Why Is There Fighting In Hockey?
That’s a question that’s been asked by many. Hockey fights are not just two guys who get mad it each other. There are unwritten rules, a fighter code, and other reasons a novice fan might not know about hockey fights.
This year we’ve seen a lot of hockey fights in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. The culmination of the fighting so far was the epic brawl between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. For the casual and non-fan, they often love this part of the game but they don’t truly understand why the NHL of all the major sporting leagues is the only one that allows fighting.
To be clear, hockey fights are technically against the rules. Hockey fights can result in a five minute major. That means the player who is charged with the fighting major will sit in the penalty box for the full five minutes. This is unlike any of the other major sports where fighting would normally result in a immediate expulsion from the game and a likely suspension. There are scenarios with hockey fights were you can be kicked out of the game but for this post we wont discuss them.
So why does the NHL allow fighting? There are a few reasons why…
Reason #1 Hockey fights provide a way for the players to police themselves.
Hockey is an extremely physical sport which has the potential to get out of hand at times. When things get out of hand, via a huge hit for example, the team whose player who took the hit may want to defend their teammate and make the player who hit him become physically responsible for his actions. By having to answer to a hockey fight this player and his teammates may be reluctant to try to make another big hit.
Another example is running a team’s goaltender. There’s nothing that gets teammates to defend one another more than when an opposing team’s player runs the goalie. One of the unwritten rules of hockey is that you don’t go after team’s goalies. This is up for debate but is an unwritten rule among players regardless. Hockey fights will break out if a goalie goes to play a puck and gets run. This is about defending a teammate more than making sure it doesn’t happen again.
The main reason for only penalizing fighting with five minutes is that it’s a way to police the game so when things do get out of hand, the players will be able to respond. It doesn’t always keep things honest among opponents with regards to cheap hits but it’s a reasonable option to have for the players to police themselves. Hockey fights can have a tendency, especially in regular season games, to close the chapter on an altercation. However, in the playoffs like in the Ottawa Montreal series, there will be hockey fights game after game because of the hit on Lars Eller.
Reason #2 Hockey Fights are a great way to change the momentum of a game.
Hockey fights can create an immediate energy boost to the teams in the fight. If a player gets into a fight you will see the entire bench rise to their feet and bang their sticks. Hockey fights can inspire a team, especially if it’s the team’s captain dropping the gloves. This new found energy can help change the momentum of a game. Recently, a turning point in the Islanders game was attributed to Kyle Okposo’s hockey fight that swung the momentum in favor of his team. This lead to a victory for the Islanders. You could see the momentum swing in the Islanders favor immediately after the hockey fight. The Islander players had an extra jump in their stride. This is a great example of how hockey fights can change the momentum for a team.
Reason #3 Hockey Fights Provide Entertainment Value.
There’s no question that everyone from casual fans to long time expert fans get excited about hockey fights. You’ll see everyone in the arena stand up and cheer. Even the players will get up from off the bench and lean over the side. Hockey fights are here to stay for that reason alone. This is a business and the entertainment value of hockey fights is unmatched. There’s no other major sport that offers this. It’s also a great way to get a casual fan to go see a game live where they can truly appreciate the skill of the players.
Those are three of the main reasons why hockey fights are allowed.