Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.
If you have ever watched an NHL game from the expensive seats, you know without question why fighting and the potential tragedy it can spawn need not be part of the game any longer. If you have seen up close the incredible speed, graceful skill, and physical force, you have seen the very best of hockey. Watching precision passing from tape to tape, blinding shots with laser like accuracy and bone crushing body checks that you can feel from the first row are proof that this game need not turn circus act and drop the gloves.
In what I would term a monumental decision, the Quebec Major Junior League, formed in 1969, has announced that it will move to ban fighting next season. Considered one of the premier junior leagues in North America, they will take on a fight that will rival Rocky and Apollo Creed. This is the same league that has turned out Marc-Andre Fleury, Patrice Bergeron, Pat LaFontaine and Denis Savard. Make no mistake the QMJHL will be the underdog as they attempt to eliminate a component of the game that many still believe is necessary. The criticism will be strong, and the heavy hitters will come out swinging at such a brazen move.
Professional hockey has long defended its “unwritten code” that condones fighting as a means to protect its premier players. Fighting has been dramatically reduced in the NHL, but it is still considered an essential part of the game by many. It doesn’t take long to teach someone with God-given or steroid enhanced physical skills to fight. Please don’t try to convince me that learning to fight is anywhere as difficult than any hockey skill. It takes decades to teach a player to score like Alex Ovechkin, pass like Wayne Gretzky or skate like Connor McDavid. While the NHL has nearly eliminated the tradition of “enforcers” there are still players who have learned to play the game the right way, only to be overlooked for someone who can uphold the “unwritten code”.
Why don’t the lessons we teach in youth sports apply to the role models whose exorbitant paychecks we subsidize? Every coach worth his weight in acme whistles preaches that retaliation is unacceptable. Be disciplined, play through it, and don’t let the opponent get into your head. And every aspiring athlete has been told that you beat them on the scoreboard, nothing else matters. I will never forget watching a junior tryout in Spooner many years ago and seeing a player get destroyed in a fight. His choice to not wear a facemask and prove his toughness cost his parents hundreds of dollars in dental work. I never understood why junior hockey allowed and encouraged fighting, but then not tolerate it at the collegiate level where the majority of these players will play next.
Anyone who has played this great game understands the intensity, frustration and passion it evokes from you. It is unlike any other game I have played. It can bring about a rage that sometimes feels uncontrollable. Fighting is somehow supposed to be an acceptable way to release that anger. Plain and simple, no other sport tolerates fighting. They protect their superstars by demanding players adhere to the rules that are written. David Bakhtiari is one of the highest paid tackles in the NFL, but one of his duties won’t include fist fighting with defensive ends that sack his quarterback, whoever that might be!
If I have learned anything from coaching girl’s hockey for the past ten years it is that modifying what checking looks like and is allowed, brings out more of the true skills of the game. Players are looking to make plays with the puck without fear of being blindsided or destroyed in the corner. And players without the puck are seeking out and anticipating where the play is going instead of trying to ignite the crowd with a bone-crushing check. I observed a few boys’ high school games this past season and witnessed some out-of-control, penalty-filled displays of teams just trying to physically dominate their opponent because they didn’t have the skill to compete with them. I saw numerous body checks that were intended to inflict injury with no regard for the rules. Maybe I am getting soft in my old age, but if you watch the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota women play, you will witness the true beauty and skill the game can provide.
It would behoove those stewards of hockey to take notice of the crippling affect the spotlight on concussions has had on youth football. Tackle football declined eighteen percent just last year, while flag football has grown by over fifty percent in the last three years. Hockey has plenty of factors that already eliminate many from the participation pool, believing they are immune from the label that the game is too violent could be a foolish gamble.
Hockey, like all of the major sports, has evolved over the past fifty years. This latest attempt by the QMJHL to eliminate fighting will be met with much resistance. Personally I believe it is a brave and intelligent decision. Fist fighting, outside of a MMA or boxing ring, isn’t tolerated or accepted anywhere in our society. In everyday life fighting gets you arrested and thrown in jail or you get sued. It isn’t a right of passage or a symbol of manhood. It is a weakness, a lack of discipline and a display of immaturity. And the coaches who stand safely on their bench and order teenagers to go out and fight, knowing that one punch or awkward fall, could end a kid’s season or career, should understand that this is a long overdue and needed change. The NHL will never eliminate fighting, but putting it to rest in the QMJHL will be a landmark decision that should be applauded and adopted at all levels of junior hockey.
I am certain this will not be a favored opinion, but then I have never subscribed to the belief that validity or truth is determined by popularity.
And if you disagree—I still don’t want to fight you.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Please also keep “woofing,” taunting, and otherwise unsportsmanlike behavior to a minimum. Your posts will more than likely be deleted, and worse yet, you reflect badly on yourself, your favorite team and your conference.