Fight, Flight or Play Hockey
The NHL (and hockey, in general) has always been under scrutiny for one fact: brutality. And not just for boarding, dirty checks and slashing. The main point of concern here is fighting â€“ that post-whistle, glove-dropping moment where adversaries circle each other in gliding motions waiting for their opportunity to grab the otherâ€™s sweater. And with criticism mounting, and injury numbers soaring, itâ€™s easy to say â€œwhatâ€™s all the fighting for?â€ But to be honest, hockey just wouldnâ€™t be hockey without itâ€”and that means a lot more than just hot heads.
The first topic to address is that of the â€œenforcer.â€ This all-too-common role on a team is pretty self-explanatory. If youâ€™re an enforcer, you arenâ€™t super skilled, your slapshot isnâ€™t that brilliant and you canâ€™t score as well as the first-liners. But your role on the team is still integral. Your job is to protect your teammates, keep the opposing team in line and, above all, fight. Itâ€™s the sole reason that players like Thornton of the Bruins and Cooke of the Penguins (a few years backâ€¦ not nearly as much now) exist. So, if you remove fighting from the sport, you remove the position entirely, but thatâ€™s not necessarily a good thing.
The reason for fighting is as simple as an everyday argument. If youâ€™ve ever gotten into a heated disagreement with someone, you know how important emotion is. The argument sways both ways, both parties feel confident when a good point is made and defensive when the opposite happens. In other words, an argument can be won with a simple sway of momentum: you start making good points and suddenly your adversary has less confidence to keep it up.
Well itâ€™s the same thing in hockey. If your team is getting slammed with checks, goals and penalties, your enforcer needs to step in and shift the momentum. They do that with hard, clean checks to keep skill players on their toes. And they might even throw down their gloves to pick a fight with the tougher, scrappier players. It may result in penalty minutes and it might not give you any leverage for a direct goal, but it will pump the team up, which is all the edge you could need. Light a big enough fire and youâ€™ll need a smoke evacuation system at the arena.
Strategy in Todayâ€™s Sport
Many argue that momentum isnâ€™t enough of an excuse for fighting in hockey. And â€œitâ€™s just part of the sportâ€ doesnâ€™t usually fly as an explanation. Well, thereâ€™s a solid place for it from a strategic standpoint too. And rather than speak in hypotheticals, itâ€™s time to touch on an actual game. Letâ€™s look at the Canucks-Flames game that happened a few nights ago.
Seeing that Vancouver is a deeply skilled team, particularly on the first line (can you say â€œSedin?â€), Calgary decided to throw them a curveball by throwing out their fourth line at puck drop. This matches up Calgaryâ€™s collection of enforcer-style brutes against Vancouverâ€™s decidedly skill-focused first-liners. Canucksâ€™ head coach Tortorella took issue and sent out his fourth line in response. This resulted in an immediate, glove-dropping brawl to begin the game.
The lesson here was that the Cancuks werenâ€™t going to let the Flames sway the game momentum with an immediate lineup curveball, so they fought force with force. While the drama here (including some post-game locker room scrums) isnâ€™t exactly common, it shows a situation where a team, without a breadth of skill players, can still keep matchups interesting. And thatâ€™s the name of the game with fighting: to keep all teams competitive and to keep the gameplay vibrant. Think about that the next time youâ€™re wondering why a fight breaks out.