Tag Archives: fighting

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Death of the NHL Enforcer

December 4, 2015


By Dan Hutchinson – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

The death bell of the NHL tough guy has been sounding for years and now that breed of player is all but extinct. Names such as Probert, Domi and Twist are long gone from the game and even more recent names such as McGrattan, Orr and Parros have been unable to find employment in the NHL either having to settle for minor league deals or retire The league simply phased these players out of the game with rule changes that make the game faster, with more emphasis on speed instead of toughness.

According to hockeyfights.com, after 227 games in the NHL this season there have been 53 fights corresponding to 20.3% of games played with a fight. The percentage of games with a fight is down nearly 7% from last season and has dropped significantly each season since 2010 when the number of games with a fight was 40.1%. This number has dropped significantly due to the NHL taking steps to limit fighting including stiffer punishment for players engaging in a fight and instructing linesmen to break up fights before they are able to start.

The drop in fighting has also resulted from a philosophical shift in the league towards speed and skill and away from toughness and grit. Teams want players that can play at least 10 minutes a game and contribute more than their fists. “You’re already seeing a lot of that,” said Carolina GM Ron Francis. “Now you get teams that have scoring on all four lines. The way the game is played and the pace it is played at, teams that have success are the ones that have 12 forwards who can give you minutes.”

While this philosophical change has played a part in the death of the enforcer it is not the only reason the tough guy is no longer part of the game. Significant changes in rules in hopes of protecting players has seen the league take matters into their own hands further pushing the enforcer out of the game.

With concussions being an issue on everyone’s mind, especially with the current lawsuit against the NHL launched by former players dealing with issues relating to head injuries sustained during their playing career, the NHL has started to give out lengthy suspensions and fines for players laying dirty hits on opponents. The most recent long term suspension was given to Raffi Torres for a shot to the head of Jakob Silfverberg. Torres was suspended for 41 games on the play.

The question now is whether these suspensions and fines are enough of a detriment for players to avoid dangerous hits and result in an actual increase in player safety. Or were players safer with their own personal policemen roaming the ice? Many believe that the threat of having to “face the music” as a result of a dirty play to be more of a detriment than a fine or suspension. With the way the NHL is going, the threat of an enforcer coming after a player due to a dirty hit or even a fight as retribution is becoming a non-factor, a path which many feel is wrong.
“I would hate to see the unintended side effects of where hockey would go without fighting, without that threat of retribution. It’s a fast, violent game where we’re wearing weapons on our feet and essentially carrying a club. So while a two- or five- minute penalty is a bad thing, it’s not going to knock somebody off their path of destruction as much as somebody grabbing them and punching them in the face,” claims ex-NHLer Kevin Westgarth.

It’s hard to know whether the NHL would be a safer place without fighting and the threat of a suspension being the only thing to stop players from dirty plays but looking at two high profile instances where headshots have been delivered, no enforcer was in the lineup for the team that sustained the hit. In the 2011 Winter Classic where Sidney Crosby was taken out with a blatant headshot, Pittsburgh hadn’t dressed their enforcer Eric Godard and neither did Anaheim when Torres nearly took off Silfverberg’s head. This would never have happened to Gretzky when McSorley was in the lineup. It’s impossible to say whether or not these hits would have occurred had an enforcer been dressed but it is something worth noting.

Additionally, in the NCAA fighting is banned and is arguably more dangerous as a result. “They drop the puck and you try to kill guys in the corner. I don’t know if it’s because there’s no fighting or because of the build-up, but there’s a lot of crash-and-bang, not much finesse out there,” says ex-NCAA and current NHLer Corey Tropp. So while the NHL is doing its best to phase fighting and the enforcer out of the game in an effort to maintain player safety, they may be doing more harm than good.

It may be best for the NHL to leave fighting alone rather than push it completely out of the game. It certainly seems like the players want fighting to stay a part of the game after a recent NHL Players Association survey revealed that 98% of players support fighting in hockey. The NHL is slowly working to eliminate fighting in an effort to increase player safety and decrease the number of concussions. However, the best option may simply be to let the fights and enforcers stay a part of the game.



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To fight or not to fight that is the question

October 30, 2013


By Hafiz Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Fighting in hockey: it has always been a contentious issue, but will it be taken out of the National Hockey League in the near future?  

