Hockey is Hurting, Confusing, and Delighting Me, a Post In Three Parts

Hurting

Well, that game seriously blew. BAD, Sabres! Heather B summed the situation up pretty well.

Games like last night take me beyond the basic unhappiness of a loss, to a state of dull anxiety. The thing I seem to enjoy dwelling on lately is Crunchy’s upcoming free agency (By upcoming I mean a year and a half from now. See how rational I am?). When I watch a game in which Crunchy is left HANGING OUT TO DRY by his entire team, I start fretting about whether he is going to want to stay in Buffalo. I neurotically worry that he’ll pack up his wonky brow and his death glare, and he’ll move to wherever-the-fuck he thinks he can win a Stanley Cup Championship. This tendency to assume that all the players are desperate to get away from us is not indicative of my general approach to life. I can’t decide if this is just me using sports to air out some previously latent insecurities, a sad scar from my Chris Drury love, or a sign that I really am a Buffalonian now, but it’s kind of pissing me off. Hopefully this phase will pass soon.

Confusing

I keep meaning to write a whole post about hockey violence, but I can’t seem to pull it together. I would like to say a few things about the fighting in last night’s game.

I really hate fighting between enforcers. It’s very stupid, and to me, totally devoid of entertainment. I hate the pageantry involved with watching Andrew Peters and some other dude start yelling at each other during the faceoff. They’re not actually pissed at each other, instead they are playing a role, like an actor in a play. I dunno, I just find it sort of embarrassing to watch. In order for me to enjoy a fight, I have to believe that the participants are both motivated by some degree of legitimate rage created by the flow of the game. When Goose gets pissed enough at Todd Bertuzzi that he wants to fight, well, I trust Goose’s professional judgment on that one. (I trust Goose because he was thoroughly trained at NHL University to recognize when and how to fight. I’m pretty sure he minored in fisticuffs at NHLU. Andrew Peters does not have a degree from NHLU. He’s self taught, and frankly, I think it shows.) It seems that in certain circumstances, I’m perfectly willing to enjoy the hot mess that is grown men fighting in full body armor. (Although, Goose, perhaps you aren’t aware, but Bertuzzi has a bit of a history. He’s scary, and not in an amusing Parros kind-of-way.)

I was raised by hippies, in a household where hitting was wrong, in every situation. I have a fair amount of discomfort with the fighting in hockey, and I am relieved I don’t have to try to justify the situation to my hypothetical kids; but because I am an adult, without the burden of shaping young minds, I can enjoy the non-goon fights for what they are: awesome. So, this is all a round-about way of saying that fighting in hockey is both upsetting and exhilarating. It’s all very fucked up. I suspect that people who have grown up around hockey feel differently about the fighting, but to me it’s genuinely troubling. I wasn’t just raised by hippies who believe hitting is wrong in every circumstance, I kind of am a hippie who believes hitting is wrong in every circumstance…..except in hockey apparently.

This whole issue really confuses me.

Delighting

I am a night owl, so I love these late starting west coast games. Last night I watched the first two periods in a bar, and then I watched the last period in my pajamas on the couch. Nice! I am pretty much always awake well past midnight anyway, but it seems sort of extra fun that I get to watch the Sabres late into the evening. If I had my way, all the games would start at ten o’clock.

32 Responses to “Hockey is Hurting, Confusing, and Delighting Me, a Post In Three Parts”


  1. 1 Heather B. December 6, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    I hate those pre-arranged fights between enforcers. I’ve never seen one of those fights REALLY change the tenor of the game. Leave Peters on the bench and start skating or something. That might’ve been successful.

    I was looking forward to the late games because I’m a total night owl but I had a very difficult time getting into a hockey frame of mind last night. Maybe tonight will be better.

