Bernstein: Hockey Fighting On The Way Out

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) It has taken years to reach this point, but the combination of medicine, awareness, tragedy and marketing sense has pushed hockey to the brink of real culture change. The movement to end the pointless savagery of fighting in the sport now has what it has long lacked:

A puncher’s chance.

The New York Times reported yesterday that USA Hockey and its counterpart Hockey Canada are advocating new rules that effectively ban fighting in the key amateur feeder-leagues to the NHL.

The Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, North American Hockey League and every other under the auspices of the two groups would have systems that function like the NCAA, where fighting has essentially been eradicated by immediate ejections and increasing, ensuing suspensions.

USA Hockey’s board of directors will vote on any proposed changes in June, and it is clear that top executives in both countries want to act swiftly.

Bob Nicholson, the CEO of Hockey Canada, told the Times: “We want to get rid of fighting as quickly as we can. Our ultimate goal is to remove fighting.”

USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean was similarly straightforward, saying: “We’re an amateur sports organization that is concerned most about the safety of our members and marketing our sport. If our penalties for fighting were more onerous, that would serve both those purposes very well.”

And somewhere, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is smiling.

Bettman has long maintained the public position that fighting has a place in the sport’s big-leagues — citing attendance figures as evidence that fans like it and doubting the possible links between fighting and brain injuries – because he fears upsetting the vocal core of Canadian cave-people and their American cousins who still cling to the erroneous belief that fighting has something to do with the actual game.

But Bettman’s no dummy. What Ogrean said about marketing holds true for a league that still lacks a real national TV deal. More significantly, the climate has changed generally after an offseason that saw the deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, the revelation that Boogaard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and the harrowing HBO Real Sports expose in which fighters described their fear and misery.

The recent efforts to reduce concussions have focused on legal hits and actions within the game itself, but it’s clear that any case for continued fighting is unsupportable, as concurrent with the trend.

Bettman may lack the guts to change the rules on his own, but he knows his game ultimately benefits from accelerated evolution. The light will shine into those caves, eventually.

Fact is, the enforcer has been on the way out for some time, with more teams opting for skill and speed to match the rules that opened up the ice. The “goon,” now, seems anachronistic and vestigial. The Olympics provided fight-free hockey for the world, with no voices crying out for more guys squaring off to slug each other. The silly ideas of “momentum change” and correlation of fighting to victory have been easily dismissed by statistical data that show no such things. Self-policing is being replaced, simply, by actual policing.

The NHL may not have to do anything, if they are willing to let fighting phase itself out. Kids will come up through youth leagues and juniors without it being a part of the game. Those who then get college scholarships will not have to adjust. It is unlikely that those generations of players reaching the NHL would then devolve into brawlers.

When the actual ban comes in the NHL, it will probably be after fighting is already gone – merely an administrative afterthought.

There will always be hard-core adherents to hockey fighting, making inane, illogical arguments as to why is must exist (rather than just saying they like the spectacle). And there will be other sports that those people can use to sublimate their bloodlust.

The rest of us will applaud the clear evidence that hockey is on the right side of history.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Hockey Fighting On The Way Out

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online).
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  • kitten graffiti

    Your Gae!

    • joker yoke

      I know a 70-something year old black woman named Gae. I wonder what she thinks of hockey fights. brb

  • similak child

    If only we could stop the air hockey fights at Chuck E Cheese, Enchanted Castle, Showbiz Pizza, bowling alley arcades, et al. It’s an epidemic!

    • big D

      lol—judging from the picture used in this article, one guy is landing a weak little punch on the side of the helmet and the other guy is doing a hand smoosh on his opponents face. yeah, that’s a concussion right there!!!!

    • Cameltoe Rancher


  • Zo

    The NHLPA did it’s yearly survey of 318 active NHL players. The question if fighting should be completely abolished from the game was asked, 98% replied No. The players understand fighting’s place in the game and want it to stay.

    Here is the link to the survey

  • Matt

    Answering ‘No’ to the question ‘should it be abolished’ doesn’t mean that players believe it’s an intrinsic part of the game. I think it’s probably more accurate that they acknowledge it’s popularity among the fans, a key aspect to a sport that has the smallest audience among the four major team sports. Also, the ‘goon’ is a job-creating description; fellow association members are feeding their families because of there ability to remain on a roster because they have no reservation to throwing off the gloves. It that regard it’s similar to the designated hitter (no pun intended). By answering ‘no, it’s very possible and very likely that they’re addressing professional survival more than fundamental elements of hockey.

    • Zo

      Very well put and I definitely see what you are saying. The part of Bernstein’s arguments as stated on his show is that the players want it completely gone. The purpose of posting the link was to show that he was incorrect in that statement. NHL players don’t want fighting out of the game for whatever reason.

  • Lovie's Shiny Chin Scar

    Quit being such a gay!!! It’s hockey!! They fight!!!

