Without a doubt, this may be one of the most controversial calls in the sport. Fighting in hockey not only brings excitement to the game but the largest penalties around. And while there is no question of a penalty when a fight breaks out, there is the question of whether or not it should be allowed. But what is considered fighting in hockey?
Fighting in Hockey Definition
There is no one definition. Gloves off punches thrown, wresting to the ice; this is fighting in hockey. What may not be clear to the less experienced viewer, however, is that some players specifically take on the role of fighting. That, and there is also a code to how it’s done.
- Fighting in hockey involves eye contact, dropping gloves, swinging fists, and knowing when to stop once a player hits the ice.
- There is a code that all hockey players follow when it comes to fighting.
- While enforcers still exist, a player is no longer hired to simply be the brute force on a team.
- The penalty for fighting is five minutes, but there can be other penalties such as instigator or game misconduct.
- There is controversy over whether or not fighting should be allowed in hockey.
How Fighting is Penalized in Hockey
When two players fight, a major penalty is given, five minutes for fighting. Other penalties, such as two minutes for instigating a fight, can also be given at the referee’s discretion. The referees may also decide to give ten-minute misconduct if they believe it is warranted. In the severest cases, a player can be ejected from the game.
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Role of the Enforcer in Hockey
Although fighting can happen with anyone on the ice, even the goalies, it typically is done by players that are known as an enforcer. Curious to know more? Why not pick up the book or movie starring Seann William Scott, entitled Goon, based on the true story of player Douglas Smith?
His story is a great way to know more about this style of play. But, in case you don’t, I’ve got you covered below.
The job of an enforcer is to protect other players from fights. He also discourages the other team from potential dirty play. If he suspects the other team of pulling dirty tricks or too much manhandling, for example, he may take charge and let the opposing team know it’s not allowed.
This role was much more pronounced in the 1980s and has somewhat fizzled since. One of the reasons is the salary cap that the league requires for teams. This cap leaves little wiggle room to have a player on the team based solely on his fighting skills. But this hasn’t stopped all fighting from taking place.
Here is a video showing enforcing players protecting their teammates. A warning not to watch if fighting or dangerous plays aren’t your cups of tea. But it gives you a better idea of why fights break out and how the referees handle them.
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Protecting Teammates Video
Often, before a fight happens, equal illegal violations with both teams, whether through a slash or a bodycheck, are done up to a breaking point. If these violations fail to stop the extra dirty plays or tensions are running high, then two enforcers on each team will choose to fight. But some rules need to be followed when fighting; let’s get into what these rules are.
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The Code of Fighting
Fighting in hockey is not what you would expect to see in a bar, for example. A player can’t sucker punch another player. There is a code that must be followed. First, eye contact must be made between the two players. This is like asking the other if he “wants to go?” If a player refuses to make eye contact, then the other player needs to back down.
Second, the rules dictate that the gloves must come off. In some fights, it can be like a dance. The players will circle each other, almost just holding on. Wrestling one another may happen, but eventually, someone will land the first punch.
Then, when a player drops to the ice, the fight is considered over. Despite this belief, there are some instances when the winner will try to keep punching. Referees will quickly intervene, however, and so this is rare.
Defending the Goalie
Treating the goalie with respect is also an unwritten code of the game. There are a few ways a player can show disrespect to a goalie. The first is by continuing to hack at a puck even when the goalie has it in his possession. The second is by snowing the goalie, that is, spraying him with ice from your skates. And don’t even think of bumping into the goalie.
While in most situations, this ends in some shoving in front of the net, there are times the result is a fight. Particularly if there is a lot of tension between the two teams. Here is where the enforcer of the team will step up and take care of the offending player to his goalie.
Now, it is the rarest of occasions when two goalies will fight one another. The reason is two-fold. First, by leaving the crease, the goalie will receive a two-minute minor penalty. Second, by fighting each other, they receive a five-minute penalty, and the backup goalie will have to take their place in the net.
To understand how this happens, take a look at the video below. It shows goalie Mike Smith, from the Calgary Flames, square off against goalie Cam Talbot, from Edmonton Oilers. You can see the reason for the fight is that the whole team started to brawl, which led to the two goalies fighting.
Goalie vs. Goalie Fight Video
Now that you’ve checked out a couple of videos on fighting, you can see it can get quite violent. This is where the debate of fighting in hockey comes into play. As with any debate, there are those for and those opposed. Let’s play devil’s advocate and take a look at both sides equally.
Is Fighting in Hockey Fair or Foul Play?
The role that fighting plays in hockey is a hot conversational topic.
Most long-time fans would likely argue that it makes the game more exciting. It even pumps the teams up, particularly if one of the teams is feeling discouraged by the score. Further to this excitement, it draws fans into the game.
Second, it is more than simply fighting; it has tradition. Fighting in hockey has been around since, well, hockey. To take it away, many players feel, would be like taking away a piece of hockey. And since most players follow the code, most feel it’s harmless to keep it in the game.
Lastly, players feel as though fighting in hockey helps keep them accountable to the rules. Although referees do their best, they can’t catch all the little pokes and jabs. Calls often are missed. As such, knowing that there could be retaliation for a dirty play can help keep some players in check.
Fighting can have some nasty results. There have been some disadvantaged matchups from time to time, or, as I mentioned, sucker punches that have slipped through. The result? Concussions, and physical injuries, can lead to prescriptions and a possible dependency on medicine for some.
Second, some don’t like violence, period (hi, mom!). They believe it takes away from the sport and encourages hostility between the teams. So, if there is a problem in the game, it is solved through a fight. And considering that fighting is not in the NHL rulebook, what is this saying about the rules?
Lastly, many hockey players are idolized by the younger generation. Some believe that fighting in hockey promotes fighting for our youth. That it is teaching our youth the wrong way of conflict resolution, particularly if the referees aren’t believed to be doing their job properly.
Which side of the line do you fall on? Maybe you always enjoyed fighting in hockey, but now that you have kids, you understand why it should be banned? Or maybe you are more of a traditionalist who loves fighting in hockey? It’s a tough one, and I understand the continued debate that shows no end in sight.
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Fighting in hockey, despite its potential to harm its players, is steeped in tradition and is strongly believed to be necessary by its participants. While many fans love the excitement fighting brings to the game, some would prefer not to have it. For now, at least, fighting in hockey is here to stay.
By Danielle L’Ami
Danielle lives and writes in Canada. Despite living in Leaf territory, she is a die-hard Habs fan. As for fighting, she sympathizes with the referees as she continually must break up fights between her three kids. She insists five minutes isn’t long enough of a time out for her offending rugrats.
You’re on our Fighting in Hockey page.
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