  2. 2 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    As a pacifist who believe hitting is wrong in every circumstance, I have to agree with you that the choreographed enforcer fights are just completely beyond me. They’re not interesting, they do nothing to enhance the flow or intensity of a hockey game, and if you’re sitting too close to the ice when one happens, you’re struck with a devastating sense that there is nothing redeemable or good about the human experience. Because you’re watching two lugs throwing punches at each other while ice skating in a large fishbowl. And you paid to see it. And those two lugs make more money than your house is worth, and yet, throwing punches for a few seconds while ice skating in a large fishbowl is the thing those two human beings do best. It’s soul-crushing. I really hate it so much, but if I was commissioner for a day, I don’t think I’d outlaw fighting, because, as you mentioned, sometimes it’s, well, awesome. I think I’d outlaw enforcers. There should be some minimum measureable skill level, below which a player is not permitted to participate in the NHL. Perhaps NHLers should have to get licenses or something. Every spring the guys in Juniors and the minor leagues would get all nervous and excited for the NHL Skills tests, like high schoolers trying to get their drivers licenses. Maybe the kids could get NHL Skills learner’s permits first, and then getting that license would be like a big rite of passage in every young hockeyist’s life. And the long-time minor leaguers would be so excited to pass the test after years of working to better themselves. Think how much easier it would be to rate a team’s farm system, if you could just count how many guys were licensed for the NHL! When I’m commissioner, this is what I’m going to do. (And no, I have no idea how you would measure this minimum skill level, but suffice to say, neither Andrew Peters nor George Parros would pass it.)

  3. 3 Meg December 6, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Count me with those who are made both bored and uncomfortable by enforcer fights. I get that players sometimes get so angry that they fight and I’m ok with that, but these prearranged fights are not something my nonviolence-is-the-answer self can deal well with.

  4. 4 Shane December 6, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Love this blog, Kate, but have to disagree with you about the enforcer thing. Having an enforcer on an NHL team has been a long standing tradition. There’s something hockey players refer to as “the code,” which basically means that there are certain unwritten rules that aren’t enforced by the officials, but instead by the players themselves. Fights between enforcers usually keeps things settled down in games, and keeps cheap play to a minimum. Even if someone like Peters only plays 16 seconds a game, the opposing team knows he’s on the end of the bench and hence most players will think twice before doing something dirty (note: rule doesn’t apply to Chris Neil). I know you’re new to hockey (although, you can’t really tell by your analyses) which might make the enforcer concept seem spurious — especially because this Sabres team is the least physical hockey team I’ve ever watched — (and I’m not given to exaggeration) But if you look at the Ducks, who were widely known as the toughest team in the league last year, and who carried several enforcers, the utility and even necessity of seemingly “meaningless” fights becomes more apparent.

  5. 5 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Shane, I’ve been watching hockey for over a decade, and I can honestly say that I still believe the argument that enforcers keep the opposing team honest is a bit spurious. I mean, how is Peters fighting, say, Parros going to keep, say, Corey Perry from cheap-shotting Derek Roy? I understand the reasoning behind the argument, but I don’t see how it holds up in reality. (It should be noted that the Ducks won the Cup last year after having the most fights in the NHL during the regular season, but next four teams at the top of the “most fights” list all missed the playoffs. I think the Ducks winning the Cup was coincidental with their being the fightin’-est team in the league, especially considering they pretty much only rolled three lines as soon as the playoffs started.)

  6. 6 Katebits December 6, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Shane! Welcome to The Willful Caboose, and thanks so much for chiming in on this. I was actually hoping that someone would argue the case for enforcers, because I really am genuinely conflicted about this whole issue. I have to say, my instinct is to agree with Schnookie. I don’t see how enforcers fighting each other keeps the Sean Averys in line. Now, if Peters got to go whale on SEAN AVERY, then I might be more into the enforcer thing. Not to mention the entire issue of how fighting effects the appeal of the game. For me, it is really a double edged sword. I genuinely enjoy some of the fighting, and I am genuinely turned-off (to the point of wondering if I would want my hypothetical children watching hockey) by some of the rest.

    I really keep meaning to read that book, “The Code”.

  7. 7 Pookie December 6, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    necessity of seemingly “meaningless” fights

    If enforcers are neccessary, why aren’t there 30 enforcers in the NHL right now?

  8. 8 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    I genuinely enjoy some of the fighting, and I am genuinely turned-off (to the point of wondering if I would want my hypothetical children watching hockey) by some of the rest.

