Fighting in hockey just a real pain: Arthur
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Nov 13, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Fighting in hockey just a real pain: Arthur

If Connor McDavid was a basketball prodigy, a golf whiz, a tennis genius, a killer pitcher or even America’s greatest quarterback, he’d never have to throw a punch. In hockey, he didn’t have to, not really. But it’s hockey, so he did

OurWindsor.Ca

On Wednesday the biggest fight in hockey was over a 17-year-old kid, and it wasn’t limited to the Air Canada Centre. Supernova prospect Connor McDavid got hurt throwing punches in a game in Erie, Pa., on Tuesday, and the whole fighting-in-hockey dance number got fired up again. We all know the steps by heart.

Meanwhile, as the Bruins and Leafs took the ice, the ghosts of departed fighters were barely a whisper on the wind. Gone were recent Bruins or Leafs like Shawn Thornton, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser. Zdeno Chara, who nobody really likes to fight anyway, was hurt. McDavid, who will miss five to six weeks with a broken bone in his hand, and his fight were the real ghosts at the feast.

“Did he have to?” asked Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg, almost gently. “I mean, that’s the question. I mean, it’s everybody’s choice to fight or not. I’m sure he could have gotten out of it if he wanted to, but sometimes the ego takes over, and you just don’t think about getting hurt. I mean, I’m not a fighter, but once in a blue moon it happens. And you just don’t think about getting hurt.”

“You don’t like to see it, but there’s that compete level, especially in every young star, that enough’s enough and you’re sick and tired of getting abused,” said Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, who was a young OHL star once.

Fights in the OHL are down sharply, due to increased penalties; it’s the right move in a country in which teenagers bare-knuckle brawling has been an accepted part of our entertainment for a long time. We don’t pack high school gyms and cheer on 16-year-old boxers, but for hockey, we stand. Some in the OHL are sure fighting will vanish there within five years, unless the owners put up a hell of a fight themselves.

At the NHL level, meanwhile, you could see that fighting is receding at the edges. The Leafs have two fights on the season, second-fewest in the NHL. The Bruins have five. Both teams have shed enforcers in the past year. It’s hard to say they’re really missed.

“It’s a nice presence to have around, and I’m always in for those type of players, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference (in how other teams play Toronto without enforcers), just because the rules have been tightened up so much, and the referees are taught to look for certain things,” said Kadri.

“No, it’s just clean hockey,” said second-year defenceman Morgan Rielly. “You’re trying to win the game, you’re not trying to have a brawl. Our team is playing with a lot of speed, and that’s what we’re not worried about right now, we’re not worried about getting in scraps. If it happens, we have players in this room that can fight, but I think teams are playing us just the way they did last year. They haven’t changed anything.

“I’ve heard that before and I do understand why people might think that — if you don’t have Colton Orr on your team, there are some guys who might take some liberties. But that hasn’t really happened this year.”

Then the Leafs went out and skated by the Bruins like Boston packed the wooden skates. Kessel scored twice, Rielly scored with speed, the gates opened up. Plenty of skill, and no pure punchers were anywhere to be seen. Boston didn’t even fight to send a message.

McDavid, of course, is about skill, and that’s the point of his story. He is the best player on the ice every night, and people have been taking liberties with him since he was a kid. Stars always face this in hockey; it’s another rite of passage that we accept, because it’s hockey. There is an institutional hostility to skill, and we’re fine with all the guys who aren’t as good trying to drag the best ones down, so we can see who rises.

“I mean, that happens with Crosby every night, so you have to deal with it,” says Rielly. “In my draft year it happened a lot — after I got drafted by Toronto and then I played a year in junior, it happened a lot that year.”

“It finally got to (Connor) emotionally, he’s a young kid,” Sherry Bassin, Erie’s GM, told TSN 1050. “And the real issue with this is . . . if we’re gonna take (fighting) out, we’ve got to be stricter about what’s going on, and very, very less tolerant in what they do to superstars, what they try to do.”

The funny part is when McDavid did fight, he didn’t fight a goon — he fought Mississauga’s captain, Bryson Cianfrone, a skilled guy who whacked him. It’s the so-called good fight that proponents want to keep in the game, because we expect even the most skilled to stand up for themselves. Hockey still prefers that the stars be more Gordie Howe than, say, the Sedins.

“Mr. Hockey, those elbows, that was part of the game,” says Stephane Robidas. “It was about protecting yourself. That’s part of the game. Sometimes, you have to defend yourself.”

That’s hockey. If Connor McDavid was a basketball prodigy, a golf whiz, a tennis genius, a killer pitcher or even America’s greatest quarterback, he’d never have to throw a punch. In hockey, he didn’t have to, not really. But it’s hockey, so he did.

Toronto Star

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