Players must lead the way to ban

Fighting in hockey is a worn-out, dangerous ‘tradition’ and it is time to end it

It was an ugly scene on Tuesday night in Montreal, as George Parros was taken off the ice via stretcher after smacking his face on the ice during a fight with Colton Orr.

Parros, an enforcer for the Habs, fell in mid-swing after Orr, a defenceman for the Maple Leafs, making contact with his chin on the ice and sustaining a concussion.

It was their second tussle of the night.

Hockey is a game of skill and fighting should be eliminated, or at least, penalized more heavily than sitting in a box for five minutes.

Indeed, a few high-profile general managers such as Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Jim Rutherford (Carolina Hurricanes) came forward on Wedensday saying it’s time to eliminate fighting.

Fighting in hockey is nothing more than a spectacle and serves as a cathartic release of emotion that would be better served by actually playing the game.

Players themselves will argue otherwise, and hold on to fighting as a deterrent and a way to mete out pugilistic justice, which is completely understandable.

However, scenes like what happened at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night are a reminder of why it should be banned.

“You never want to see a guy get hurt like that. It’s a scary situation,” Orr said in a post-game interview with the Montreal media.

Intentional or not, Parros did get hurt, and was diagnosed with a concussion.

Concussions have moved to the front of injury-related concerns in professional sports, especially in the NFL, which recently settled a $765 million lawsuit with 4,500 former players over concussion-related issues.

Sidney Crosby, arguably one of the best players currently in the NHL, struggled with concussion-like symptoms after a hit to the head, missing the end of the 2011 season and sitting out for most of the 2012 campaign.

The risk of sustaining a concussion or serious injury from one singular fight is relatively rare. It wasn’t a fist that injured Parros, it was his head colliding with the ice when he fell down.

However, like with the NFL, it’s the repeated head trauma over time that exacerbates the damage and makes it more severe.

It’s easy for people to be armchair critics about the role of fighting in hockey, but ultimately, the players will be the ones deciding whether or not to go at it during a game.

The rules can ban fighting, but that won’t stop someone from dropping the gloves when a teammate gets a dirty hit from behind into the boards with no penalty called.

At the local level, the KIJHL has tightened up the rules on fighting. Like seasons past, offenders get a five-minute major and game misconduct. However, the league is tracking repeat offenders, and suspensions will follow — three fights is one game, four fights is two games, five fights is three games, and sixth fights is an indefinite suspension.

Also, both the offending player and team coach will be ejected after a team’s second fight in one game.

At the professional level, the role of the enforcer has diminished, but it’s still there. After Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner broke his jaw while on the receiving end of a slash by Zack Kassian of the Vancouver Canucks, the former team went out and acquired Steve MacIntyre to add some physical intimidation to the roster.

It’s going to take a lot to stop fighting cold-turkey in hockey without some pushback from those who still see it as a necessary part of the game, but a ban will hopefully cut down on the incidences like what we saw in Montreal.

But even if an outright ban isn’t appealing to the players, maybe the league can look at using punishment for fighting as a deterrent to eliminate it from the game.

Trevor Crawley is Sports Editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman