unnecessary.


you can't say that you dislike hockey in Canada

You can say you prefer curling. The screaming seems enough to keep the rage down.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:01 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You want to reduce/eliminate the amount of fighting in the NHL? Make the penalties for fighting so harsh that it effectively takes away your team's chances for victory. Start a fight? Automatic ejection AND your team has to play a man down for the rest of the game. Same penalty for "third man in." Start a fight/ third man in the in the last ten minutes of a game? Penalty is carried over to the NEXT game. Heavy fines levied by the league as well, against both the player AND HIS TEAM. I bet you'd see a lot of the "policing" that falls to the goons decrease.

That said, there are other factors contributing to brain injury in the NHL that need to be addressed as well. First and foremost, make the rinks bigger. Olympic size at least. Players have gotten so much bigger and faster just in the past 20 years that I'm seeing a lot more harder hits into the boards now then I did back in the 80's. When I watch International Hockey, the game is much more open and skill reliant then your typical North American Hockey game, which is a much more physical game (Don't start with "But that's what makes the North American game awesome!" crap. That's exactly like the rube who watches auto racing for the crashes).

Secondly, make some serious attempts at punishing dirty play by taking full advantage of a replay official. It's very difficult for the Ref and the linesmen to see everything that goes on in a game. But there is more than enough technology out there for an official in a booth who can be reviewing live footage for missed calls that are are designed to injure (slewfooting, etc). Get it on tape, show it to the Ref during the next stoppage of play, get thrown out and cause your team to play a man down the rest of the way as outlined above. Fines levied as above as well.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


.

Rick. I hope whatever it was that was after you will leave you alone now.

18 comments?
posted by porpoise at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2011


Rypien's death has nothing whatsoever to do with his role as an enforcer.

It's not hard to read between the lines in this situation, given his leave of absence last fall due to mental health issues, and the RCMP's announcement that his death was "sudden and unsuspicious".
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 8:20 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rypien was not a top level player by any means, but neither was he a goon. He was a scrappy player with an attitude that would not back down to anyone. He was not sent out to specifically fight. He had a long history of depression and "personal issues". It may have been as a result of numerous blows to the head, but it may not have been too. I think this young man's premature death is not a result of hockey per se, but because of his depression. Obviously, I am speculating as we all are, but it is my belief that even if he was a writer or some other profession, he would have had issues.

.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:21 PM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Heavy fines levied by the league as well,
The maximum fine is currently set by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players at something quite low, like $2500, probably 1 day's pay for even the lowliest player. Fines are pretty much pointless currently but suspended players forfeit their pay for the number of games they're suspended, which can hit them a fair bit harder.
posted by ghharr at 8:23 PM on August 16, 2011


Fighting isn't an issue in European leagues. Start a fight and you're suspended. The NHL just has too many fossils in charge to make that change any time soon. Unfortunately, deaths like Rypien and Boogaard are what it's going to take to change the pervasive NHL attitude that fighting is important in this "man's game."

KingEdRa's suggestions for "third man in" penalties are somewhat in place now. Third man into a fight gets a game misconduct (i.e. out for the rest of the game) and reviewed by the league for additional suspension as necessary. Fights started in the last five minutes of the game yield a suspension for the player, a big fine for the coach, and a big fine for the team. You no longer see fights to "make a statement" once a game is out of hand.
posted by blob at 8:24 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by whyareyouatriangle at 8:27 PM on August 16, 2011


Why isn't there fighting in the NFL? It's an incredibly violent sport. Or why isn't there fighting in most of the international hockey leagues? I've gone to a lot of NHL games (about 60 games over 2 seasons) and a handful of minor league hockey games and hockey as a whole and the fans are very duplicitous about it. They're scared to alienate the fight fans but with amazing regularity guys will fight and cross the line dramatically. They have refs and officials to enforce the rules, but for whatever reason a vocal group of NHL fans think it has to also be done by the players, even when the McSorleys, Bertuzzis and Chris Simons of the league do what they have done.

There are fans that are there for the fights and not the hockey and hockey is scared to lose them, to many they are the "core" group of fans. This is a fact.

