"Ice hockey is a form of disorderly conduct in which the score is kept." - Doug Larson
February 21, 2008 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Like hockey fights ? Like the movie Slapshot? Want to see the real Chiefs? Les Chiefs is a documentary on the toughest team in the Quebec Semi-Pro Hockey League. There can be 10 fights in a single period. Goalies fight. Coaches fight. Some fans fight in the stands with the players who live just yards away, in a ramshackle apartment in the stadium (formerly a ramshackle storage closet). Other fans lovingly craft belts in the belief that hockey is a religion and The Chiefs are its avatars. And players players question, even as they sign up for underground boxing matches and run up 100 to 1 penalty minute to goal ratios, whether they’re hockey players or circus side shows. (some links may be NSFW for violence)

Characters include Tim Leveque (now a personal trainer ) who “ plays hockey like a big, strong man ”and fights Dominic “The Giant” Forcier.

The Chiefs aren’t in Laval anymore, and the Quebec Semi-Pro Hockey League has since become the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, but there are plenty of ex-NHL and ex-AHL players (like Patrick Cote ) and you can still catch a game and see the (unofficially) world’s roughest hockey league.
posted by Smedleyman (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The least understood part of hockey. Hockey is a game where people move with very little friction, fire a hard rubber puck at speeds over 100 mph, play on an ice surface surrounded by wooden boards which serve as the boundaries, and carry huge wooden sticks. This means a lot of opportunity for stick-wielding mischief and cheap shots.

This is where the goon comes in. That little 5'4" guy on the other team poking at people's faces with a stick that can take an eye out in a fraction of a second? That's a pummlin'. Goalie slashing at the legs of those in front of him, that's a pummlin'. Slamming a player with his back to the play into the boards? That's a pummlin'.

Believe it or not, hockey fights are about protecting the skill players from becoming road kill. There's a reason hockey fighters are called "enforcers" or "ice cops." They prevent skill players from being roughed up by those twice their size and keep the play on the ice fun to watch.

Although I love the movie Slapshot, it isn't the most accurate portrayal of NHL hockey fights.

For more info, check out my close cousin's old column in the Village Voice: "Mixin' It Up."

A sample:

Ah yes. The air is turning crisp and cool. The trees are starting to shed their leaves. And thundering uppercuts are landing upon soft flesh. It must be hockey season! Get ready for a full dose of pugilistic pandemonium, as the league's ice warriors head into battle.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like hockey, but have got to enforce the Don Cherry rule here; You'll aways be in good stead if you take the exact opposite position from him on any given topic; Political, philosophical or even hockey related. I suspect he'd approve, ergo I object.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:46 PM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

How do they deter the cheap stuff in Europe and the Olympics and most of the NHL playoffs? That fighting keeps the game clean canard is the moldiest old load of BS I've ever heard.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:48 PM on February 21, 2008

They don't deter the cheap stuff in Europe. Many of those players are the biggest offenders with the lumber and you see their sticks up much higher than in the NHL. Since they have to wear facemasks there (and in college) you see guys hitting people upside the head a lot more than in the past. Whether or not a shield is covering your face, it isn't good to hit people above the shoulders like that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:54 PM on February 21, 2008

Obviously, Don Cherry is an idiot about 99% of the time. I just don't buy the explanation that Canadian farm boys are some how the most violent characters in the world. That's where the fighters (and the best players) come from.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2008

Oggi Ogalthorpe is my hero!
posted by tkchrist at 2:58 PM on February 21, 2008

Some fans fight in the stands with the players

This incident immediately came to mind.
posted by survivorman at 3:02 PM on February 21, 2008

Hmmm the hockey thread next to wrestling thread....
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:04 PM on February 21, 2008

They don't deter the cheap stuff in Europe. Many of those players are the biggest offenders with the lumber and you see their sticks up much higher than in the NHL.


Really? How about in the NHL playoffs, where fighting is virtually non-existent (at least in the later rounds) and the intensity and physicality of the game is ten times greater than during the season with all the fighting?

Sorry, fighting is tolerated in hockey because the rednecks that run the league want it that way, (to their own detriment no less. But then again the powers that run hockey are so dopey they can't see that.)
posted by Keith Talent at 3:04 PM on February 21, 2008

If I want to see a fight, I'll buy a ticket to a boxing match.

Seriously, this has to be the biggest reason I (apparently) don't "get" hockey. I have friends who have tried to explain it, but there's no reconciling the differing viewpoints regarding this subject, as far as I can see.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:05 PM on February 21, 2008

Fighting is far more rare than before. In the '70's and '80's it was quite common.