Rule 46 of the Official NHL Rulebook governs fighting in the NHL.It sets out the criteria for what constitutes a fight, what the rules of a fight are, fines as well as everything else related to an NHL fight.Fighting has always been a part of the game and many are emphatic that fighting needs to remain in the game or the sport of hockey will not be the same.Most teams in the NHL have at least one player who acts as the designated tough guy or goon, and if fighting were no longer in the game, most of them would be out of a job.It is understandable that this group of players does not want fighting to be taken out of the game.Perhaps surprisingly, it is not only this small group of players who want fighting to remain in the game.In a recent article, Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks stated that “we’ll play with a tennis ball before we take fighting out” when asked about whether fighting should be removed from the NHL.Players around the league echoed Bieksa’s comment. 

For the most part, fans of the game of hockey love the fights that often occur.This is evidenced in the fact that the crowd at any arena in the NHL erupts and goes wild whenever there is a fight.Based on the reactions of the spectators, it seems that most of them get more excited about a fight than a goal.  This tells you a lot about how fans of the game view fighting in the NHL. 

Another popular view of why many players and fans believe that fighting should remain in the game is expressed by Vancouver Canucks’ enforcer Tom Sestito.Sestito states, “if you don’t have fighting in the game, there are going to be a lot of dirty hits.”He is referencing the idea of accountability on the ice and he believes that fighting holds players accountable.The idea is that without the threat of being challenged to a fight, there is no accountability and that injuries will actually increase because there will be more dirty hits.

Between player and fan support of fighting in the NHL, it seemed like it was going to stay.However, due to an event earlier this month, the debate of whether to remove fighting or not reopened.On the night of October 1st, in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, Colton Orr and George Parros, the respective enforcers for their teams squared off.The two started throwing punches, which led to Orr losing his balance and falling down.Orr still had a hold of Parros’ jersey as he fell and as Parros threw a punch, he too lost balance and fell face first into the ice.Parros was knocked unconscious, suffered a concussion and had to be taken off the ice in a stretcher. 

This event caused four NHL general managers to come out and speak publicly against fighting in the NHL.Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, Carolina’s Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong all publicly said it was time that the league took a tougher stance on fighting.  This was significant because in the past the argument was that it was only the media who spoke out against fighting but the “real” hockey people recognized the value of fighting.That argument was laid to rest with the statements made by these general managers.Rutherford was very blunt and stated, “we’ve got to get rid of fighting.It has to go.” Yzerman made a strong argument by pointing out the efforts the league goes through to reduce head injuries by penalizing and suspending players for making contact with the head but they still allow fighting.He goes on to say that “we’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be.Either anything goes, and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

Will the NHL re-examine their policy on fighting in the league after the Parros injury and the public statements made by four of their general managers or will they continue to allow fighting in the league?Only time will tell.

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A Look at the NHL’s Pre-Season Suspensions

October 4, 2013


By Mark Weir – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Earlier this National Hockey League pre-season, NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan handed down a trio of suspensions which sparked some controversy amongst the league and its fans.The incidents which lead to the disciplinary actions taken by the league came from two separate incidents in games being played 3,500 kilometers apart in Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto, Ontario, and perhaps if they had occurred at different points in the season the decisions would not have warranted such scrutiny.

The players involved in each of the suspensions are: David Clarkson, a Toronto Maple Leafs forward who was suspended for 10 regular season games but is allowed to finish out the pre-season; Zack Kassian, a Vancouver Canuck forward, suspended for 5 regular season games, and the remainder of Vancouver’s pre-season; and Phil Kessel, the all-star forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs who was suspended for Toronto’s remaining 3 pre-season games.

There is really no controversy over Clarkson’s suspension.The case made by the NHL is quite clear.Clarkson left the Maple Leafs’ bench on an illegal line change in order to join an on ice altercation.The NHL has an entire section in its rules (Rule 70) pertaining to “Leaving the Bench.” According to Rule 70.10, “The first player to leave the players’ or penalty bench during an altercation or for the purpose of starting an altercation from either or both teams shall be suspended automatically without pay for the next ten (10) regular League and/or Play-off games of his team.”

There is no grey area when it comes to this rule.The NHL followed their rules to the letter on this case.

Why then were the other two suspensions from last week so disproportionate?

The suspension to Kassian was awarded as the result of an errant high stick which caught the mouth of Edmonton Oiler forward, Sam Gagner.The incident resulted in a broken jaw for Gagner, and a four minute double-minor penalty awarded to Kassian for his on ice actions.