If an NHL game is televised on ESPN or a major network they don't let fighting go. If it's not and there is any score differential and a fight breaks out, it might as well be gladiator night. The officials seem to "know" what to do. I've been to NHL games with a 3 goal differential and it basically turned in to goons on ice. One of the teams was a cup contender. It was incredibly regular before the strike, I'm not sure if it's as bad now as it was, at the time being broadcast on a major TV network seemed to be the differentiator. If there wasn't major TV coverage they would just let fights go.

As for the lower levels, if an AHL or CHL game becomes 2 goals out of balance, it basically turns in to a fight. It's pretty much a joke. That's why people go to the games, it's not a secret.

So long as it is this way, I think pro hockey is at best a pseudo-sport, it doesn't take the actual game serious enough to ban the fighting and other aspects that aren't the game. It doesn't have faith in it's rules and officiating to "police the game." The brutal truth about it is that they don't respect the players enough and the players don't respect each other enough to take fighting out of the game. I have no doubt in my mind that you can fill up a stadium in a blue collar town with guys that want to see fights on ice, but it won't be a real sport. You won't have billion dollar NHL franchises. I seriously could see it being out paced by soccer in North America, possibly even European soccer which is already a regular on ESPN. It's a shame too, it's incredibly compelling when it's played well.
posted by Nelson69 at 8:27 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nthing that Rypien wasn't a pure goon but a checking forward who just happened to be the best fighter in the NHL. Captained his junior team and considered a really good friend and person by his teammates, he was a 'character' guy. The unspecified medical leave last season looks like a serious issue now, and makes me wonder what could have been done at the time.

That said if the NHL wants to get rid of fighting they need to stop treating headshots and boarding as a joke. Enforcers have traditionally been there to prevent the opposition taking liberties with star players - Semenko taking up space on Gretzky's wing - and while its perceived that a scrub player can seriously injure someone with impunity (I'm looking at you, Matt Cooke) there will still be calls for someone to sort out the cheap shot artists with their fists. That will mean serious video review after games, its too easy for players to get in some sly stickwork or quickly raise an elbow in a fast, fast game. Once the stars are safe then the players and fans can let go of their fighting obsession.
posted by N-stoff at 8:34 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are fans that are there for the fights and not the hockey and hockey is scared to lose them, to many they are the "core" group of fans. This is a fact.

I disagree strongly. While many serious hockey fans I know generally accept and support fighting (to varying degrees), absolutely none of them are "there for the fights and not the hockey". Many people may accept fighting as part of the game, but it's only a small part of a much bigger and better whole.

I have generally supported fighting myself, but I certainly think cutting out the staged fights and blowout brawls is very feasible. As someone else mentioned, headshots are the real problem in the league. It's hard to imagine Crosby's current issues won't lead to some change.
posted by Adam_S at 8:52 PM on August 16, 2011


It's hard to imagine Crosby's current issues won't lead to some change.

"Crosby's current issues" didn't happen because of a headshot. It was incidental contact after the whistle, something no rule can prevent.

Or why isn't there fighting in most of the international hockey leagues?

link

That's international-sized ice, two KHL teams, and with enhanced penalties for fighting.
posted by downing street memo at 9:00 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Crosby's current issues" didn't happen because of a headshot. It was incidental contact after the whistle, something no rule can prevent.

His concussion was caused by a 'headshot', albeit not an intentional one. My point is that in a season of headshots and concussions the golden boy of the league went down indefinitely with a concussion. Regardless of intent or the ability to prevent similar incidents in the future, that's the type of circumstance that can contribute to the stubborn NHL changing.
posted by Adam_S at 9:08 PM on August 16, 2011


I think pro hockey is at best a pseudo-sport, it doesn't take the actual game serious enough to ban the fighting and other aspects that aren't the game.

See, it's statements like these that get hockey purists up in arms. "Fisticuffs" have been a part of the game since its inception. It is part of the game - not just in the actual fights themselves, but in other ways that are harder to map out (how does the threat of a fight change players' behavior? how does it change coaching strategies? etc).

