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Dropping the gloves on fighting in hockey

I just got off the phone with Mike Sanderson. He told me beautiful stories about a 21-year-old honours student who would do anything for a friend or a teammate.

By : Ken Campbell

CON

I just got off the phone with Mike Sanderson. He told me beautiful stories about a 21-year-old honours student who would do anything for a friend or a teammate. Then he told me how he and his ex-wife looked at each other New Year’s Day and decided to take their son off life support and how they stood by his bed while he took his last breaths a couple hours later.

Don Sanderson is dead because of a meaningless hockey fight in a meaningless game that was already decided because hockey has this ridiculous code that requires teams that are losing to “send a message.”

Let’s take a different message instead. Let’s use this incident to ban fighting at all levels of hockey, including the NHL. Let’s never allow anyone to go through what Mike and Dahna Sanderson are enduring again.

I have long believed it would only be a matter of time before a player died in a fight, and someday it won’t be in a senior league game in Brantford; it will be at centre ice at Madison Square Garden or the Air Canada Centre.

And it is all so meaningless. If fighting is such an important part of the game, why does play stop when a fight breaks out?

There may have been a purpose to fighting at one time, but the reality is that fighting has become nothing more than a creepy sideshow for blood lusting voyeurs. It’s apparently supposed to protect skilled players, but what is accomplished when two goons go at it after a star is hit?

And if it’s supposed to keep players honest and prevent them from clubbing each other with their sticks, isn’t that the biggest indictment of all on hockey? The game is incapable of policing itself, so the players have to do it?

The culture of violence that surrounds this game is astounding. Without fighting, hockey would be every bit as intense, hits would be every bit as hard and the competition would be every bit as fierce.

Hockey can keep its fighting spirit without keeping fighting as a blight on the game.

By: Jim Van Horne

PRO

I don’t consider myself to be a violent person. In fact, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I hate violence of any kind. Except when it comes to hockey. Give me a hockey fight between two willing and able combatants and my blood gets goin’.

I have been watching hockey my entire life. I had the privilege of covering the sport at the local and national levels for more than 35 years. I’ve been to Stanley Cup finals, world championships, world junior championships and the Olympics.

I love the sport, and I believe that fighting is part of the game. It’s been an element that teams have used for intimidation, protection, and even winning. Today’s hockey fights are different than they were before the original expansion in 1967-68. Back then, fighters were also players, fulfilling a dual role. Not only could they scare you with their fists, but with their skill as well — John Ferguson was a prime example.

The first game I went to at Maple Leaf Gardens featured a major brawl between the Maple Leafs and the Blackhawks. I think Pierre Pilote was one of the fighters. It was in the penalty box, and Frank Mahovolich climbed the glass to separate the combatants. I’d never seen anything like it, and until that time it was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen in my life.

It’s a part of the game fans absolutely love. There is nothing that brings them out of the seats faster than a good knuckle-chuck.

Yes, it was a fight that resulted in the recent death of the Whitby Dunlops’ Don Sanderson — a terrible, senseless loss — but it was an accident. Players do not go on the ice with the intention of killing each other. I can’t remember another incident where a player died as a direct result of a fight. Unfortunately, drivers are killed racing cars, mountain climbers die pursuing their passion, and divers drown when they go too deep. That doesn’t mean these sports should be banned.

Fighting is part of hockey, always has been and always should be.

 
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