Kessel’s incident, on the other hand, was far more deliberate.While lining up for a face-off midway through the third period, Kessel was challenged to a fight by Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott who at 6 foot 8 inches and 270 pounds is 8 inches and 70 pounds bigger than Kessel.Since Kessel is a super-star, and not a fighter, it was not too surprising to see his initial reaction, which was to slash his stick in order to keep Scott at bay until Kessel’s teammates arrived to back him up.It was the actions which followed which landed Kessel his suspension.After his initial slash of Scott, Kessel’s teammates came in and took the big man to the ground.It was at this point that Kessel deliberately took another slash at Scott’s ankle with what looks like a clear intent to injure, after which Kessel speared Scott with the blade of his stick while Scott was being detained by an official.  Kessel’s actions bought him a match penalty, and he was ejected from the game.

These incidents invite the question how did Brendan Shanahan and the NHL decide on the appropriate suspension time for the two offenders in question? Having occurred on the same night, these two incidents provide an excellent juxtaposition of two disciplinary decisions being brought down for two very different, but both serious scenarios.

In the case of Kassian, we have a severe injury, but without intent to injure.Kassian made an undisciplined play, and let his stick get away from him.But one cannot say with certainty that Kassian meant to hit Gagner in the face with his stick, or that he even intended to get his stick up that high.In the case of Kessel, we have no injury sustained on the part of Scott, but there is a quite clear intent to injure a player who not only has his back turned to the offender, but who, at the time, was pre-occupied fighting two other players.

The NHL seems to be disciplining players based on the result of their actions, and not the intent of their actions.The on-ice officials on the other hand seem to be doing the opposite.

Is the NHL protecting its superstars? Is it really only concerned with the injury sustained from a player’s misconduct? Or should intent be factored into the disciplinary decisions of the NHL?

There needs to be a more consistent method of disciplining players who have broken rules which could lead to injury.No one is saying that Shanahan has an easy job, and he’s not going to be able to please everyone with his decisions.  However, if he continues to hand out decisions like these, the controversies will never subside.

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Hockey violence is getting out of control

March 8, 2011


You know hockey violence is getting out of control when noted commentator and former National Hockey League pugilist Mike Milbury – who once infamously warned against the ‘pansification’ of hockey – says a player should be banned from the league.

Milbury is calling for New York Islander Trevor Gillis to be kicked out of the NHL. Gillis served a nine game suspension for charging and concussing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Eric Tangradi with a high elbow to the head before landing several punches in a one-sided fight. Four shifts into his first game back from the suspension, Gillis head-hunted Minnesota Wild player Cal Clutterbuck with a hit from behind. NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell described Gillies’s hit as a deliberate attempt to injure by delivering a blow to the head of an unsuspecting player who was unable to defend himself. Then he gave Gillis a feeble 10 game suspension.

On a related note, the Edmonton Journal just published an article I wrote entitled, ‘Violence on the ice is getting out of control’ about a Canadian university hockey player being attacked by a ‘repeat offender’ who had already been suspended in two different leagues for injuring opposing players. Here are a few excerpts:

… …

Hockey got yet another black eye last week when University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey player Eric Hunter was attacked by University of British Columbia Thunderbird Mike Liambas …. In an incident eerily similar to Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, Hunter suffered facial cuts and a concussion after being punched in the head from the side and behind and then driven into the ice by Liambas.

… …

Hockey is a violent game but the violence is getting out of control. Too many players are getting hurt. Players – including Bertuzzi have been convicted of assault. Civil lawsuits – including Steve Moore’s ongoing $38-million suit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks – are no longer out of the ordinary.

It is time gratuitous violence in hockey was no longer considered normal and that teams did more to self-regulate and leagues did more than impose slap-on-the-wrist penalties.

Hunter is a young man studying business at the U of A who accepted the risks ordinarily inherent to playing hockey, such as being tripped, cross-checked and fighting. He would not, however, have consented to enduring a blindside hit and being driven into the ice.

Canadian university hockey should not suffer if the league doesn’t have the moral courage to do the right thing. Universities should send a message that thuggery will never be tolerated by kicking players off their teams if and when it occurs …  Liambas should be prohibited from playing in the league.

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This is hockey?

January 10, 2010



Professional hockey got another black eye when a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game in Chekhov, Russia was cancelled following an ugly bench clearing brawl. The referees assessed a record 691 penalty minutes to players from both sides. As neither club had enough players to ice a team, the officials were forced to cancel the game only 3:39 into the first period. The league fined Vityaz four million rubles (£83,363) and Avangard 1 million rubles (£20,837) for their troubles.

To their credit and with more than a touch of irony and poignance, the KHL introduces the story on their website with the headline, ‘This is hockey?’