Indeed, the game was never better in an offensive sense than when fights were at their height (from the linked article):

Ironically, there were more than double the number of fights during the height of Wayne Gretzky's on-ice brilliance than took place during the Philadelphia Flyers' "Broad Street Bullies" days in the 1970s.

As for why there are less fights in the playoffs, that's simple. Most of the enforcers are not as skilled as the rest of the team. Putting them on the ice for a shift means risking giving up a goal. Teams are not cheap shotting as much because they don't want to give up the power play in a critical situation and referees call the game far closer. Most fights are between divisional rivals who want to prevent their nemeses from grinding down their best players in divisional battles which are the primary test of a team.

As for the redneck comment, I'll have to ask for specifics on that. Who are these "rednecks?" Name one. Point to me some evidence showing that they are in favor of fighting. The NHL's leadership has been stupid, but not on this issue.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:22 PM on February 21, 2008

“If I want to see a fight, I'll buy a ticket to a boxing match.”

There’s a boxing match in the documentary. S’what makes it poignant man. There are some meatheads in the stands who just want to see fights. That’s usually in the lower skill levels. And yeah, I have to agree with Ironmouth, plenty of team strategy in using enforcers on all levels (the Chiefs pulled Leveque and the other enforcers off the ice when they made the playoffs).
Funny, NHL player used to train with my cousin. He kept asking why hockey players keep uppercutting and hooking instead of elbowing their guy down and using their knees (big on Muay Thai, my cousin). Hockey fights are pretty ritualistic. Some of it is just being a goon, but for the most part there’s strategy involved.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2008

Who are the rednecks? Obvious two thirds of the NHL board of governors. Otherwise fighting would be gone.

You can argue all day long that it's traditional and allows an outlets for aggression, but the fact is it is arcane and boring and stupid and juvenile and hockey will continue to wallow in mediocrity until these big issues are addressed.

The NHL is welcome to dig it's own grave if they want, allow fighting, continue to expand the schedule while lengthening the season and continue to play an unbalanced schedule and continue to watch the attendance fail and franchises fail, it's not my money.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:45 PM on February 21, 2008

"There’s a boxing match in the documentary. S’what makes it poignant man."

What are you saying, that on MeFi I actually have to follow the links before I can comment?

posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:57 PM on February 21, 2008

Smedleyman makes a really good point; fighting in hockey is quite ritualistic and there are definitely codes of conduct/honour that almost everyone observes.

Oftentimes when a fighter knows that he outmatches the other by a fair margin, much more often than not they'll really hold back and just grapple, pop the other guy's helmet off, and let the littler guy fall to the ice - thus ending the fight.

I've also heard a lot of enforcers say that hockey fights don't tend to hurt very much at least compared to a real donnybrook out back of a dive bar; there's very little leverage and it's difficult to punch from your legs since you're sliding around on the ice.

Personally I enjoy watching two skilled fighters of comparable skill and size face off against each other. There's quite a bit of strategy and thinking involved. As for it's purposes in the game, it's a way for the players to enforce standards of conduct and keep everyone honest. Hockey's a dangerous sport and when someone forgets or chooses to ignore the need to respect other players, someone needs to remind them before they seriously injure someone by accident.

Of course, there are fights that start for no particularly good reason (gaining momentum for your side isn't a particularly good reason) but those incidences have really declined since even the early '90's.
posted by porpoise at 4:03 PM on February 21, 2008

I asked that the "rednecks" be named. Who are they specifically?
posted by Ironmouth at 4:09 PM on February 21, 2008

Incroyable! Incroyable!

You don't hear the phrase "bench clearing brawl" much since the third-man-in rule though.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 4:12 PM on February 21, 2008

If fighting in hockey keeps people like Keith Talent away, Long Live the Fighters!

Seriously, please explain why no one on earth fights except rednecks.
posted by dozo at 4:18 PM on February 21, 2008

Ironmouth and porpoise are right. If a player is playing dirty or otherwise unfairly harassing the stars or goalie on the other team, it is often not enough to rely on the officials to keep things clean. Just look at what goes on in goalie creases when there's a lot of players crowding it. And fighting is a way to signal to the harasser that his behaviour won't go unpunished, without actually injuring him. As porpoise notes, it is rare that a player is seriously injured in a fight, because you just can't punch that hard when you're standing on ice, and the refs will stop the fight as soon as one of the participants goes down. It's better that two players settle their differences in this manner than risk a high-speed hit from behind against the boards, the sort of thing that can paralyze a player.