I wouldn't miss the actual fights, but I wouldn't be so certain that I wouldn't miss aspects of the game that rely on the implicit threat of a fight.

Also, I have to question your level of hockey knowledge if you don't understand that the hockey being played right now is easily the highest-quality since the early 80's, at least. If you think this is a pseudo-sport, then I'd love to see a real one.
posted by downing street memo at 9:17 PM on August 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Crosby's current issues" didn't happen because of a headshot. It was incidental contact after the whistle, something no rule can prevent.

Huh? How can this not be considered a headshot? Shoulder, encased in hard-shell pads, meets side of head.
posted by N-stoff at 9:18 PM on August 16, 2011


Rypien was not a top level player by any means, but neither was he a goon.

In 2009-10, he finished 25th in penalty minutes, and 16th in majors. Fully half the teams in the league managed without a player with that many PIM. He fought 33 times, 16th overall. And he didn't play a full season.

The day of Semenko and his ilk are passed, there isn't any space on a modern roster for a guy who does nothing but fight. But if a guy who fights every second game isn't a goon, then the term has little meaning.

Fighting isn't an issue in European leagues.
Like Russia? Sweden?

Back when Don Cherry was still buying his suits off the rack, European hockey may have been violence-free, but it isn't now.

On preview, that's a different KHL game from downing street memo's link.

Also on preview:
It was incidental contact after the whistle, something no rule can prevent.

I wonder if improved helmets, something that's finally coming up in football, can reduce the concussion risk. Ice is hard.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:20 PM on August 16, 2011


Rypien's death has nothing whatsoever to do with his role as an enforcer.

It's not hard to read between the lines in this situation, given his leave of absence last fall due to mental health issues, and the RCMP's announcement that his death was "sudden and unsuspicious".


Yeah, I left it out of the original fpp since there's nothing official yet, but the rumours going around the Vancouver message board last night were suicide by hanging, I think based off tweets and facebook comments from hometown friends of Rick. That RCMP statement lends further weight to the rumour.

But, I don't see how that implies his status as a fighter/enforcer had nothing to do with it. Consider the quote from John Scott, another well-known fighter, on the Ottawa Sens blog:

"I don't think people understand the nerves and the kind of mindset that fighters go through. I've stayed up nights not sleeping a wink because I know I'm going to fight someone the next day. It's one of those situations where it's not natural to go out and fight every day or to have that constant threat of a fight, even though it might not come. ... Some guys might not be able to sleep, and they take some stuff to help them sleep."

-Chicago Blackhawks defenceman John Scott, on the difficulty of an enforcer's life after the accidental substance abuse-caused death of Derek Boogaard.


And yes, Rypien was more than just a fighter. Incidentally he scored my favorite Canucks goal of the 2009-2010 season (mainly due to the fact that at the time we were racked with injuries including our top scorer and starting goalie, and two players had left the ice earlier in the play, one of them vomiting after taking a puck to the groin; but it was a beauty of a shot and turned out to be the game winner).
posted by mannequito at 9:27 PM on August 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Huh? How can this not be considered a headshot? Shoulder, encased in hard-shell pads, meets side of head.

"Headshot", at least to me, implies intention. This isn't even a hit, as it's strictly defined (it irrationally bothers me when lazy media types call it a "hit").

Crosby had his eyes glued to the puck, and should have known that the Capitals center (Steckel) was a) right in front of him and b) was going to quickly shift gears to join the rush. Not only that, he (unwittingly) skated right into Steckel's lane.

It was a dumb, dumb play by one of the game's best players; unfortunately for him it might have repercussions for his whole career. But it wasn't a "headshot", and trying to legislate that kind of thing out of the game would truly be devastating for the sport.
posted by downing street memo at 9:31 PM on August 16, 2011


Why does the article equate fighting with the cheap and dangerous blind-side hits that have sidelined so many players in the last couple of years? Players facing off and trading a few punches is a bit different than one player driving another headfirst into the boards from behind.
posted by usonian at 9:32 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah this probably shouldn't be the hockey fights/enforcers thread. This was about a troubled young man.

