There was a time when I watched a hockey game and if there wasn’t a fight I felt ripped off.
I loved a good scrap; so much so that when Steve Dryden offered me a position at The Hockey News in 1992, I took the job on the condition I would never have to write an anti-fighting story. I was well-aware of Dryden’s stance that there is no place for fighting in hockey and I did not share the sentiment.
How the times have changed. I have not yet completely sided with the anti-fighting movement, but I am close. Very close. I no longer have a thirst to see two huge men pound on each other even though the dinosaur in me understands why the game needs such an outlet.
If I could identify a turning point, it was opening night of the 2013-14 season when enforcers Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs and George Parros of the Montreal Canadiens engaged in a fight that left Parros lying on the ice in a semi-conscious state. It hit home how close we were to witnessing a death as a result of a hockey fight.
I have yet to shake that sickening feeling.
I don’t turn my head away or run for the exit when a fight breaks out, but I am quite uneasy watching players slug each other in the head, especially in light of all we have learned about concussions and the permanent damage that is inflicted due to head trauma.
More than anything, I hate the scripted fight where two players who have little-to-no value to their team other than their ability to fight come off the benches and fight simply to justify their existence.
What also scares me about fighting is how the "take down" has become a part of the deal. I believe mixed martial arts fighting has had an influence on hockey fights and it is no longer enough for two players to stand toe-to-toe and trade punches. Many fights end with one player throwing the other down and this results in players’ heads bouncing off the ice.
I must admit I feel a little hypocritical in that I was somewhat disappointed when the linesmen stepped in between Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche and Dion Phaneuf of the Maple Leafs Tuesday night as they were about to fight. The fans who wanted to see the former teammates scrap booed loudly.
The difference is, I did not feel ripped off that the fight did not take place.
There seems to be a trend in the NHL of teams getting rid of players who do little more than fight. The Maple Leafs demoted their two designated fighters, Orr and Frazer McLaren, and they have been healthy scratches in the American League with the Marlies. The Philadelphia Flyers sent their tough guy, Zack Stortini, to the minors, too.
The Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks are recent examples of teams that won the Stanley Cup without a designated fighter. Other teams are catching on.
The life of the designated fighter is on the clock. I believe the same can be said for fighting in general. I, for one, will not miss it.