As to hockey supposedly "wallowing in mediocrity" or "digging its own grave": Keith Talent, since you appear to be in BC (according to your profile), you should know that the Canucks have been selling out every single home game for what, like two or three years straight? You might get the impression that the NHL is in its grave if you are looking at markets like Phoenix or Carolina or Florida, places that shouldn't even really have NHL franchises at all, but that Bettman still seems to think are the future of the league. Yeah, more teams out in the desert and the swamp please, while cities like Winnipeg and Halifax would probably love an NHL team, fighting and all.
posted by good in a vacuum at 4:57 PM on February 21, 2008

“I asked that the "rednecks" be named. Who are they specifically?”

Gary Roberts? Steve Chiasson? Man, if you’re playing for the Hurricanes, whistling the Andy Griffith theme and crashing your pick up truck...you might be a redneck hockey player.

“Long Live the Fighters!”

Fremen would be some bad ass enforcers....nah, wait, no water so no ice.


Well...‘tis a cool film. Tim Leveque’s story really gets to me. If I went into semi-pro ball... I look at him and I’m thinking ‘there but for the grace of rugby go I.’ I’m just really glad I took college seriously. I talk to a lot of guys who are busted up. I look at these guys, none too smart, somewhat talented, banking a whole lot on the dream of turning pro and maybe not making it and holding on as long as they can because they have the rest of their lives to be ex-hockey players or ex-fighters, all that.

(Spoiler) Tim Leveque at the end gets a job flipping burgers that lasted maybe a day.
Not much scares me, gunplay, fisticuffs, whatever. But that particular abyss really puts the hook in my heart. Like Harvey Pekar waking up in the middle of the night terrified having to reassure himself “I have a job...I have a job.”
You gotta think, these guys are tough, fun to watch, all that - but what happens to them when they leave?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:07 PM on February 21, 2008

This incident immediately came to mind.

I have not seen that before. Holy Shit! Do you know what happened to the guy?
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:28 PM on February 21, 2008

Interesting discussion..thanks...

I've never been a hockey fan (although, interestingly, my mother was perhaps the biggest Gordie Howe fan alive).... I've been to my share of Red Wings and U of M hockey games...but the comments here about the purpose of the fights opened my eyes..I had always seen it as sort of gratuitous violence.

I asked my wife (smart sports fan) and she said you guys are right... I'll look at this with a different perspective from now on...

posted by HuronBob at 7:38 PM on February 21, 2008

It's still Twelve Heavily Padded Guys Inexplicably Fighting Over A Paperweight to me. And I live in Canada, too. If I had my way, I'd give them all paperweights to play with!
posted by scruss at 7:42 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fighting in hockey seems like the bean ball in baseball. There are reasons people get plunked in baseball, as apparently there are in hockey. Gotta keep the other team honest, you know?
posted by friendlyjuan at 8:08 PM on February 21, 2008

Wendel Clark vs. Bob Probert
posted by Chuckles at 10:17 PM on February 21, 2008

No, friendlyjuan, hockey is a very physical sport. Lots of strictly legal plays could end up in injury. Players respect each other and ease up.

Some players, either because they're dirty or because they got careless, makes a play that could potentially (or did) injury another player. Cause a bunch of pain but no permanent damage.

Fights happen to remind the offender that - hey, how do you like being potentially injured?
posted by porpoise at 11:22 PM on February 21, 2008

OK, fine. ;) Emotion comes into play.

Jeeze, next you'll be shutting down national leagues because grown men cry.
posted by porpoise at 11:25 PM on February 21, 2008

Yes, hockey is just terrible.
Thank goodness we have nice professional sports like basketball, football, and baseball where honor, class, and fair play still really mean something.
posted by Pseudonumb at 1:36 AM on February 22, 2008

Hey Oglethorpe! Yer wife's a dyke!
posted by anthill at 6:09 AM on February 22, 2008

Fights happen less in European play because they're on that big rink and there's just way less contact altogether. It's much more of a position game since there's so much more room to skate free. Guys get hung up on the boards a lot less, too.
posted by breezeway at 8:22 AM on February 22, 2008

Belatedly, I want to suggest that these folks need to just sit down and listen to some civilized (hockey) symphonies.

posted by NorthernLite at 6:28 PM on February 22, 2008

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