.
posted by Hoopo at 9:34 PM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why does the article equate fighting with the cheap and dangerous blind-side hits that have sidelined so many players in the last couple of years? Players facing off and trading a few punches is a bit different than one player driving another headfirst into the boards from behind.

No kidding. I think ref's calling cross-checking as it's written in the rules would lower concussions more than fighting.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:36 PM on August 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not an NHL fan. I didn't grow up around the sport, and there's no team near me to go see. There was a minor league team back in the 80s, and I went to a couple of games. It was fun, even if I didn't really understand the sport.

I don't watch NHL games. Not just because I'm not invested in a team, but because every time I turn one on, it's two dudes grabbing jerseys and punching each other. Meh.

But when the winter Olympics is on, I am glued to the screen, watching all the hockey I can soak in. It's beautiful to watch these guys skate, to watch the puck-handling, to see the plays set up, to see the defenses react.

If the NHL would play hockey like that, I'd watch it. I'd find a team to root for, and I'd pay attention to more than the championship series.

Just one non-fan's opinion.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:46 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: His death is such a waste in so many ways. All the guy was valued for was his fists. I wonder if he or his mother and father imagined this is the way it would all turn out when they got up at 5am to take to the hockey rink as a kid.

His dad was a boxer and taught him to fight, so it is possible (about his enforcer role, not his death).
posted by mannequito at 9:51 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by philip-random at 9:54 PM on August 16, 2011


every time I turn one on, it's two dudes grabbing jerseys and punching each other.

You must have amazingly bad luck; the NHL averaged about a half a fight per game last year, and only around a third of all games had fights, period. Next time, try sitting through the fight to get to the good stuff - check my post above for some of the great stickhandling and playmaking you're missing out on.

Also, all the good players in the Olympics whose play you admire? They play the same way in the NHL.
posted by downing street memo at 9:56 PM on August 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


One day there will be an NHL fight against a player who cross-trains muay thai and uses his skates as weapons.

And that will make quite the mefi post.
posted by LordSludge at 9:59 PM on August 16, 2011


Also, all the good players in the Olympics whose play you admire? They play the same way in the NHL.

weeeeelllllll, not entirely true. I mean they're in the NHL and not generally not fighting, but in the NHL they have a lot of, uh, guys playing certain roles around them. Olympic hockey is special. I was fortunate enough to see a few games live for free this last one in Vancouver, and the I have never seen such passion and perserverance as I did in the Latvian team in the quarterfinal against the Czechs. The Latvian team doesn't have a lot of NHLers, but man do they play balls out hockey when it's all on the line. That's more than I can say for the Canucks.
posted by Hoopo at 10:10 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


After Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich in the face in 1977

This is a very well written book on the matter.

That being said, ditch the fucking fighting already, it's so tedious.
posted by Sphinx at 10:14 PM on August 16, 2011


Rypien's death has nothing whatsoever to do with his role as an enforcer...It's not hard to read between the lines in this situation, given his leave of absence last fall due to mental health issues, and the RCMP's announcement that his death was "sudden and unsuspicious".

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy causes mental health issues. That's why it's bad.

Perhaps he would have killed himself regardless, but given how many other players have had their minds destroyed by repeated blows to the head it's reasonable to assume that getting hit was at least a factor.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:37 PM on August 16, 2011


It's beautiful to watch these guys skate, to watch the puck-handling, to see the plays set up, to see the defenses react. If the NHL would play hockey like that, I'd watch it. I'd find a team to root for, and I'd pay attention to more than the championship series.

The NHL does this every spring. It's called the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Near-zero fighting, incredibly intense fast fluid end-to-end hockey. By the conference finals most years, the calibre of play is (I'd argue) several rungs up from Olympic hockey, where you've got teams that have only played a handful of games together.

Seriously, there are some chippy clunkers during the regular season, but the playoffs are an annual showcase of some truly amazing athletics.
posted by gompa at 10:47 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


One day there will be an NHL fight against a player who cross-trains muay thai and uses his skates as weapons.

Not quite so extreme, but Rypien's former linemate here in Vancouver, Darcy Hordichuk, spent time in the off-season studying under UFC champion Chuck Liddell.

