Another hockey fight story..from the Toronto Star


1 Response to “Another hockey fight story..from the Toronto Star”

  1. November 18, 2009 at 9:15 PM

    It is indeed good news that Ranger rookie Ben Fanelli is comfortable and once again back at home. After his horrific injury at the hands of Erie Otter Michael Liambas a couple of weeks ago, it might be time for some reflection now that the emotions have settled.

    Hockey at the junior and professional levels has let Fanelli down – as well as other young players and fans alike. As hockey has sown, so shall it reap: at the highest levels, it’s a blood sport.

    There isn’t another major professional sport where fighting is condoned. Throw a punch in baseball, you’re out; in soccer, it’s a red card; on the basketball court, ejection.

    Pro hockey, though, is burdened by a decades’ old joke with a Henny Youngman delivery: “I went to the fights last night and a hockey game broke out.” Ba-dum-ba-dum.

    Professional hockey relishes violence; fighting gets bums in seats. The rink itself is too small for massive, aggressive players, and even with so-called legal hits the bone-shattering laws of physics strike home with a force that defies the protection afforded by a simple helmet. The hit by Liambas, a player with a paltry few points this season, is the biggest, most recent example of the frightful outcome of these laws.

    The violence, to no little degree, is provoked by the media and fans thirsting for blood. To wit, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada opened Saturday night with Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting) as the musical background for a package of NHL highlights, including fights.

    Mere minutes after the game’s opening face off, the Toronto Maple Leafs were down two goals to the Calgary Flames. Leaf Colton Orr smashes Brian McGrattan’s face with his fists. The crowd cheers wildly.

    Next, McGrattan’s blood-splattered mug is close up in camera frame with this statement from the colour commentator: “If you’re a tough guy, that’s what you want the other guy to look like.”

    That brawling message from Hockey Night in Canada, a show that boasts two million viewers a game, was loud and clear: why shouldn’t tough guy Liambas smash rookie Fanelli’s face and skull? That’s his job.

    A minute later, the travesty continues. Before the face off after the second Calgary goal, a staged fight takes place between Leaf Jamal Mayers and Flame Brandon Prust, a 70th-round draft pick with an impressive seven points in 60 games and 172 penalty minutes.

    The hockey doesn’t matter. Hockey Night in Canada’s commentator analyzes the situation this way: “The Calgary goals took the life right out of the building.” The fights placated the howling fans and replaced what was missing in the game.

    In belting Fanelli, Liambas’s junior hockey career is over even though hockey at the highest level had urged him to seek the big hit. In a different way, he’s a victim too. He made the wrong decision behind the net, but he had little choice because it was what the game expected him to do: hit very hard.

    A recent minor hockey game demonstrates what hockey has lost sight of – respect for the game and the opponent. Waterloo parent Catherine Fife tells a tale of the minor peewee Waterloo Ice Wolves, who competed in the Flamborough Face-Off Tournament earlier this month. There, she writes in an email, the spirit of the game was redeemed roughly one week after Fanelli’s gut-wrenching injury.

    “Sometimes it’s easy to lose the spirit of a game, and certainly hockey has had its ups and downs over the years. Often the negative attention is legitimate. Players, coaches and certainly parents lose perspective and get lost along the way.”

    The Wolves eventually lost to the Georgina Blaze in the tournament final. “Our proudest moment though came as they hoisted their sticks to form an honour guard to the winning team, demonstrating more than sportsmanship,” said Fife. “They honoured the effort and love of the game.”

    The minor player is teacher of the pro. Sentimental? Idealistic? Sure, but better than a fractured skull and a pool of blood behind the net.

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