    I agree! I realize I’m sounding like I’m staunchly anti-fighting, which I’m really not. I’m just anti- dumb, choreographed, enforcer-on-enforcer fights that have nothing at all to do with the course of play. Fights that spring up out of the heat of the moment, between guys who are engaging in actually playing hockey are totally awesome. But the stuff like Peters/Parros last night just makes no sense to me. (And as for “The Code”, the way I see it, Goose would be a bigger deterrent against cheap shots than Peters, since it’s not like Peters is ever on the ice.)

  9. 9 Shane December 6, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Wow, I love the active exchange at this blog. First of all, Pookie, there are more than 30 enforcers in the league right now. I can’t think of a single team that doesn’t have an enforcer, although, they mightn’t dress every single night.

    Schnookie: You bring up some valid points. I am wrong to imply a causal relationship between Anaheim’s championship and their leading the league in fighting majors. But I don’t think it would be at all wrong to assert that they were one of the toughest teams in the league last year, which, mixed with a unique offensive and defensive skill, made them the best and most balanced team in the league. There is little question that the role of the enforcer has diminished in the last 5-7 years, but that doesn’t seem to me like a good thing, or a permanent thing, for that matter. When you look at teams like the NYR, who now have Colton Orr playing against opposing teams’ top lines, and the aforementioned Ducks, it does seem that the league is swinging back, at least marginally, toward physicality. The true purpose of having an enforcer is so little guys like Jason Pominville and Derek Roy feel confident that guys like Chris Neil and Sean Avery won’t go head hunting. It’s a retribuition thing, an eye for an eye. It seems like all the players are in favour of eliminating the instigator rule, so there does seem to be widespread convergence among the players on the need for a certain amount of player enforcement.

    That said, I also prefer purposive fights. Hockey is such an emotional game, and nothing is better than a spontaneous bout between two disgruntled gents. I understand your concern, Kate, with respect to your hypothetical children. But when I grew up watching hockey, most of the fights were purposive, and it taught me the value of sticking up for your teammates. It’s not so much about the violence, but about keeping the integrity of the game in tact.

    Although, the more I think about, maybe I’m just clothing my love for primal violence with intellectual justification…whatever the case, hockey is really the only team sport that tolerates fighting(and no, I don’t count the National Cock Fighting League as a legitimate team sport) and it makes me sad that the role of the enforcer continues to diminish.

  10. 10 Meg December 6, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    But I don’t think it would be at all wrong to assert that they were one of the toughest teams in the league last year, which, mixed with a unique offensive and defensive skill, made them the best and most balanced team in the league.

    I definitely agree that Anaheim was a tough team and that being a tough team is a good thing. But I think it’s important that toughness is mixed with skill. Peters would be so much more useful to the team if he could also play hockey.

    I also think your point about integrity is valid. But I think that having two enforcers casually plan a fight and then fight as so often happens diminishes the integrity of the game. When that happens it’s not about passion or even competitiveness as far as I can tell. It’s entertainment for which I am clearly not the target audience.

  11. 11 Gambler December 6, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    amusing Parros kind-of-way

    That picture is so :{!

    I totally agree that pre-arranged enforcer fights are ridiculous and silly, but I really enjoy the other fights (and scuffles, I love me a good scuffle!) that crop up in hockey. Particularly when they involve guys who don’t fight that often. (I forget, have you had the pleasure of seeing a Max fight, Kate? It’s awesome!) And Mair taking on Spezza, Comrie, and Volchenkov at the same time in the Ottawa brawl was one of my favorite moments of last season. I used to worry about what that enjoyment says about me as a person, but then I realized that as far as violence goes, fighting is really the least of hockey’s problems. I think it’s pathetically sad that enforcers exist, exactly like Schnookie said, but it really can’t compete with the level of brutality brought to the game by dirty, dangerous, and deliberate hits. Especially when they’re so grossly under-called and under-punished. Anyway once I established that I don’t, in fact, enjoy seeing unconscious bodies on the ice, I was reassured that it’s the passion I like to see, not the violence. And then I felt better about myself.