  • Eye Opener

    Politically correct hockey? They want the fighting out of hockey for purely their own reasons because they know that concussions do not occur because two players are standing around knocking their helmets off for less than 20 seconds before they fall to the ice.

    The politically correct society also knows that the hits these guys take are the source for concussions. Fast skating on ice, basically flying into an opponent or their own teammate.

    Nobody should mess with professional sports. The only way to avoid concussions is not to play the sport. In football, head to head contact occurs at every play, including practice.

    We can’t be a helicopter-hover society. That’s ridiculous. Take your kids out of hockey and football if you are worried. There are other sports.

    • March First

      OMG so right on! Yeah, the politically correct elite see fighting as being so icky.

      NHL is the only sport that allows fighting and throwing hats on the ice. LEAVE THE GOD DAM SPORT ALONE!

      I agree w/you on football concussions….why is a football concussion so different than a hockey concussion?

  • Jim

    Bernstein should stick to fawning over the Cubs. Leave Hockey to the real fans.

    • Markie Maypo

      THERE IT IS! I was wondering when I’d see the first “hockey moron” posting on here. Congrats “Jim”. You’re one of the Neanderthals Bernsie refers to in the article.

      • Jim

        Your gay!!!! CUBBIES!!!!!

  • Lil' Bycracke

    Stop talking hockey!

    Talk more PSU Child Rape and Death Wishes upon Personnel!

  • Johnny Hockey Sticks

    B&B spend more afternoons maligning over fighting in hockey than they should, as it’s clear neither of them have an understanding in the game.

    Reducing concussions absolutely needs to happen, but Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Sutter and years ago Steve Moore and Eric Lindros didn’t suffer concussions from fighting – they were hit viciously by other players in the course of the game.

    The purpose of the “goon” is to protect the stars, dole out punishment on opponents who take runs at the Centers and Wingers who never fight anyone, and police the game among their peers.

    You want to reduce concussions in the game, more closely monitor and dole out harsher penalties for illegal hits to the head. Guys are bigger faster stronger than they were years ago and every hit into the boards is a risk of injury, not unlike football where every tackle mimics a car crash.

    @Eye Opener – I agree. The risks are clearly stated in contact sports. You don’t want your kids getting concussions? Have them try out for the golf or tennis team. Although I whacked my head pretty good on a diving board once so even swimming isn’t safe.

    • Max

      Johnny Hockey Sticks wrote:

      “You want to reduce concussions in the game, more closely monitor and dole out harsher penalties for illegal hits to the head.”

      HOW does that reduce a concussion if a collision (whether intentional or not) occurs? How is a harsher penalty going to help the guy with the new concussion?

      Penalties, fines, suspensions are only temporary. The hits will continue and so will the concussions.

  • juju

    Sport is filled with drunks. Fans are drunk, players are drunk, announcers are drunk, girls are drunk resulting in the creation of more drunks to support the sport in the future. Only Cub fans are worse. Hey, anyone know where the drunk, hot girls who love hockey are.


      Just out of curiosity, what is your favorite sport?

      • davy jones locker

        juju’s favorite sport is getting drunk.

  • Danielo

    I’m a bit surprised, knowing Dan’s stance on fighting in hockey, and head injuries in general, that he seems to offer up such a passive, non-urgent stance on the issue towards the end of this piece.

    “The NHL may not have to do anything, if they are willing to let fighting phase itself out.”

    This paragraph doesn’t take into consideration the extremely LONG careers of NHL players (the Blackhawks’ own Marion Hossa is on what, year 4 of his 16-year deal? I’m sure I’m only slightly exaggerating here…). There’s still potentially hundreds of 10 year-olds out there right now who will perhaps never be involved in a hockey fight, before entering an NHL that’s still inhabited by goons who don’t wanna let go of the past, and may even have more initiative to be on-ice thugs to teach the young kids to respect the “tradition” of the NHL elders. As a result, and without action, NHL games might still feature heavy doses of fighting that extend well into the next decade if they allow that aspect of the game to just be organically phased out.

    • Denver Deadite

      Goons were around for a long time, but now they’re all but gone. And it happened pretty quickly, too.


    Johnny Hockey Sticks–that’s exactly what I think.

    The game has more problems that lead to concussions. Take goaltender interference. An offensive player is supposed to have control of his body–even if he’s being shoved without the puck. No, that sounds like defensive holding or roughing. If you don’t have a puck, you don’t belong in the blue ice, period (if the rule is interpreted the way I’ve seen it called.) Yet, I’ve seen games where some lug body slams the goaltender and nothing is called. The war room should have more power to dole out penalties, fines, and suspensions, when something clearly against the spirit of the game happened and the guys on the ice missed it.

  • Zaich Zaidman's Conscience

    Wow Dan , you don’t like hockey.