Similar to the article I linked above on Rypien's boxer father - these guys aren't wandering blindly into their player roles. They are trained and taught and know that this is the job they are getting into. Changing the NHL's rules on fighting would be a big first step, but my opinion is it needs to start at more fundamental level, when they are first starting out playing hockey as children. As is, fighting is a core part of the game, on all levels.
posted by mannequito at 11:12 PM on August 16, 2011


Saying that hockey isn't really a sport because of the fighting is like saying that soccer isn't really a sport because of the diving. It's taking a detail and blowing it out of proportion. And disparaging hockey while watching football is hypocritical; the NFL has an enormous problem with concussions and CTE. I don't know how anyone can support football knowing what we know now.

Rest in peace, Ryp.
posted by swerve at 12:18 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crosby had his eyes glued to the puck, and should have known that the Capitals center (Steckel) was a) right in front of him and b) was going to quickly shift gears to join the rush. Not only that, he (unwittingly) skated right into Steckel's lane.

downing street memo, I personally believe Steckel knew exactly what he was doing. Dumb play from Crosby but Steckel had been watching him and knew where Crosby was going - if the Caps don't get that turnover it would have been up to him to tie up Crosby as he went to the net. He saw the chance to tag the best player on the ice while keeping a bit of plausible deniability and jumped all over it.
posted by N-stoff at 12:26 AM on August 17, 2011


Should fighting be banished from the NHL? 98% of NHL players say "No."

Also, dragging Rypien's name into the old fighting-in-hockey debate just because he's in the news for allegedly committing suicide while struggling with mental health issues is a very douchey move, in my opinion.
posted by Pseudonumb at 12:37 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Changing the NHL's rules on fighting would be a big first step, but my opinion is it needs to start at more fundamental level, when they are first starting out playing hockey as children. As is, fighting is a core part of the game, on all levels.

I'm curious; how and when do children start learning about fighting in hockey? And when do they decide that they want to be enforcers rather than skill players? Are most goons players who realized they couldn't cut it as skill players, or are they people who aspired to that role in the first place?

I suppose there must be kids who see goons and decide they want to be just like them. Even so, it seems like a stressful and isolating role that attracts troubled people. It can't be a good thing for someone already struggling with anxiety and depression. They're at higher risk for career-ending injury while being paid less. There are fewer roster spots available to them, since they don't contribute as much to winning games. They're benched during the playoffs and whenever the game is on the line. They protect players by having staged fights with other goons. How is that not demoralizing?

The enforcers' original role was to protect star players, but now it seems more and more like they're in their own niche sport with its own set of rules. I doubt that preventing them from fighting would do much to solve the head injury problem that the NHL faces today.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:20 AM on August 17, 2011


I grew up small until puberty hit. There was only one kid my age in my entire neighbourhood who was smaller than me, excluding a dwarf. I played street hockey almost every day and their was a lot of fighting and for me a lot of fight losing. It was just a fact of my life that I was repeatedly beaten down and had to put up with slashing and hacking because everyone was bigger than me. I often lament the hyper-supervision of kids these days but what a difference someone stopping the fighting would have made to my childhood!

So yeah. Fuck fighting.
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 AM on August 17, 2011


I'm curious; how and when do children start learning about fighting in hockey?
Buddy's real talent was beating people up
His heart wasn't in it but the crowd ate it up
Through pee-wee's and juniors, midgets and mites
He must have racked up more than three hundred fights
(RIP, Rick)
posted by dirigibleman at 1:32 AM on August 17, 2011


If you think ice hockey is violent you should have seen my under 15 girls hockey team at school in England. We always went down fighting, even when we were winning.
posted by joannemullen at 2:42 AM on August 17, 2011


Yeah, totally simple. How do you propose that the league define a "single-purpose bruiser?"

Stats. Not per game, but cumulatively over the player's career, so that they are judged by lots of different refs in lots of different situations against lots of different opponents.

A guy whose number of fighting penalty minutes per minute on the ice goes over a warning threshold gets to sit out the next 10 games while he evaluates his life and career.

