With the rise in the number of instigator penalties this season, Chris Lovell examines the effect on the game.
I have followed hockey for years, but I really bought into the sport when the Giants were formed in 2000 and the main thing on my mind? Fighting.
As I’ve become more educated on the sport I’ve realised there is so much more to it. The ultimate goal is simple, score more goals than the other team.
So why does the sport need fighting?
And why is it accepted by leagues and DOPS boards across the world?
Surely a puck can be smashed in the net without a glove being dropped?
Hockey is such a fast sport that you could have 10 officials on the ice and they wouldn’t see every infringement, this is were fighting comes in. A player who makes a dirty play and isn’t called for a penalty runs the risk of being taken to task for their action by one of the opposing teams tough guys. This is followed by the mandatory 5 minute major penalty for fighting and, depending on the officials reading of the situation, one of the players may receive the, much maligned, instigator penalty. At 2+5+10, this 17 minutes’ worth of penalties essentially removes that player for the guts of a period.
The main argument around the instigator rule is whether it is the play that instigated the fight or the player. From a personal stand point it’s the play and the subsequent non-call by the referee that causes the fight and forces the reaction of the player.
This was a rule handed out sparingly in recent seasons but has been awarded 15 times so far this term with a total of 30 fights (as of 6/11/18). Does this signify the league’s desire to remove fighting from the game? And could hockey ever exist without fighting? These are questions we all will have our own opinions on, which is great, as it leads to some very passionate debates over a pint or on Twitter.
If you have seen the brilliant documentary Ice Guardians you can’t help but be emotional when you hear from enforcers from yesteryear describe the injuries, both physical and mental, they have suffered, and continue to suffer, due to expectations set by themselves, their employers and perhaps more than most, their own fans.
Do we have fans have a case to answer in expecting one of our own players to put their health on the line in the perceived defence of another player or our city? It’s one which I wrangle with, as the argument could be made the play has already happened. So our player feeding someone their teeth won’t affect the previous play but again, we are all screaming when a player decides to drop their gloves.
So questions we should all consider are, if hockey gets to a point where fighting is no longer accepted will this lower our appreciation of the sport? Or will we appreciate the skill of the players more?
I for one enjoy the skilful aspects on show but never want to see fighting be removed from the sport. However the most difficult question to answer is, without enforcers will the skilful players have enough protection to play to their full potential? Could Gretzky have been so good without the likes of McSorely? Would DJ be such a rat without Vandy to back him up?
They are questions I never want to see answered.
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Words: Chris Lovell Photos: Belfast Giants / Presseye / Coventry Blaze
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