    Even if someone like Peters only plays 16 seconds a game, the opposing team knows he’s on the end of the bench and hence most players will think twice before doing something dirty

    See, theoretically that makes sense, but in practice I can’t imagine anyone being intimidated by Andrew Peters. He looks like a teddy bear! And I know it’s been said before, but what exactly does he bring to the Sabres that Goose and Mair don’t? Besides incompetence, obviously. Why can’t we have tough guys who do more than just fight?

  12. 12 Meg December 6, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I forget, have you had the pleasure of seeing a Max fight, Kate? It’s awesome!

    I love Max fights!

  13. 13 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    When you look at teams like the NYR, who now have Colton Orr playing against opposing teams’ top lines, and the aforementioned Ducks, it does seem that the league is swinging back, at least marginally, toward physicality.

    Shane, I think we’re actually very close to being in agreement on this issue — I think the league is definitely seeing more of a return to a more “physical” (to put it politely :D) tone overall, but that really only comes from an abundance of players who can be classified as traditional “tough guys”, but who can also play. It’s true that every team has a guy who can fight, but there are fewer and fewer pure enforcers, the Andrew Peterses, who are, simply put, a liability when they are put out on the ice against opponents of even the most marginal skill levels. I mean, the Rangers can put Colton Orr out against opposing teams’ top lines because the guy can actually play some hockey beyond just having those insipid “wanna go?” “Okay!” fights with the other team’s designated puncher.

    The NHL is just such a highly-skilled league now that few teams can afford to give minutes to the ham-fisted, cement-footed enforcer-types of yore. Guys like Georges Laraque and Donald Brashear continue to see substantial tough-guy minutes because they also contribute occasionally in ways other than just fighting. The Ducks’ toughness last year didn’t necessarily come from having goons like Parros and May — it came from having skaters throughout the lineup who are also fierce hitters and are willing to throw down the gloves.

    But I think that having two enforcers casually plan a fight and then fight as so often happens diminishes the integrity of the game. When that happens it’s not about passion or even competitiveness as far as I can tell. It’s entertainment for which I am clearly not the target audience.

    Meg, I think you’re absolutely spot-on. As always!

  14. 14 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    Anyway once I established that I don’t, in fact, enjoy seeing unconscious bodies on the ice, I was reassured that it’s the passion I like to see, not the violence. And then I felt better about myself.

    Gambler, I still know you’re a venal person. Don’t try to weasel out of it! :P

  15. 15 Gambler December 6, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I love Max fights!

    I love how he can win a fight without even throwing a punch, like with the duck-and-tackle move he pulled on Justin Williams last year. See guys! I’m totally a pacifist! No bloodlust here! None whatsoever!

    (… did they buy it?)

  16. 16 Schnookie December 6, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    (… did they buy it?)

    Heh. No.

  17. 17 Katebits December 6, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    I am so glad that I tossed together this post because this is a really interesting comment thread. Thanks, guys! I’ve been meaning to write a post about violence in hockey for awhile now, but I held back because my thoughts on this are so disjointed. Little did I know that all I needed to do was half-ass it, and you guys would do the rest of the work.

    Although, the more I think about, maybe I’m just clothing my love for primal violence with intellectual justification…

    This is the most interesting thing to me as someone with no historical context in which to place hockey. I have been truly surprised to discover that I have any taste for primal violence. It seems to me that hockey exists in a rather curious gray area with regards to the general discussion about violence in society. I really don’t have a good handle on how I feel about all of this, but I find the topic incredibly interesting. I am certainly not suggesting that hockey should outlaw fighting, but the fighting definitely makes me feel….funny. In both good and bad ways.

  18. 18 Katebits December 6, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Ha! I sat down at my computer and without pressing refresh wrote that last comment. When I published it, I realized this conversation had significantly grown since I last checked in.

    I SO want to see a Max fight!

  19. 19 Meg December 6, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    I love how he can win a fight without even throwing a punch, like with the duck-and-tackle move he pulled on Justin Williams last year. See guys! I’m totally a pacifist! No bloodlust here! None whatsoever!

