The recent acquisition by the Buffalo Sabres of enforcer John Scott is evidence that fighting in hockey is still a necessary part of the game.
Scott, who stands 6’8” and weighs 270 pounds, has a reputation as one of the best fighters in the league and is being brought in to neutralize the intimidation tactics of teams like the Boston Bruins.
Last year, the Sabres were ridiculed throughout North America for not responding to a cheap shot by Boston’s Milan Lucic that concussed goalie Ryan Miller and permanently derailed the season. One Boston news outlet accused the Sabres of “cowardice,” and this sentiment was echoed by many others who cover the sport. The situation was arguably the most humiliating episode in the history of the once-proud Buffalo franchise.
Ironically, while fighting in the National Hockey League has declined, concussions are on the rise.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at last season’s All-Star Game, “The increase in concussions appears to be in the area of accidental or inadvertent situations… I’m not saying no concussions came from hits to the head; it appears the increase is coming from somewhere else. We don’t have any answers yet.”
NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick doesn’t agree. Writing in an NHL.com site, he had this to say on the subject: “I'd like to know when the respect factor is going to come back into the game… There are too many hits from behind near the boards. There are too many elbows to the head. There are too many blindside hits… It's one thing to hit strong and hard, but it's another thing to throw elbows, have knee-on-knee hits, hits from behind, cross checks on defensemen who are four feet from the boards.”
Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry, who’s weekly Hockey Night in Canada showcase, “Coach’s Corner,” is one of the most popular seven minutes in all the Great White North, has argued for years that removing fighting from hockey would lead to an increase in stick violations, cheap shots and, ultimately, more injuries. A visionary voice when it comes to the sport of hockey, history proves Cherry is right.
In 2008, while defending fighting in junior hockey, Cherry made his argument thusly: “You cannot ban fighting out of junior hockey… You have 20-year olds in the league and you have 16-year olds in the league; the 16-year olds are dynamite or they wouldn’t be there. Now usually the older guys will leave the younger guys alone until you’re going to make the playoffs .... If it means the playoffs, some of these big guys go after these young guys. If you don’t have somebody to step in and take charge and keep those guys off it, those 16-year olds will be open season… You got to have somebody to take care of them.”
Whether they’d like to admit it or not, for several years the Sabres have been the 16-year-olds getting picked on by Boston’s 20-year olds. With nobody to “step in and take charge,” they let their goalie get concussed and did absolutely nothing about it.
That is why fighting must remain part of the game. As long as talented players like Milan Lucic keep steamrolling goalies and intimidating weaker foes, NHL legend Conn Smythe’s immortal adage will hold true, “If you can beat ‘em in the alley, you can beat ‘em on the ice.”
If the NHL wants to reduce concussions, eliminating fighting is the last place to start. The NHL’s 2011 concussion statistics reveal the following: 44% of reported concussions were caused by legal hits; 31% were accidental; 14% caused by legal head shots; only 8% caused by fighting.
In spite of this, the league is determined to reduce fighting as much as possible. Meanwhile, the NHL’s abominable, “You Can Play” promotion, which all but endorses homosexuality in hockey, is among its top priorities.
Thanks to Gary Bettman and his ilk, enforcers are out, but gays are in. So why don’t they just hire Elton John as commissioner and be done with it?
Fortunately for Sabres fans, the team has not come out of the closet and the signing of tough guy, John Scott is an indication there might be some shred of manliness left in an otherwise emasculated organization that has much to prove in 2012-13.