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Connor McDavid, Rick Rypien, Patriots Ice Hockey, and The NHL: Why Fighting Should Be Banned

Canadian+hockey+player+Connor+McDavid.
Canadian hockey player Connor McDavid.

Canadian hockey player Connor McDavid.

Photo courtesy of www.cbc.ca

Photo courtesy of www.cbc.ca

Canadian hockey player Connor McDavid.

Eli Locke, Guest Columnist

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Born only a few months before myself, Canadian wiz-kid Connor McDavid is slated to become the first overall pick at the impending 2015 NHL draft, and has been hailed as the next Sidney Crosby. On November 10, however, he injured his hand in a perfectly legal on-ice fight, and may miss significant playing time. This incident re-sparked the heated debate about fighting in all levels of hockey.

In our local high school hockey league, skaters are prohibited from fighting. Doing so results in an ejection from the game and possible further discipline. Even in the hard-hitting game versus Washington-Lee last year, the game was relatively clean in terms of after-the-whistle shoving that is so common in the National Hockey League. There were no fights either.

I think it is absolutely fantastic that high school players in the area are prohibited from fighting. However, top minor-league players like McDavid as well as NHL players are heavily encouraged to fight. The fact that our skating Patriots are held to higher standards than the game’s greatest is laughable.

In recent years, the NHL has put substantial resources into successfully limiting hits during open play in which players purposefully pick the head of opponents. However, when the gloves come off, repeated blows to the head are just fine, according to current league rules.

Moreover, fighting takes an unbelievable toll on players, especially NHL enforcers. Two former NHL tough guys, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, tragically committed suicide in the 2011 offseason. Boogaard overdosed on prescription drugs and alcohol while recovering from a concussion. Rypien, who had taken two personal leaves of absence from hockey before to battle depression, also sadly took his own life.

Some say fighting is needed to police hockey, which is more physical and passionate than other sports. These people also note that fighting is part of the fabric of the game, and removing it now would change the game for the worse.

However, other professional sports are just as physical as hockey, and all of them are governed by their rulebooks, not by barbaric fist-swinging. And the bologna argument about hockey being part of ‘the fabric of the game?’ I can very well make the same case about theatrical diving in soccer or even the terrible tendency of NFL players to commit domestic violence crimes.

Banning fighting in hockey is, however, not as easy as it seems. Players are largely in favor of fighting as part of the game- many would be unsure of how to respond in heated games when a big hit happens if fighting were banned because this is usually a prime instance for a fight to calm down the chippiness.

NHL and team executives are also in favor of the entertainment and uniqueness fighting brings to hockey, and may even think banning it would bring in less revenue. Still, the ridiculousness of fighting in the NHL and junior leagues being penalized with “sitting alone for five minutes in a box filled with Gatorade,” as one writer described it, is not cutting it.

Here’s one solution- players in any league that is deemed ‘junior’ across North America should receive season-long bans if they choose to fight. Currently in the NCAA, players who fight are thrown out of that game and suspended for the next one as well, and this has already cut down substantially on fighting.

For the NHL, American Hockey League, and other professional leagues, players who fight should be removed from the game and should receive a subsequent three-game suspension effective immediately. If a player fights more than ten times in a season, they will be suspended for 25 games after the tenth instance.

This solution is a compromise between the two parties, even though proponents of fighting are decreasing for good reason. These lengthy bans on fighting will largely rid the game of an unnecessary component (especially at younger ages) and return power to the game to the league’s rulebook, where it should be vested.

Unfortunately, it seems as if unless something unspeakably horrific happens like a star player dying as a direct result of a fight, NHL players and staffers will want fighting to stay in the game.  Despite the clear cases of Boogaard and Rypien as well as the numerous other arguments against it, fighting is still for some reason a big part of the NHL.

Prohibition of fighting for all junior leagues and a mandatory three-game ban for anyone who drops the gloves and a 25-game ban for persistent fighters will be a good start to eliminating fighting completely. The NCAA is already heading in the right direction, and I am proud to say that our school’s hockey players, who aren’t allowed to fight, are already paving the same path as well.

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Connor McDavid, Rick Rypien, Patriots Ice Hockey, and The NHL: Why Fighting Should Be Banned