The buzzword of this season in professional hockey is fighting, as a web site covering hockey it’s our duty to also report on the topic. Fighting has been a part of hockey since the sports rise in the early 19th century.
There are a number of theories behind the integration of fighting into the game, the most common of which being that the relative lack of rules in the early history of hockey encouraged physical intimidation and control. 
In 1922, the NHL introduced Rule 56 which formally regulated fighting, or “fisticuffs” as it was called in the official NHL rulebook. Rather than ejecting players from the game, as was the practice in amateur and collegiate hockey, players would be given a five-minute major penalty. Rule 56 and its language also filtered down to the minor professional and junior leagues in North America. 
The primary reason for fighting being discussed this year more than previous is due to the tragic death of Ontario senior men’s league player Don Sanderson. The NHL and AHL both plan on having discussions at the end of the season about fighting and it’s place in the game.
“Staged Fighting” is what seems to be driving potential rule changes at this time.
At the AHL All-Star Classic in Worcester, MA back in January AHL Ceo and President David Andrews had this (amongst other things) to say about fighting:
I’ve been in the game my whole life. My own personal opinion is there we really shouldn’t be that sort of staged event where two heavyweights go at each other for no apparent reason. The other source of altercations we see, by the way, you don’t see the helmet come off very often in those ones where somebody just gets mad at the other guy because of something he did that crossed the line of ethics in the game. They don’t seem to care whether the guy has a helmet on or not, they’re going at it.
Can you play without it? Obviously. There is no way you can say fighting has to be part of hockey. There are all sorts of great hockey games that don’t have fights in them. I listened to the players in this debate and I haven’t heard any take the position we should eliminate fighting from the game, even the skilled guys.
There’s going to be a debate and we’ll all have opinions about it.
It seems that everyone but league officials and GM’s enjoys staged fighting. Players believe it has a way to set a tone for the game. Fans love the excitement of seeing two players getting prepared, sizing up their opponent, and finally going at it until they hit the ice or the linesmen break it up. Well, most fans I should say, the same number of fans that enjoy it also think staged fighting is like a circus sideshow.
Two players that are no strangers to staged fights or Rochester are Riley Emmerson and Sean McMorrow.
“It sets the tempo for the game, its sparks the team, have the tough guys get it out of the way,” is what Riley Emmerson had to say. “Sometimes it’s a big hit and sometimes its not, just a heavyweight thing.”
Sean McMorrow had similar thoughts as well, “I think it has a place to set the tone for the game you know people want to know who the toughest guy in the game is, all the players understand that when your challenged you gotta answer the bell if its with a body check, with a fight, with a goal, you want to answer the bell.”
On February 4th, 2009 when the Rochester Americans and Rockford IceHogs played the two players dropped the gloves at the opening face off of the game.
Fighting will always be a part of hockey. How much a part of the game is what’s up for debate.
Emmerson said, “I think its alright, there will always be a place for fighting in hockey.”
McMorrow said something similar, “I think it will always have a place in the game, if it wasnt there would be too much disrespect with the sticks and what not.”
Local hockey fan Matt Villeneuve loves fighting, “I’m a huge fan of the skill, however i feel that fighting is a big part of the sport. it separates it from the others with the exception of boxing and mma. I love the fighting, i feel it adds excitment and energy for not only the fans but the team as well. As much as i like the rule changes that make the game more about skill, it irritates me that it has taken away the fighting. I wish it was like it was back in the day….we dont have any Real Rob Rays or Matthew Barnabys anymore, maybe a few. BRING BACK FIGHTING IN A BIG WAY i enjoy it and i believe that the team enjoys it as well. Lastly anybody who doesnt believe in the fighting…..just doesnt understand.”
While some fans love it, others don’t.
“I’m not a fan of fighting, but think there is a certain element that should exist. I condone fighting if you are defending your goaltender. Other than that, I think you should keep your temper. I’m normally sitting in the stands complaining about the idiocy of a player who picks a fight. I hate dangerous stick-work even more,” is what ‘Hockey Librarian’ (a friend of LGA on Facebook) had to say about fighting.
The era of 24 hour news, the internet, bloggers, YouTube, and so much more makes any tragedy that much more of an impact on the world. Twenty years ago something may have happened, would have been on the news and in the paper for a day or two, but then faded away. In the 21st century it makes headlines the night it happens and then continues gaining steam for days, weeks, and months to come. We’re doing our part just by writing this article.
If you look at the Lets Go Amerks page on YouTube you’ll notice that our videos are primarily of fights. It’s the easiest way to get some sort of a recorded highlight of a game without having a dedicated camera recording the whole game. A person can also look at HockeyFights.com for punch by punch analysis of every game.
Sean McMorrow said, “There was a lot more violence in the 80’s and 90’s, we (the fighters) are just going to have to work through it. They’re (the media) trying to get headlines. They’re (the media) not getting it with goals so they’re getting it with the violence and people getting hurt.”
McMorrow played for the Rochester Americans from 2002-2006 and during that time he tallied a whopping 1,020 penalty minutes. Fighting is how he has made a name for himself, which would explain his view about the media using fighting to make headlines.
One of the rules mentioned by AHL CEO and President David Andrews was the potential for an additional penalty for players taking off their helmets for a fight. He said, “The relevant discussion is about fighting in hockey and whether helmets are required to stay on.”
“It is dangerous to you know square off with no helmets, but it helps your hands rather than punching helmets and tearing up your hand and breaking your hand, its more exciting for the fans,” is what Riley Emmerson had to say about a rule involving helmets.
I don’t think any rules need to be changed regarding fights in hockey.
It seems to me that boarding is a much more violent part of the game than fighting is. The players involved in fighting know about the risks involved. A player skating after a puck getting plastered into the boards has no way of protecting himself. I wish I had some statistics regarding injuries caused by boarding, but it seems like over the past three seasons alone I’ve seen more players seriously injured that way than in fights.
The NHLPA put in a request for a specific penalty covering blows to the head but the NHL GM’s decided it wasn’t something they want to formally support.
How does that make any sense? The GM’s and league officials want to go after fighting but not blows to the head against players not expecting it like those who drop the gloves to fight.
McMorrow had been around professional hockey longer than Emmerson so of course he was a little more vocal about his thoughts about the way to change the rules about fighting. He said, “It’s also for the fans, we’re one of the few sports where its part of the game. If you look at tv ratings in the US right now the UFC is skyrocketing and if the NHL took a couple hints they’d probably get some better ratings or what not if they took the instigator rule out. If they took that rule out then the fighters would be a lot more effective because then they’d be a part of the team. Because the rule is in it’s really hard because you want to take the extra two minutes to put your team down to stick up for your teammate or what not so sometimes it works sometimes it doesnt. Instigator rule out then its going to work every time. it depends what they’re going to do. If they want better ratings they’ll take the instigator rule out.”
The ratings of the NHL continue to rise primarily due to players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. I don’t think that McMorrow wants the league to become anything like the UFC (actually, I could be wrong), but what he was saying is that fighting could help improve those ratings with some rule changes that would allow more of it.
Whether you love fighting or hate it we can all expect it to be the #1 topic coming out of all sorts of meetings this summer and some rule changes to go along with it.
Picture by Dave Sturm from the Rochester Americans Booster Club
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