By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
I’ll admit it; I am a knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, out of date Neanderthal, that actually believes that fighting absolutely has a place in hockey. Call me archaic, call me barbaric, just don’t tell me I am not a hockey fan for believing what I believe.
It is now fashionable in our mamby-pamby, insipid society, that insists no one gets their feelings hurt at any time, and every child takes home a trophy from every organized sport; to say that the NHL game has grown beyond the point of two men squaring off voluntarily to settle a gripe. These are professional hockey players who have grown up in their sport having to defend themselves at every level; they are not a couple of pee-wee kids who are throwing down to satisfy the bloodlust of their adult parents.
And it is not as if we are talking about the late 1970’s, when line brawls were commonplace, and bench clearers were not out of the norm; it is not silly staged fighting either. I would agree that those situations have no place in hockey, although I will admit I still like to check out the old clips on YouTube from time to time.
Twice in the last two weeks, the Dudley Do-Rights of the NHL – aka the linesmen – have stepped in and stopped legitimate fights involving the Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid. The first occurred in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, when McQuaid squared off with the Jackets forward Josh Anderson, after Anderson deposited his stick into the back of McQuaid in the corner. Both men dropped their gloves together, in what only can be described as a traditional hockey fight, and yet Commissioner Gary Bettman’s henchmen stepped in before any blows could be thrown.
The second – and much more dangerous – intervention, took place in Buffalo on Thursday night, when the zebras’ overzealous legislation of Bettman’s edict to eradicate fighting resulted in two officials holding on to McQuaid’s arms while the Sabres’ Will Carrier was free to wail away at the Bruins defenseman, resulting in cuts that required stitches.
But I’m sure McQuaid learned his lesson though, right Gary?
Since he took over as commissioner in 1993, Bettman has tried to NBA-ize the NHL. He has expanded the league into non-hockey US cities, and slowly but surely watered down the product. He has kept the league out of hockey hungry regions like Quebec, and instead catered to the likes of Arizona and Florida, where they couldn’t spell hockey if you spotted them the H-O-C-K-E-Y.
He has tried to take what is a regional sport, with rabid fans, and turn it into…well, the NBA. There is a reason that no commissioner, in any major North American sport – minus Roger Goodell in New England, of course – gets booed with more ferocity than a 100 hurricanes every time he is introduced to an NHL audience.
Sure there is a lot to love about the game of hockey that doesn’t include fighting. There is no sport, at any level, that delivers in the playoffs the way the NHL does, and rarely do those games feature fighting. Nevertheless, there is an intensity, a physicality, that is unmatched at any level; and that rarely exists during a regular-season tilt.
Thursday night’s game between the Bruins and the Sabres had a chance to reach that level, however. The reason that McQuaid and Carrier engaged in the first place was due to a questionable hit by Carrier on Bruins forward David Backes a shift before. Backes had his head down at the center line, when Carrier hit him slightly from behind, with a shoulder to the head. Backes looked as if he suffered a concussion on the play, and McQuaid was going to make Carrier answer for his actions.
Had the two men been allowed to go, it might have ended there, and the intensity of the game would have clearly increased. Instead, the ill-will was left to simmer, and things could get ugly when the teams meet for the second game of a back to back series on Saturday in Boston.
Hockey is a dangerous game, played at a super-fast rate, by men who are big and strong. There is an inherent risk on every shift. One of those risks has always been the possibility of a fight. It is part of what the sport has been built on. For those of you, who don’t like it, I suggest you watch college hockey, or perhaps the NBA.
Just leave the game I love alone.