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School of Hard-Knocks: A Culture of Fighting in the NHL

By Meghan Lalonde

I grew up in a family of hockey players. My father played and my great great great uncle is in the Hockey Hall of Fame; he scored the first goal in the first-ever National Hockey League game in 1917 when he played for the Montreal Canadiens. Even more impressive, at least to my dad, he led the league in penalty minutes.

Fighting is just one of many penalties a player can be called for during a hockey game. When a player violates a rule he receives a penalty and is sent to the penalty box for between two to five minutes, depending on the severity of the rule that was broken. Fighting will get you the full five minutes in the “sin bin.” Heard of the band Five for Fighting? Now you understand the name.

In the wake of studies that suggest repeated head trauma (like concussions) may lead to a degenerative brain diseases known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), many contact sports have been criticized for their violent hits and frequent head injuries. The National Football League (NFL) responded by tightening rules governing hits to the head while increasing penalties and fines for players who violate the new rules. But the NHL fights on… for now.

According to a recent NHL Players’ Association poll, 98 per cent of all players think fighting is just a part of the game. But should it be?

In December, the New York Times published “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer”, a three-part series by John Branch covering the career and death of Derek Boogaard, a former player for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. He played as an “enforcer”, which is hockey slang for saying he spent a good share of his ice time beating up the other team and getting beat up himself. During his career, Derek “The Boogeyman” Boogaard had a hand in over 200 fights.

He was posthumously diagnosed with C.T.E at age 28 and sadly, he isn’t the only young enforcer to have recently died with the disease.

I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Branch about the future of fighting in the NHL. Here’s what he said, and our take on it:  (more…)

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