    I like how you’re conveniently leaving out the part where he then punched Williams in the back of the head. Just saying. Perhaps prevents us buying it. ;)

  20. 20 Gambler December 6, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    I like how you’re conveniently leaving out the part where he then punched Williams in the back of the head.

    Oh, heh. Yeah. I, uh, forgot about that part. Still, he did effectively win without throwing a punch, he just chose to throw a punch after he’d won. I didn’t say he was perfect!

  21. 21 Sam December 6, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    I really don’t get the objection to the fighting in hockey. I know people who have no problem with boxing, but consider hockey fights to be barbaric. I think part of the the problem stems from hockey fans’ attempts to justify the fighting by claiming that it serves some crucial purpose and that the game would be lost without it. This argument is undermined by the obvious fact that there’s no fighting in European or college hockey, both of which are entertaining anyway, albeit in a somewhat different way than the NHL is entertaining. So here’s my alternate argument in favor of fisticuffs:

    To me, fighting is a part of NHL hockey. It’s entertaining (up to a point,) and it certainly does have a demonstrable impact on the way the game is played overall. I like that there is a self-policed code of aggressive behavior among players, even if certain cementheads (and here I am referring to guys like Todd Bertuzzi, Matt Foote, and yes, Jesse Boulerice) haven’t read it. Hockey is the one sport in North America that embraces its full-contact, physical nature without apology (NBA) or hypocrisy (NFL). It’s a working-class Canadian game, and always has been, and that means something to me. There’s been a ridiculous amount of sanitizing going on in the American sports world over the last decade or so, and I would hate for hockey to become just one more innocuous, child-proofed, scrubbed-’til-it-gleams cog for ESPN to market alongside the other widgets they sell.

    The bottom line for me is that I’d miss fighting a lot if it were banned, and I just don’t buy that it’s either irresponsible or barbaric to keep it.

    Oh, and Kate, instead of reading “The Code,” which is okay but not great, I highly recommend Phil Esposito’s autobiography “Thunder & Lightning” for a look at hockey violence in a broader context, as well as some excellent stories from the Bruins teams Espo helped lead to glory…

  22. 22 Sam December 6, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Sorry, forgot to close my tag…

    [/pompous, long-winded rant]

  23. 23 Katebits December 6, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    [/pompous, long-winded rant]

    Ha!

  24. 24 Patty (in Dallas) December 6, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Little did I know that all I needed to do was half-ass it, and you guys would do the rest of the work.

    Now you’re really ready for a press pass! :D

    I’m on the same side as y’all are, I think. I don’t like the pre-planned fight. I think it’s a little insulting sometimes — I sit there thinking, I’m not falling for it guys! Sit back down!

    But I really do love the organic fight. One favorite is from last season when little Trevor Daley came running to start a fight with a player that had hit Sergei Zubov inappropriately. The rage on his face and the surprise on the other guy’s face was the best part. I’m sure that guy thought he could get away with it since we didn’t have an enforcer to beat up his enforcer.

    As has been mentioned here, I don’t understand how Parros fighting with Peters is going teach Pronger a lesson about elbows.

    Also, I’m sure y’all have seen the video when Georges Laraque was mic’d up one game. Some kid, trying to prove he’s willing to pick a fight with the great Laraque had talked him into it. As they were about to drop the puck Laraque said, Ready? Okay, kid. Good luck.

    That’s not “policing themselves.”

  25. 25 Meg December 6, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    I really don’t get the objection to the fighting in hockey. I know people who have no problem with boxing, but consider hockey fights to be barbaric.

    But, Sam, I don’t think anyone here is really arguing that there shouldn’t be fighting in hockey. We’re saying that we have a problem with a certain kind of fighting. That’s really a pretty big distinction.

    Then again, I find boxing nauseating so I might not be the person to talk to about that.

  26. 26 Sam December 7, 2007 at 12:01 am

    I don’t think anyone here is really arguing that there shouldn’t be fighting in hockey. We’re saying that we have a problem with a certain kind of fighting.

