"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Kanadian Korner #2
Rock'em Sock'em Hockey

These guys are Americans and not really brothers, but we won't hold that against them. Many decry fighting in hockey, and while I dislike goonery and cheap shots and think Don Cherry long ago became a parody of himself, I do think fisticuffs have a place in the game. Now there is a book that makes the case that fights actually reduce the number of cheap shots and high sticks-- something almost anyone who has played the game knows. It also has some great stories in it, like this one from Dave Hanson:

The stories in the book are worth the price of admission, so much fun. My
favorite was a doozy that Dave Hanson told in which he wound up going at it with
none other than the great Bobby Hull. Dave, of course, was one of the famous
fighting "Hanson Brothers" from the classic movie "Slap Shot."

"The most memorable fight I ever got into over my career would have to
be the one with Bobby Hull, probably the biggest star in the game at the time,"
Hanson recalled. "I was with Birmingham and we were playing Winnipeg. I was
trying to establish myself as a player in the league and make an impact, so I
was playing pretty physical. Well, I am out there skating around and I run into
Bobby, which was like running into a brick s--- house. He just bowled me over.
So, when the next opportunity came later on in the game, I gave it back to him
pretty good. Bobby took offense and dropped his gloves, so I followed suit.

"We were just going at it with lefts and rights, and then, all of a
sudden, he just stopped. You could have heard a pin drop in there at that
moment. So, I looked up at the crowd and it was like everybody was just frozen.
I looked back at Bobby and I am thinking to myself, 'Something doesn't quite
look right here.' Sure enough, I looked down at my hand and I'll be damned if
his wig wasn't caught in my knuckles. I had somehow caught it and ripped it
right off of his head. It was unbelievable.

"They tossed me in the box and threw the book at me. I got two minutes
for elbowing, five minutes for fighting and 10 minutes for pulling hair. Well,
Bobby skated off and came back out with a helmet after that. Later on, I wound
up in the faceoff circle with him and said, 'Mr. Hull, I am really sorry.' Bobby
just looked at me, smiled and said in his deep, raspy voice, 'Ah, don't worry
about it kid, I needed a new one anyhow.' Bobby and I later became good friends,
but to this day, we have never spoken of that night."

I've met Bobby Hull a few times at amateur hockey events and I know he and his high scoring son were estranged for many reason. Bobby didn't strike me as the nicest guy in the room. He was cocky, a bit arrogant and self satisfied and seemed to be a bit of a bully-type jock. I won't say more than that for the simple reason that despite my being six feet tall and two hundred and (cough, mumble) pounds and 27 years younger than him, the Golden Jet could still rip me in two with one hand while stick handling with the other and not raise a sweat even 26 years after he played his last pro hockey game. And even that would hurt less than stepping in front of one of his famous slapshots, which I am sure age has slowed to below his old muzzle velocity of 120 miles per hour, say down to 115 mph. Although I still haven't forgiven him for jumping to the WHL.

Ross Bernstein's book, "The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL." apparently talks at lenght about why and when hockey players fight. I haven't managed to get my hands on a copy yet, but from what I've seen written about it, he seems to make a good case for what most players and fans know to be true: that fighting exists in the game as a way of enforcing the rules. It is, in a weird way, democratic and honorable and above all effective at keeping the sticks down and limiting the cheap shots.

If you know Marty McSorely is going to tear you a new one if you even try it, you are not going to take a whack at Wayne Gretzky's ankle. And if you do try it and you back away from taking your punishment, then it's open season on your ass everytime you step on the ice. The ref may not see you do it, but Wayne will feel it and Marty will know about it, as sure as Michael knew it was Fredo that betrayed him and will deal with it in much the same way. So you play by the rules or else.

That is why fighting is a part of hockey and hopefully always will be.

But please, no foil.

1 comment:

jj said...

Yes! I love hockey fights! That's the only thing I don't like about the playoffs, there's less fighting.