Cleaning up the game starts at the top…
I like hockey, but I love the Stanley Cup Playoffs! I really start getting interested in hockey when the regular season is down its final 2 weeks. Teams start playing a little harder and the games are way more fun to watch, because every game counts. While the Sabres fell short this year, my interest in the playoffs has still been high.
Last Sunday, I watched game 3 of the series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a good game, but it was also a particularly brutal event to watch. I wasn’t sure if I was watching a hockey game or had tuned in to a UFC match. Several key players on both sides were ejected or spent a ton of time in the penalty box. The game was also stopped for a few minutes to assist an injured player after he took a punch to the back of the head.
I admit, I do love watching the hard hits and tough play during the game, but it seems that the “hockey” part of hockey has taken a back seat to the fighting recently. Maybe I’m getting old? I just don’t get excited when I see a guy get knocked to the ice, then a player from the opposite team sucker punches that guy in the back of the head while he’s defenseless…..or, when a team throws off the gloves in the first 5 seconds of the game.
One of the reasons I’ve always liked the playoffs over the regular season is that normally they don’t fight in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Players and coaches know that every penalty is costly and the margin for error gets very short in post-season play, so it just doesn’t happen as often. This year isn’t normal. The games have been ugly and while league sanctions have been imposed, they have not been consistent.
Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin was suspended three games for hitting Ottawa star Daniel Alfredsson high with an elbow. However, Senators defenseman Matt Carkner was suspended only one game for intentionally going after Rangers center Brian Boyle. Then, Shea Weber of Nashville was fined but not suspended, for grabbing the head of Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg and slamming it into the glass. And two Pittsburgh Penguins will face hearings over their actions during Sunday’s game.
Many officials, coaches, and players say fighting is inevitable in a high-contact sport, and is “just part of the game”. If that’s true, then why don’t you see more fighting in the NFL? Fighting exists because the league allows it. The league is doing virtually nothing to stop it and NHL officials don’t step in until a good round of punches has already been thrown.
If the NHL wants to cut down on injuries and the embarrassment caused by the constant brawls, then they need to start imposing stronger sanctions against players. I think fighting should be completely banned in pro hockey. I know many people will disagree…saying that the fighting is what makes hockey exciting…but I disagree. Hockey can be successful without all the fights. Look at the NFL. It’s the most popular sport in the U.S. and you don’t need the fights to make the sport interesting. The NHL should do the same. The NFL recently came down hard on the bounties for injuries situation in New Orleans and always imposes more serious suspensions for fighting.
Colleges and high school leagues have found ways to control fighting and those games are exciting, so why does the NHL have to market brawling at the expense of their otherwise exciting game? Who wants to bring their young children to a game where fighting is not only accepted, but cheered on?
Penguin and Flyer players came out looking for a fight on Sunday, not goals. Pittsburgh only made it worse when they were down a few goals early and visibly frustrated.
I still love hockey, but the constant fights are getting out of control and the league needs to stand up to the NHL Players Association and bring an end to the ugliness.