Many consider fighting to be an integral part of hockey. European, Olympic and college hockey disallow it by ejecting and even suspending players for it. The NHL and most minor professional leagues allow fighting but they have laid out some ground rules to keep it in check. This blog post will focus on fighting in the NHL.
Rule 56 was introduced by the NHL in 1922 in an effort to regulate fighting or “fisticuffs” as it was originally termed. In those days, five minute major penalties were given to players involved in fighting. In the modern NHL rulebook, fighting is now regulated by rule 46.
Rule 46.1 defines fighting as when at least one player punches or attempts to punch an opponent repeatedly or when two players wrestle in such a manner as to make it difficult for the Linesman to intervene and separate the combatants. This rule also states that the Referees are given wide latitude with discretion to impose penalties for fighting.
Additional penalties (minor and/or major), fines and game misconducts can be given to players for things such as being labeled an aggressor (continuing to throw punches when his opponent is defenseless or is an unwilling combatant) or an instigator (for example, throwing the first punch, obvious retribution for a previous incident, etc.) as well as other violations such as a player removing his helmet or jersey during a fight.
There are some unspoken rules amongst hockey players regarding fighting. For instance, both players must agree to a fight, either by a verbal or physical exchange. Another unspoken rule dictates that a player shouldn’t keep swinging if his opponent is hurt during the fight. And last but not least, fight fairly and be respectful.
Many have spoken out against fighting in hockey and would like to see it banned. Supporters of fighting argue that it gives players security and allows them to police other players when they find a dirty hit or play unacceptable. Those who want to ban it claim that it’s unsportsmanlike and is a waste of time. They also cite major injuries and even death as reason to ban it.
In 2009, Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops (a team in Ontario’s Major League Hockey) died one month after receiving a head injury during a fight. His helmet came off during the altercation and he hit his head on the ice.
In 2007, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during a press conference “Fighting has always had a role in the game…from a player safety standpoint, what happens in fighting is something we need to look at just as we need to look at hits to the head. But we’re not looking to have a debate on whether fighting is good or bad or should be part of the game”.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, I think it can be agreed that fighting in the NHL is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
By Dan4th Nicholas (own work)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)].