    Okay, then allow me one anecdote in rebuttal to the idea that the “pre-planned” fight is somehow cheap and ridiculous. This past Sunday, the Wild played Vancouver. This was the second game between Minny and the ‘Nucks since Matthias Ohlund broke Mikko Koivu’s leg with a two-handed slash. The first rematch after the incident was played up by the media in both cities as a potential bloodbath, which, of course, insured that it wouldn’t be, since neither team wants half its lineup suspended, and really, no one wants all-out bloody anarchy on the ice, either.

    I happened to be at this Sunday’s game, and as soon as the starting lineups were announced, I turned to my friend Megan and said, “I’ll bet $100 they fight the second the puck drops.” Both coaches had sent out their checking lines to start the game, and Vancouver’s tough guy Jeff Cowin was lined up across from the Wild’s energy ball of the moment, Aaron Voros. Sure enough, three seconds in, Voros and Cowin went at each other like feral cats. It was a good, high-energy fight, and not only were both teams clearly energized afterwards, it dissipated enough of the considerable remaining animosity over the Koivu slash that what followed was an extremely tight, well-played, physical hockey game on both sides. (Okay, Vancouver took a couple of game misconducts later on, but they can’t help it! They’re Vancouver.) No one cheap-shotted Ohlund (although he absorbed more than a couple of hits,) Voros and Cowin played effective roles beyond their fight, and everyone went home happy. (Except Roberto Luongo, but whatever.)

    I’m not saying every fight is worthwhile or entertaining. But neither is every penalty shot, or every odd-man rush. The heavyweight fights serve a purpose, when they’re done right, and I still don’t really understand the resentment of them that seems so pervasive these days. The days of the non-skating goon specialist may be on the wane, and I’m okay with that, but there should always be a place for disciplined enforcers.

  27. 27 Heather B. December 7, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Sam, I guess I don’t understand why Minny and Vancouver could make it through the first game without any kind of fight but they just had to get it out in the second re-match. If they can control themselves the first time around they should be able to do it every other game.

  28. 28 Sam December 7, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Well, the first game was a blowout, 6-2 ‘Nucks, in which the Wild seemed completely lost, so it’s hard to assess. I don’t play hockey, so it would be absurd for me to assert that they lost because they couldn’t fight someone to compensate for Mikko’s injury. I wouldn’t claim that anyway. At the time, the Wild were in the midst of a month-long skid, and Vancouver was on a roll.

    But to pretend that incidents between teams don’t carry over into later games is just as silly to me. One of the things I like about NHL hockey (as distinguished from hockey in general) is that it embraces, to some extent, the extreme physical nature of the game by allowing, within reason, a physical settling of scores.

  29. 29 Amy December 7, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Add me to the list of people who aren’t thrilled when there’s pre-planned fights between enforcers. Look at the other night against the Ducks. Peters chased Parros around the ice for a good 45 seconds before they went. By doing that, Peters was paying more attention to the man than the puck, in essence leaving his teammates out to dry. And that’s not cool. Its almost like these guys feel the need to earn their paycheck that night, so they have to fight.

  30. 30 Katebits December 8, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I realize that this conversation has sort of come and gone, but one thing I am beginning to really agree which something Meg said earlier:

    It’s entertainment for which I am clearly not the target audience.

    Maybe it all just boils down to what each individual finds entertaining. I don’t find fighting between enforcers entertaining at all. I’m willing to listen to the arguments for and against enforcers, but when it comes down to it, I find the eye-for-an-eye fighting boring (at best). This opinion is totally outside of any kind of judgment (moral or otherwise) about whether fighting should be allowed in hockey. I just find much of the fighting in hockey to be very dumb. And not in a cute way. Dumb in a “I would be better off watching Project Runway” kind of way.

  31. 31 WE love andrew peters....and ryan miller February 4, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Leave petey alone, he’s hot and a damn good fighter. We love to watch him bloody up another player just in the name of hockey. We love you andrew peters!


  1. 1 Peacenik Credentials: REVOKED « The Willful Caboose Trackback on July 10, 2008 at 9:25 pm

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