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Campbell: It’s time to end fighting in hockey

April 16, 2019

Hockey fights are dumb. They’re lame, they’re selfish and there’s nothing in sports, besides a pitcher intentionally throwing at a batter, that reduces us to the worst, most common denominator version of ourselves like a hockey fight. We don’t want to admit it because we’ve been conditioned to believe they’re a necessary part of the game, but they aren’t.

The benefits are fleeting at best, and there’s no evidence that they correlate to goals or wins. In last night’s case the Washington Capitals won the fight but they got run out of PNC Arena to to tune of 5-0. The negatives, meanwhile, are far more impactful.

I was sick to my stomach seeing the Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov get knocked out, literally, in a fight with Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin midway through the first period of Game 3 of their first-round playoff series. A swift right hand from Ovechkin to Svechnikov’s jaw seemingly closed the curtains before his head bounced off the ice from the fall. Svechnikov came to but couldn’t pull himself up and was dragged to the locker room in a daze with the help of his teammates.

In the aftermath of it all, I was amazed to see and hear the champions of fighting now parsing the etiquette of fighting. It was a fight. What happens in fights happened and we shouldn’t be looking for someone to blame. Ovechkin and Svechnikov have been battling all series, and it frustrated Andrei to the point where it appeared he asked Ovi to go. In fairness, Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour says there are two versions of the story going, but isn’t that always the case? In the end the game is to blame, not the individuals.

Fans were arguing that Ovechkin shouldn’t have fought a teenager or that he should’ve known Svechnikov was knocked out or that he drove his head into the ice.

Fights happen fast, and we can’t simultaneously espouse the benefits of fighting and then get upset with the way a guy fights. Go ahead and fight, but fight nice. Go ahead and fight, but don’t hurt the guy from my team. That makes a ton of sense. If that’s your stance then you’re not really here for fighting in the first place.

Most fights in the NHL are glorified shoving matches anyway, and they accomplish nothing. So now that an actual fight breaks out and it goes against your guy you can’t handle it. If that fight had gone the opposite way you would have been lauding the kid for beating up the crusty vet.

But all of that is secondary to the point and in the end the actual fighting isn’t necessarily the only thing that bothers me. It’s that I don’t find any of the arguments in support of fighting as a benefit to your team even remotely compelling. Just tell me you like fighting and spare me the hockey justification. “That’s the way it has always been done” has to be the laziest and most unproductive argument to any issue we come across, sports or otherwise.

It doesn’t fire up the bench. At least not enough to make a difference. Last night was Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Hurricanes came into the game down 2-0 in the series. If they weren’t ready to play that game, in that atmosphere, under those conditions then we have the wrong dudes on the ice.

It doesn’t show teammates you support them, it doesn’t prove your mettle, and it damn sure doesn’t “self-police” the game. In no other sport do we rely on fighting as a means to prove to your teammates you have their back. I’m told there’s a car crash on every play in football and fighting isn’t an intrinsic part of the game. Take care of your body, show up on time, practice hard, be open to coaching, work at your craft, score more goals, save more goals, play within the system, win more games and you’ll prove to your teammates everything you need to prove to them.

We place great value on winning, the right way at that, and putting the team before yourself, but we’re willing to make an excuse for those things in the name of hockey code. There isn’t anything more selfish than granting yourself a fleeting moment of machismo in order to get your fighting rocks off. So you can really show that other guy you mean business. Great, you feel better now? Now you’re unavailable to your team, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, via penalty, or worse: what happened last night.

I’m not trying to throw blame on Svechnikov or Ovechkin. A hockey fight broke out and one guy lost in disturbing fashion. But, there’s a groupthink mentality that makes us believe we can’t take it out of the game and that couldn’t be more narrow minded. Now that we’ve done what we always do and wait for a terrible scenario to occur before taking action, it’s time to eliminate fighting from the game.