Then you let him back on the ice but his fighting stats need to head back below the threshold -- zero fights while he's on this over-the-limit probation, even if the big bad men slam him into the boards and say bad things about his sainted mother, or he gets a permanent retirement from the league. Show some control despite what the other teams throw at you or you're out forever.

After he drops below the threshold, he's got to stay there or he goes through the same deal, but now he sits out 20 games. Then 40. Then 80. Double it every time, with no reset over the course of a career.

Eventually the teams will get tired of keeping boxers around just to warm their benches and will stop hiring them. Kids coming up through the junior leagues will not want to be seen as fighters, so they'll adjust their play accordingly.
posted by pracowity at 3:17 AM on August 17, 2011


So it turns out that correlation = causation after all. At least when it supports your biases.
posted by rocket88 at 5:13 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't miss the actual fights, but I wouldn't be so certain that I wouldn't miss aspects of the game that rely on the implicit threat of a fight.

This. I don't particularly like the fighting, but there are elements of gameplay and tactics which rely on it. Just as fouls are part of basketball strategy (this drives my husband crazy, but there you go). I do think that the game would change if fighting were truly banned, I don't know if it would change for the worse, better or about the same. I do have to say that the strident pro-fight people irritate me, with characterizing anti-fighting people as wimps and "pacifists", even though I don't really come down strongly on either side of the argument myself. What I love about hockey isn't the fighting.

I do agree with pracowity.
posted by biscotti at 5:18 AM on August 17, 2011


My kids play hockey. It's such bullshit that fighting is a part of the game. The kids don't start out fighting. They have to learn.

It's only part of the game because they allow it to be part of the game and because the Don Cherry cro-magnon faction get a hard-on from it. But I get a strong sense the mood is changing and I suspect in five years it will be gone.
posted by unSane at 5:28 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's only part of the game because they allow it to be part of the game and because the Don Cherry cro-magnon faction get a hard-on from it.

Hockey fighting exists to prevent players at the paid level from using sticks to harm other players and boarding from behind, etc. It provides a level of retaliatory enforcement against that kind of crap. The key is to take it off TV. Just cut to commercial.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:39 AM on August 17, 2011


downing street memo, I personally believe Steckel knew exactly what he was doing.

Trust me, as someone who has literally watched Dave Steckel's entire NHL career: the guy doesn't hit, he doesn't play dirty (115 PIM in 309 games, playing on a checking line), and, to be quite honest, he's just not a good enough hockey player to plan that kind of thing out.
posted by downing street memo at 6:05 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be a big hockey fan (Bruins) when I was a kid way back in the 1970's. I loved going to see them play (and by them I mean Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and co) in the run-down Boston Garden. This was just before the arrival of the hockey helmet. Imagine that today?
I went to a Bruins game this past season for the first time in decades, and I was very surprised by what I saw. First, the overall environment was much more family/kid oriented than it was in the past. You know, special kid oriented events on the ice between each period, etc. But all of the video imagery on the huge high resolution screens all over the arena were constantly showing recaps of the most brutal hits and fight scenes (with Bruin's opponents on the receiving end of course), all choreographed to very loud obnoxious music. This happened during virtually every pause in play, between periods, before the start of the game, etc. It was a surreal environment...a juxtaposition of family centered activities and the glorification of violence and brutality. I hated the entire spectacle and will probably not bother to return.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:08 AM on August 17, 2011


Hockey fighting exists to prevent players at the paid level from using sticks to harm other players and boarding from behind, etc. It provides a level of retaliatory enforcement against that kind of crap.

If only there was some kind of independent official in the game who could apply penalties for that kind of behaviour.

We should probably look into that.
posted by unSane at 7:19 AM on August 17, 2011


If only those officials did their jobs, unSane.

Fighting won't leave the NHL until the "supplementary discipline" is swift and just. Wish Shanahan luck with that.
posted by stevis23 at 7:30 AM on August 17, 2011


How come the NHL is the only league that needs "supplementary discipline" to function?
posted by pracowity at 7:39 AM on August 17, 2011


If only those officials did their jobs, unSane.

