By Amy Ulveland – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student
Round and round they go, like contestants in Battle of the Blades or Stars on Ice.Tuning into the recent game between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, if you were not familiar with hockey, you might think it centred on brawls and fist fights rather than skilful skating and stick handling. Two NHL goalies—one representing the Flyers, the other the Capitals—went at each other in what seemed more like a figure skating routine at first due to its lyrical quality.The crowd goes wild, and—bit by bit—players from the opposing teams break-off into their own showdown.
Emotions run rampant in any sporting activity where the stakes are high, and competitive urges ensure excessive adrenaline is pumped through player’s veins.The fact that the Flyer’s goalie Emery took it upon himself to instigate a fight against an unwilling Capital’s goalie Holtby— after they had taken the game 7-0—screams poor sport in more ways than one.At the same time, players are a victim of their circumstances.Beer, brawls, and big egos vying for victory—these are what NHL games are made of.
Fans live vicariously through their home team’s success and failure—like an overzealous parent shouting and hissing at every convenient point.The irony, of course, is that a great majority of these observers will never know what it is like to be on ice, tasked with performing while tuning out the circus around them.Certain responsibilities come with getting paid handsomely to perform: being a team player, showing up to play, and ultimately adhering to the cultural code.
Rule 27 of the Official NHL Rules outline ‘Goalkeeper’s Penalties.’If a goalie is given a minor or major penalty, Rules 27.1 and 27.2 require the penalty to be served by another team player, unless a goalkeeper incurs three penalties, in which case he is ruled off ice for the remainder of the game and potentially given a fine, albeit a light one.Leaving the goal crease leaves the goalie subject to a $200 fine.Most notably, no further discipline was levied following the game in question.In the next few days, general managers are set to meet to discuss proposing a 10-game suspension for cases such as this where a goalie leaves his area and instigates a fight against an unwilling combatant.
When hockey legend, Gordie Howe, was asked why players always wear a cup, but not always a helmet, he replied: “You can always get someone to do your thinking for you.”Former Toronto Maple Leafs coach, Brian Burke, once said: “I will personally challenge anyone who wants to get rid of fighting to a fight.”Wittiness aside, the reality is brain injuries are inherently different than physical injuries.
One of the worst life-sentences a person can receive is brain damage, and the limitations it involves, including memory loss.“I remember when…” is one of those phrases that adds richness and meaning to our lives.Having the ability to reminisce on times past and shared experiences is part of what makes us human.This is evidenced in the anguish and frustration apparent in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that tend to affect older populations.Our brain, and all that is wrapped up in it—personality, quirks, memories, and motor skills—is our core identity; without it, we become nothing but hollow masses moving in space.
The argument against enforcing stronger rules against fighting in hockey is that any hostility will be displaced through dirtier hits.This argument has some merit.For NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, fighting acts like a ‘thermostat’ helping to cool things down.At the same time, it does not rule moot the need for stronger penalties against fighting.One need only consider the increasing evidence pointing towards the long-term devastating effects of concussions.The statement of claim for Derek Boogaard’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges the NHL was essentially an enabler in his sad demise, feeding him pain killers and narcotics, to off-set the constant blows he was subjected to as an enforcer.
The NHL has been put on notice.At this point, it has two options: take proactive steps to enforce stronger penalties against players who engage in fights—particularly repeat offenders—or simply turn a blind eye, and hope the NFL’s poor fortune does not turn on it as well.A smart organization would choose the former.