Awkward: Hockey Fighting

December 8, 2011


I like hockey.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I really wasn’t aware of hockey for a very long time.  I went to my first game (a San Jose Sharks game in the Shark Tank) when I was 21 or so.

I didn’t know what to expect, I hadn’t even watched hockey on TV.

We had great seats; we were just ahead of the crease, and about 4 rows off the ice.

I got caught up in the spirit of the crowd, even though I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and half the time had no idea where the puck was.

And then.

And then a fight broke out.

Right in front of us.  It was rowdy enough that the two combatants managed to dislodge the plexiglass from the boards.  RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.

The next day, when people asked me if I enjoyed the game, what did I say?

“OHMYGOD you should have seen the fight, it was AWESOME!”

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you probably already know that I am a survivor of child abuse, and that I am not a fan of violence.  It scares me.

I don’t like boxing, kickboxing, cage-fighting, or anything else of that ilk.  It’s never made sense to me, and I don’t find it remotely entertaining.

But somehow, hockey fighting makes my blood rush, in the good way.  And I really don’t understand why.

Firstly, for those of you who don’t know, fighting is not tolerated in hockey, it is a strategic part of the game.  Certain players are recruited especially for their muscle, just as there are some players who are recruited for their scoring or defensive prowess.  Refs respect a good fight, and won’t break in to stop one unless a) the fight has become sad and boring; or b) there seems to be imminent danger to one or both players.

Back to why I like it.  Perhaps it’s that fights in hockey (as opposed to ultra-violent hitting and checking which I will speak to in a minute) tend to be matters of chivalry, of romance even.

Yes, I said romance, and I meant it.  Hear me out.

Hockey players who get in fights are like old-tyme knights in armor jousting for the honor of fair maidens.  Of course, in this case the “fair maidens” are their teammates, and “honor” is somewhat stretching it.  But basically, fights tend to be about kicking an opposing team member’s ass in defense of one of your own teammates, especially those that might be less brawny and are more susceptible to injury.

For example.  If you mess with a net minder, you’d better bet that the team’s muscle is going to come and get you for it.  You  make an ultra-violent hit that just wasn’t called for?  You might get schooled for that later on.

I’m not saying all hockey fights are for “good” reasons.  In fact, the whole reason I’m writing this is that there is a part of me that thinks that fighting, for any reason, just really isn’t right.

But somehow, I just can’t bring myself to dislike hockey fighting.  My blood still rushes when a fight breaks out.  When M and I Tivo games (when we can’t watch them real-time) we often have to fast forward (so as to get to bed at a reasonable hour).  What do we stop fast forwarding for?  Goals.  Goals, and fights.

There was a fight last year when one of my team’s heavies, Patrick Kaleta, managed to land something like 16 left jabs in the incredible span of less than a minute.  Sounds BARBARIC, right?  And it IS.  I can’t argue that.  And yet.  And yet, I LOVE watching that clip again and again.  What’s wrong with me???  Is there a twelve-step program for this?

I should note that there are kinds of violence that ARE NOT COOL in hockey.  Since the players have started wearing more and more padding and protection, the checks (hitting another player with your body to take them out of the play… there are all sorts of rules about how this can be done) have been getting harder and harder.  Things have been getting so bad with this (E.G.: players getting seriously harmed, concussions, other injuries) that the league is really starting to crack down on irresponsible and egregious hitting.

That same player Kaleta?  He was suspended earlier this year for 5 games because he had started to show a pattern of irresponsible hits.  It was disappointing, and he deserved it.  He seems like a great guy, and I’ve always backed him up when it comes to being a bruiser (it’s why he’s on the team) and his fighting record.  This I can’t defend, and I hope he’s learned his lesson.

And now I come to the real dilemma.

I have a little boy.  A little boy who is growing up in a hockey town.  Who already watches games with us (on the TV, they’re too loud in person), and who’s been gifted team outfits and such.

It is very likely that he will play hockey in school.

And at some point, I will have to explain to him why professional hockey players can fight, but he can’t.

I have a real issue with hypocrisy.  One of the worst answers one can give to a child when asked, “Why can’t I do that?” is, “Because you’re not an adult.”

I’m sure there will be some “there is a time and place for things” speechifying.  But somehow that doesn’t seem like it’s going to cut it.

I’m truly at a loss.  I can’t lie and say that I think hockey fighting is bad.  Kids are smart.  G will know if I’m not being truthful.

So, what to do?  Any hockey parents out there with some wisdom to share?


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2 Comments on “Awkward: Hockey Fighting”

  1. blogginglily Says:

    I’ve got nothing particularly useful except a few things to consider:

    1) The only acceptable fighting in “society” is fighting for entertainment. Sports is entertainment.
    2) The participants are adults, who have trained to protect themselves adequately.
    3) The participants are punished in the sin bin

    It’s thin ice. . . it’s verrrrrry thin ice.


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