Well, exactly. My point is that fighting isn't an integral part of hockey. It's just a result of the way the NHL runs, including its penalty and officiation policies. They could eliminate it in a season if they tried. It's not like hockey is the only full contact sport out there.
posted by unSane at 7:39 AM on August 17, 2011


(They should also launch a fighting league)
posted by unSane at 7:40 AM on August 17, 2011


You want to reduce/eliminate the amount of fighting in the NHL? Make the penalties for fighting so harsh that it effectively takes away your team's chances for victory. Start a fight? Automatic ejection AND your team has to play a man down for the rest of the game.

So who started it? I have seen numerous occasions where the instigator is not the one called for roughing simply because the referees don't see the initial hit, face-wash, slash, crosscheck, etc. They only see the retaliation. So what do we end up with? A bunch of cheap shot artists waiting for the refs to look away, hoping to incite retribution. Sorry, this will not pass muster.
posted by Gungho at 7:41 AM on August 17, 2011


Retaliation is also fighting. That's what we teach our kids.
posted by unSane at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2011


Hockey fighting exists to prevent players at the paid level from using sticks to harm other players and boarding from behind, etc. It provides a level of retaliatory enforcement against that kind of crap.

If only there was some kind of independent official in the game who could apply penalties for that kind of behaviour.

We should probably look into that.


NHL officiating is the worst. Let's be honest--they let 30% of the possible calls go by because its off the puck. They exacerbate the problem by calling "equalizer" penalties designed to even up the number of penalty calls so it is "fair."

I've been watching NHL hockey religiously since 1982. And these are the facts. The way to solve this problem is to call the penalties as they see them. We would end fighting as we know it. But no comissioner has ever touched the crappy reffing because hockey wants to be a major sport. They are so frightened of not having enough flow of play for TV that they refuse to properly referee the games. This has been going on in the 29 years I've been watching the sport.

Compare this to the NFL, whose reffing is the gold standard. Every play is reviewed by the head of officiating, who grades every referee every week.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2011


How come the NHL is the only league that needs "supplementary discipline" to function?

Supplementary discipline happens all the time in football.
posted by downing street memo at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2011


Compare this to the NFL, whose reffing is the gold standard.

Seriously?

Snark aside, I don't disagree with your assessment of NHL refs, but football's a much, much easier sport to officiate than hockey. Discrete plays, slower speeds, a giant bouncy ball instead of a hard, easily-hidden puck, challenge flags, instant replay...it all just raises the chances of getting it right.
posted by downing street memo at 8:04 AM on August 17, 2011


How come the NHL is the only league that needs "supplementary discipline" to function?

Supplementary discipline happens all the time in football.


And when its seen, its called. Hockey's problem is how its done--retaliating for boarding by boarding is much worse than a cut above the eye from a fist fight. The main thing people don't like about hockey fighting is that it causes them to think about some of the hardest truths of the games they love.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Supplementary discipline happens all the time in football.

It's not even close to being on the same scale.
posted by unSane at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2011


but football's a much, much easier sport to officiate than hockey. Discrete plays, slower speeds, a giant bouncy ball instead of a hard, easily-hidden puck, challenge flags, instant replay...it all just raises the chances of getting it right.

I agree. That's no excuse for calling "equalizer" penalties. Its a flat-out invitation to harm players, knowing you'll get a penalty to go your way.

In blowouts, none of this happens. But the refs are so damn afraid to effect the outcome of the game that they end up distorting the penalty calling.

And yes, overall, the NFL is the best reffed leauge in modern sport.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:10 AM on August 17, 2011



How come the NHL is the only league that needs "supplementary discipline" to function?


So, in your world, no one is ever suspended after a beanball incident?
posted by stevis23 at 8:37 AM on August 17, 2011


Wish I logged in earlier, as an old wash post story about Brashear (a famous fighter) offers some intriguing insight into a very troubled man ..

As a former player and official for youth through college, kids emulate what they see on TV, and parents want to see body checks. Hearing some mom/dad cheer louder for every body check than goal is disheartening. For pro sports, they really aren't sports, they are sport-entertainment.
posted by k5.user at 8:39 AM on August 17, 2011


The issue I have with officiating in hockey is not the supplemental discipline or the oft times bizarre calls or missed calls. It's the whole concept of the players policing themselves. This idea will be trotted out every time in a discussion of the role of the enforcer/need for fighting in the game: that the players should be allowed to settle things, that on-ice retribution is better justice than letting the refs or the league handle the situation.