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Hockey Player Acquitted of Assault

July 7, 2009



Victoria, BC 

Robin Gomez was acquitted of assault causing bodily harm in an incident which arose from a punch thrown during a semi-professional hockey game in 2008.  Hubbard J ruled that players impliedly consent to this type of misconduct and that retaliatory hits are part of the game. 

In several past hockey assault cases, defendant players have successfully pleaded that they were either provoked or acted in self-defence.  These acts of provocation included being struck in the head by an opponent’s stick or cross-checked from behind.  

What is particularly interesting in this case is that Hubbard J appears to regard taunting and trash talking as sufficient cause to incite or provoke an assault condoned by the courts. 

Hockey cases such as these are further complicated in proving the necessary mens rea insofar as Gomez’s role in the game is to intimidate and fight but not necessarily to injure.

Chris Ferraro’s civil suit is still pending.

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Hockey Violence in Canada – Part Deux

June 18, 2009



Victoria, BC

In anticipation of the criminal assault case (blogged below) beginning on June 15, injured hockey player Chris Ferraro unsurprisingly filed a civil suit three days earlier against Robin Gomez and the owner of Gomez’s hockey team. 

In a potpourri of claims, Ferraro is claiming Gomez was negligent and reckless or, in the alternative, intentionally assaulted him.  In addition, Ferraro is claiming that RG Facilities Ltd., owner of the Victoria Salmon Kings hockey team, was vicariously liable for Gomez’s actions or, alternatively, that they were negligent in allowing the team’s coach to encourage Gomez to leave the bench or in failing to take adequate steps to prevent him from leaving the bench.

Ferraro is claiming general damages, punitive and exemplary damages, special damages, and medical costs.

This is going to get interesting.

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Hockey Violence on Trial in Canada

June 16, 2009



Victoria, BC

On the heels of a high school rugby player convicted of manslaughter last month in the 2007 death of Manny Castillo in Ontario, Canada (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/05/28/castillo-guilty.html), the trial began today of a hockey player charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Robin Gomez of the Victoria Salmon Kings surprised an unsuspecting Chris Ferraro with a hard punch to the face during a minor professional hockey league game last year.  Ferraro hit his head on the ice, was concussed and required eight stitches.

It is yet another in a long line of civil and criminal cases plaguing hockey violence in Canada.  We’ll stay on top of this suit.

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Cage-fighting: the new alternative dispute resolution for schools

March 27, 2009


Source: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/032009dnmetcagefolo.3cd76bd.html; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/19/south-oak-cliff-high-scho_n_177180.html; http://www.hsgametime.com/dfw/sharedcontent/dws/content/topstories/stories/022109dnspohssoclede.36c49001.html ;

Read the report here: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/img/03-09/0318cagefight.pdf  

According to investigators, between 2003-5, staff at South Oak Cliff High School (based in Dallas) forced students to “duke it out” bare knuckle style in a steel cage while other students clapped and screamed (the “cage” was apparently a section of the boys’ changing room barricaded by wire mesh and steel lockers).

The report was produced by Frank McCammon, an investigator with the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). Ironically, the fighting came to light as a result of a separate investigation into grade-fixing at the school in order to allow students to continue to play for the school basketball team in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. McCammon’s report (first obtained by The Dallas Morning News), describes two instances of pupils fighting in the cage with no head or eye protection, however it was not clear from the report what the extent or duration of the fighting was, or whether anyone required medical attention. In March 2008, the DISD submitted the report to district officials, the Dallas County DA and the police department. Shockingly, no charges were ever brought against school staff as the statute of limitations had run out by the time the cage fights were discovered, although apparently “discipline” (whatever that means?) was taken.

When questioned by the Dallas Morning News, Donald Moten (the school’s former principal who resigned last year following the grade-fixing allegations) denies that any fights ever took place.

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NHL GM scoffs at thought of ban on fighting

March 9, 2009


The Globe and Mail




Never at a loss of words, Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke jokingly challenged anyone who wants to rid hockey of fighting to a fight. Mr. Burke and his fellow GMs from the National Hockey League will be discussing staged fights and predator-type hits at their annual meeting in Florida this week. The NHL Players Association is proposing a new rule concerning hits to the head but maintains that fighting is integral to the game. The league’s and the players association’s attempts to rein in fighting are disingenuous and insincere.  They are pandering to a public fleeing the sport out of disinterest and disgust and trying to convince them that hockey is serious this time about it out of respect for the recent death of Don Sanderson of the Ontario Hockey Association.  The game has a great deal of work to do yet to clean itself up.

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