The old, clichéd anti-hockey joke "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out" came to mind when I was at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. New York Rangers' enforcer
The fans at the Garden stood and cheered in unison -- loving the action and acknowledging the effort of both hometown hero Orr and opponent Boulton. Bench shots from television showed players on their feet, banging their sticks against the boards in appreciation, with many guys sharing quick quips and crooked grins. In other words, the building was energized for everyone involved -- fans, players and broadcasters alike. Two nights later in Boston,
Watching the bout in New York got me to thinking that there may be no more polarizing issue in all of sport than fighting's place in the game of hockey. For Boulton, it was simply a matter of trying to send a jolt through his teammates after a lopsided loss at home in their previous game and a couple of tentative shifts to begin the affair against the Rangers. His solution? Change it up by mixing it up, and the reaction and energy derived from his bout was positive although the Thrashers ended up losing, this time by a more respectable count of 3-2. For Ott and Avery in Boston, it was a matter of trying to drive their opponents to distraction in a close game, although their efforts ultimately backfired with the ensuing fights energizing the Bruins.
Now, I know where I stand on the whole topic. I thoroughly enjoy a good fight for all the reasons I witnessed at the Garden. I don't view it as a blight on the game, but rather as a unique aspect of the NHL that has survived scrutiny and political correctness. So be it. Fighting doesn't define or demean hockey in my mind. It is merely one of many elements that sets the game apart.
In the context of that fight in New York, both men did their respective jobs in the moment and the rest of the evening as well, sticking to skating and forechecking in select situations. For the remaining players, the game was fast-paced, well-played and had no residual cheapness or chippiness, unlike the Stars battle with the Bruins. That early bout between Orr and Boulton wasn't gratuitous -- just part of a game unfolding along the way in a long season; no different than any occurrence that might change momentum, but doesn't necessarily do so. If anything, the fights ignited by Avery and Ott also ignited the Bruins who were determined to get a hunk of Ott at all costs while making the Stars' pests think twice before engaging in disruptive actions.
Maybe people struggle with the notion of fighting existing at all because it seems like a classic contradiction: a brutish pursuit within a game capable of swift-skating beauty. To me, though, the point is that hockey is the ultimate team game and a sense of togetherness is paramount to competitive relevance. As such, answering physical challenges in the mode of survival of the fittest is often times part of the process. See: Bruins defenseman
Notice I said
It's simply a matter of choice.
To me, that's the best argument of all when it comes to the right to fight debate.