I'm not aware of any other professional sports league that handles itself that way - with the idea that justice and discipline is best handled through confrontations between players on the field of play.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:43 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a former player and official for youth through college, kids emulate what they see on TV, and parents want to see body checks. Hearing some mom/dad cheer louder for every body check than goal is disheartening.

Confusing body checking with fighting is not helpful. Physical contact is an essential part of the game. My 11 yr old's league started checking this year and he LOVED it -- and he's a scrawny kid. But they are now removing it again as a response to concerns about head shots. Which then is going to cause problems down the line as the kids get used to get playing without checking -- and get hammered when they move into a checking league.
posted by unSane at 9:38 AM on August 17, 2011


Yah, USAH moving checking into Bantam isn't a great call.. But, the pee wee level still had a large disparity in sizes. (And Mass had checking in the squirt level, historically, which made them an outlier..)

I should have added, the cheering the checking was u16, u18 -- hard hits are all the parents wanted. Hits have a place in the game, but the parents had no appreciation for the other aspects.

Physical contact is part of the game, but that is not necessarily checking. Watch women's hockey, or a number of the referee videos USAH puts out to emphasize how you can play very physical with throwing a check. (Mainly to educate new refs on how to handle non-check leagues/games/ages).
posted by k5.user at 10:14 AM on August 17, 2011


Here in Minnesota, I play pick-up games at the local ponds with scads of players and former players who struggle with addiction to painkillers due to injuries from playing. Most of them require the drugs to deal with the aftermath of acute injuries and the accompanying surgery. Still others suffer from repetitive stress (particularly goalies with knee injuries from going up and down, or hyper-extending while trying to make saves). None, that I know of, have had to give up career hockey because of injuries relating to a fight. The truth is, serious injury stemming from a fight is much rarer than injury sustained during the regular course of the game. That's not to say that those injuries are acceptable, CTE is a really serious condition, but if people are so opposed to fighting in hockey, then why not protest boxing or martial arts?

Enforcers have traditionally been there to prevent the opposition taking liberties with star players - Semenko taking up space on Gretzky's wing - and while its perceived that a scrub player can seriously injure someone with impunity (I'm looking at you, Matt Cooke) there will still be calls for someone to sort out the cheap shot artists with their fists.

Bingo. Fighting will remain a part of the game because owners need an insurance policy for star players. If you have millions of dollars in talent out on the ice every other night, you're not going let them wind up pissing blood because some third or fourth line agitator is sneaking cross-checks to the kidneys behind the ref's back. Another favorite tactic is to harass a star player into dropping the gloves or getting a penalty out of frustration, and getting them removed from play. If you think better refereeing is going to stop that kind of playing, you're fooling yourself. If a team isn't skilled enough to beat you in a flat out contest of abilities, they will very likely pursue less scrupulous strategies (see: the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers). You need a way to make dirty playing look less tempting. Enter the goon.
Also, asking why the NHL seems to stand out in this regard doesn't really work. The dynamics of hockey are such that the opposing team has regular opportunities to take cheap shots. It's a contact sport where you're making high-velocity impacts with other players and barriers all the time. Players also have to make frequent contact to gain possession of the puck and they are using sticks to do it. It's not like football where play resumes between downs, or basketball, where you have more control to stop after a sprint.


I can't believe I read this far down and no one mentioned pests. You think enforcers are bad? What about all the sneaky shit being done that you can't even see?
posted by Demogorgon at 3:41 PM on August 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


In more sad news, Wade Belak was found dead today.
posted by Copronymus at 4:39 PM on August 31, 2011


Yeah, Copronymus, I came back to post the same exact thing. So sad.
posted by millions of peaches at 11:53 PM on August 31, 2011


Bad things happen in threes? Hopefully that's all.

What a terrible off-season!
posted by mannequito at 9:23 PM on September 1, 2011


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