A Response to GeekDad’s Open Letter to the NHL

My worlds, they have collided.  I read GeekDad (via Wired) fairly often, as there’s often great gaming and science content there, and that’s of interest to me and my son/daughters.  I was quite surprised to see an article there about hockey, combining my two blog-lives in one place.  Unfortunately, it’s not a positive thing – it’s about the insane level of violence that marred the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Look, we’ve all talked it to death over the past week, and I’m not going to re-hash it.  Shanny got some of these suspensions wrong.  The jumping elbow-to-the-head isn’t a ‘hockey play’ and needs to be handled with severe penalties.  If you don’t like fighting, that’s fine, not everyone does, and there are plenty of folks who would like to see it reduced or eliminated from the game.

Where I take issue, though, is this:

There is a large group of people who attend games just to watch people fight and get hurt.

No no NO.  This is exactly the same as saying “oh, those rednecks only go to the NASCAR races for the crashes!”, and it’s just as untrue.  Way to set yourself up on the high road.  Hockey, like football and even basketball to a lesser extent, is a contact sport.  Guys moving that fast, there’s going to be collisions and injuries.  As a long-time fan, I find a clean thundering hit just as entertaining as a breakaway goal snipe by a skill guy.  The same way I enjoy a receiver getting blasted over the middle but holding on to the ball, or a player driving the lane and delivering a powerful dunk while defenders go flying.  I do not like the staged fights, but I admit I enjoy some good fisticuffs when there’s a reason for them.

Look, I’m all for removing the stupid hits from the game, the head-hunting, heck, toss in the slewfooting while you’re at it.  It’s a great thing to advocate for.  I watch the game with my kids sometimes, though in general my son has ignored the fights when they happen (even if I stand up to get a look at who’s dropped the gloves).  But your words lose some of their effectiveness with me when you want to me and every other hockey fan I know into a ‘large group’ that loves seeing people get hurt.  Just not true.

A Fighting-Friendly Visor Solution

Thanks to Chris Pronger nearly getting his eye popped out of it’s socket, the mandatory visor debate has started up again full force.  Fighting always gets lumped into this argument at some point, since fighting with a visor is considered by many as unseemly.  You can have the pugilists doff their caps before the bout, but that removes an important layer of protection for when one or both combatants fall to the ice.  I imagine orthopedists recommend not punching a hard plastic face shield with your fist also.


So what’s the solution?  I say go ahead and make visors mandatory…and replace fistfights with stick battles.  Now, you’d still have to have a rule against striking someone in the head with your stick, but imagine the sight of Zdeno Chara skating in on his target, holding his monstrous stick in front of him like a broadsword. His opponent (Paul Gaustad, let’s say) deftly deflects Chara’s first few swings but is hard pressed.  However, a wild swing from the brute leaves him exposed, and Goose knocks the stick from the Kurgan – er, Chara’s hands and wins the day.  You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to see that.

In all seriousness, I don’t know how much longer fighting will be considered compatible with a league lurching toward caring about player safety.  I enjoy a good hockey fight that happens for a reason other than “well, I’m a good and you’re a goon, and we’re both out here, so…”, but if it were decided that the game would be better without it, I would be fine with it.