Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Costello: "Two Minutes for Bullying Isn't Enough"

TSP came across this column written by THN's Brian Costello today, and we couldn't help posting on it because it is the most logical, constructive piece we've seen on fighting in the NHL this season.

With Ray Emery's snow job on Braden Holtby bringing fighting and bullying into the consciousness of the common hockey fan this season, everybody has been talking about whether or not fighting is good for the game or bad for the game. What is a good fight? What is a bad fight?

In his column, Costello states that scripted fights between voluntary assailants is not nearly as bad as what Andrew Ference did to Lee Stempniak on Saturday night in Calgary (see video above). We'll let Costello take it from here:

My pet peeve of the season is about the league being too tolerant with bullies. Bullies in this case being players who start fights with opponents who have no interest in dropping the gloves.

A recent example happened Saturday night when the Edmonton Oilers visited the Calgary Flames.

Closing in on a loose puck in the corner, Calgary’s Lee Stempniak decked Edmonton defenseman Andrew Ference to the ice with a 100 percent clean shoulder-to-shoulder check.

Ference was clearly disturbed that he was outmuscled in his own end by an opponent in his same weight class (5-foot-11, 190-ish pounds). He skated over to Stempniak, tried to engage a fight, then dropped his gloves and started punching. Stempniak had no interest in fighting and was held back from trying to return to the play. After taking a few punches to the face, Stempniak fell to the ice and emerged with a bloody chops and spitting out a displaced tooth.

Nice work Ference. Very classy. Bet you feel great about yourself for doing that. Whatever happened to the age-old notion of getting the guy’s numbers and returning the favor with a clean hit the next battle for a loose puck? I guess it’s easier being a bully.

The two players got five minutes each for fighting and Ference got an extra two for roughing. In my mind, that’s not enough. I’d implore the league to investigate bullying cases such as these and issue supplementary discipline. Thuggery like that shouldn’t be permitted. Say what you want about the dancing bears out on the ice and their scripted fights, but at least they both willing participants.

Punching an opponent simply because he got the better of you on a hockey play should not be tolerated. An extra two minutes is not nearly enough. It’s far more damaging to the game than scripted fights.

Costello's argument struck me as the most sensible, compassionate take on the NHL's true problem with fighting. The fact is that some players are interested in playing the game the proper way. Clean hits, crisp passes, hard skating, so on and so forth. They don't want to fight, and haven't developed the techniques to protect themselves out there on the ice. Should they really be hassled into a fight when all they want to do is join the rush, gather up the puck and help their teams win? And should the NHL really continue to discourage truly talented (and yes, tough) hockey players by allowing bullies to take offense and punch their faces in whenever they make a clean hit or good play on them?

I mean really, why not just grab Martin St. Louis after he scores a goal and punch a hole in his throat, a-la Dale Hunter on Pierre Turgeon? If Ference is allowed to punch Stempniak in the face every which way just because he got lit up by him along the boards, where do we draw the line?

There is too much of this dog doo in hockey at every level, and the true playmaking and creativity suffers at the expense of lugheads who choose fisticuffs as their only mode of competition (in Ference's case he has other modes, but you get our drift). The NHL is stifled, with leaden-skating, swollen-knuckled fourth lines and minor leagues full of inherently violent yahoos, and yet the culture of hockey is that it's all good because everybody wants to see blood on the ice when they pay for a ticket?

Hockey is pathetic for thinking that it needs this junk in the game. I'm sorry but it really is.

This is just one example of about fifty that we will see between now and Christmas, by the way. It's not just Ray Emery, or Andrew Ference. It happens every night on every sheet of ice, from the NHL to mites.

It would be so easy to stop if the boys at the top just had the courage. And it would be so good for the quality of the game, from top to bottom.

Anyhow, we'll get off our soapbox now. Just wanted to give a sticktap to Costello for a job well done.