By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) — Saturday night, the hockey world was abuzz in the wake of an all-out, Slapshot style line-brawl between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
20 years ago, fights like this were somewhat commonplace in the NHL. The game was full of goons…players who served one function and one function only…to fight. Sure, there were the occasional Bob Probert / Darren McCarty types who could fight and play the game, but more often than not, NHL rosters featured at least one bona-fide goon.
Well, the NHL game is changing. Fighting majors are way down, and the classic goon of yesteryear is nearly extinct.
For the Blackhawks, winger Brandon Bollig would be the closest player you could label as an “enforcer.” However, he only has three fighting majors on the season, and has become a regular contributor to the Blackhawks’ 4th line.
Bollig joined the McNeil and Spiegel Show on Tuesday, and discussed the current state of fighting in the NHL, and his conscious decision to improve himself as a player as a means to extend and preserve his hockey career.
Dan McNeil: Why is (the Calgary / Vancouver brawl) a good thing, if it is a good thing, for your game?
Brandon Bollig: I don’t know if I would say it’s necessarily a good thing, because I know that there are many people that have the opinion that maybe makes us look like barbarians, and it kind of downplays the actual skill part of the sport. As far as what it does for the sport? I could see plenty of people that didn’t have the greatest opinion of what happened, but you can see the other end of the spectrum with somebody watching their first hockey game ever…if they see five guys go at it with another five guys right off the opening draw in their first game ever watching, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind tuning into another game, thinking that might happen again.
DM: (You’re) surprising some people with your skill.
BB: It feels good. That’s something I was focused on a lot this offseason and it seems to be paying off. I feel great and I can only hope to keep it going.
Matt Spiegel: It sounds like you’ve realized that you’re not going to make it by just being a bruiser, or just being a fighter, and you’ve tried to expand your game.
BB: Oh exactly. I know (the Blackhawks’) mindset and their opinion on the guys that only fight and can’t play the game too much, and I knew they weren’t too fond of that type of player. It’s no secret…obviously fighting is what got me into the league, and I think expanding that role and that ice time is what’s going to keep me here, and hopefully prolong my career.
MS: Do you miss fighting?
BB: I love that part of the game. I love doing it and I love how pumped up my teammates get and how pumped up the crowd gets. I’d say I miss it, yes, but I also like the aspect of scoring goals, so I don’t miss it too much.
Say what you will about Bollig and his role on the Blackhawks, but this is a player who has worked hard to improve his game, and it’s shown. Over one offseason, he’s gone from an enforcer worthy of an occasional game here or there to an everyday contributor . Quenneville has trusted Bollig and his linemates (Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith) in key moments of the game, and regularly used the 4th line against the opposition’s top players.
Check out the entire Bollig interview with McNeil and Spiegel here.
For another take on fighting in hockey, check out Scott Lindholm’s column from CBSChicago.com