  • been banned

    Dan just being his normal progressive, liberal ultra nanny state self. Outlaw everything, central authority and control over everything, and only the very few will be left to enjoy what he and his decide to allow us to be entertained with. He wants only the very poor and needy to play football (out of need), he wants hockey turned into floor hockey, and lord knows what he wants to do with people who call Pennsylvania their home. If concussions are the basis for his fight ban mantra–than the same basis has to be used for why blocking and tackling must be eliminated from football—because they lead to concussions. Where is his demand to the NFL or the Commissioner for that? Its nowhere because he knows the money for all involved in the sport, particularly for announcers and radio jocks like he and Boers, the money is so very large now, you just dont call for radical changes.

    This guy hates all traditional sports—I mean listen to his rants some afternoon, he and his half million a year sidekick or on a constant rant against all that is tradition in sports and the management of it. They detest players, owners, fans, and I have no idea why either went into this business—other than the money for both makes them bona fide 1 per centers…anyone old enough recall the days you could live on the same street with guys who were on the radio or tv? Not anymore—they’re living in a stratosphere of salary few will attain, but these two in particular are on a mission to instill in the rest of us:

    1. No cheering outloud for your team–you are called a meatball
    2. No actually attending live sporting events on their part—no interest
    3. Progressives through and through on everything. Nanny Staters

    If you know the above points are part of nearly all Dan’s rants and stances then you can easily understand why he would want fighting eliminated from the NHL, no kids ( but poor ones) to go into football, all people from Pennsylvania Napalmed, and Ryan Braun is automatically guilty because he says so.

    Nanny Stater. Its at the root of nearly all his stances in sports, and in life.

    • Danielo

      B & B have been stressing for quite some time now that the head injury epidemic faced by the NFL is pretty much unsolvable, since most of the brain damage being caused isn’t even the result of the high-speed, vicious hits that result in the concussions that everyone sees in highlights, but rather the way that 96% of the players on the field experience some slight drumming about the head on virtually every play of the game…

      In the meantime, fighting in hockey is something that in and of itself results in several, “legal”, jarring shots to the head, despite being perhaps the most unnecessary component of any sport, EVER.

      The point has nothing to with the the NFL being a major “bread-maker” for B & B (and every other member of sports media, for that matter), but rather that hockey has such an easy and obvious solution to eliminating a lot of head injuries. The result of taking fighting out of hockey and how it would impact the sport isn’t even remotely comparable to how football would be impacted by becoming non-contact .

      • End It All

        It is “solvable”….put all concussion-causing sports out of business. That is the only way.

  • notpartofthegame

    I have a blog that posts information on the negative impact of fighiting on the game of hockey – So I get a lot of “fan mail” and comments from the pro-fighting crowd and their biggest argument is the policing of the game, that enforcers make the game safer by cutting down on the cheap shots. I’ve been watching and playing hockey for almost 50 years and I have not yet seen this policing to be effective. As long as there has been fighting, there have been stick swinging incidents, butt ends in the corners, finishing checks with your elbow and slashing and spearing behind the play. So when did it work? When does it start to work? It didn’t work when teams started adding policemen in response to Shero’s Flyers in the early 70’s and it doesn’t work today. How are players being held accountable when approx 30 players fight each other in 90% of all fights. It’s a myth.

    I hope that the study being released in May, by the Junior leagues in Canada, is published for the general public. I think it will show that fighting has no impact on other penalties and that banning in in the Ontario Junior Hockey League did not lead to more cheap shots. I did a quick analysis of the past 12 NHL seasons and found that teams that fight the most also generate more non-fighting penalities than teams that don’t fight as often. In other words, the enforcing teams cause more cheap shots. So much for cleaning up the game.

    I’m glad that the Junior and College leagues are taking the right steps to eliminate fighting and can only hope that the NHL wakes up and follows the right path.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    stop tawkin’ hawkey

  • ammonia shoes

    Anyone who watches hockey only for the fights- and there are plenty of people out there who claim they do, isn’t a real fan. They’re likely insecure, over-excitable, backward-hat high-fivers who are too small-minded to understand any other part of the game.

  • solemn faced sullen bloke

    Why not just have a hard cutoff where you grandfather everyone who was playing before year 2012 can fight but anyone who comes into the league after can’t? Refs will have to stop the game to check the players’ hockey cards or team yearbooks. Some players who had a cup of coffee with a team or was a call-up but never got icetime before 2012 will get an exemption.

    Imagine as the years roll by, the last of the “fighting era” players hanging on- too concussed to know it’s time to retire.

  • Sports Facts » Leagues crackdown on fighting in hockey –

    […] saysThe ProvinceFighting called part of apprenticeshipVancouver -National Post -CBS Localall 86 news […]

  • Denver Deadite

    I enjoy hockey. I enjoy the fights in hockey.

    But if they’re gone tomorrow, I won’t become less of a fan because of it.

    If banning fighting means losing some meatballs, then hey, I’m for it even more.

  • My Nephew , Chris Nilan and the Truth … « Rick Keene ' s Le Forum de Montreal

    […] Bernstein: Hockey Fighting On The Way Out ( […]

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