January 02, 2009

Don Sanderson is dead.: Will it mean anything? Unlikely.

posted by DrJohnEvans to hockey at 12:13 PM - 17 comments

The blogger who wrote that seems to have a cloudy memory of a few things. Moore's injury at the hands of Bertuzzi was not sustained during a fight in response to a clean hit. First of all, he threw an elbow, it was not a clean hit. (Not justifying Bertuzzi's actions, though.) The attack from behind that caused the injury was not sustained in a fight. In fact, had Moore fought when he was challenged (twice) Bertuzzi would probably not have resorted to the jackass move in the first place. In short, Moore's injury was caused in response to his refusal to fight, so to involve it in this anti-fighting discussion is inappropriate. I'm not justifying Bertuzzi, just wondering why this guy brought it up in the context of this tragic loss of life.

Sadly, there was a death on the ice. So that makes the sport of hockey and its "code of silence" (whatever the hell that means) barbaric. Banning fighting in hockey because of one tragic death. By that logic, should we ban driving cars, swimming in the ocean (or a bathtub) or flying? Does this esteemed author give any other examples of deaths caused by fighting in hockey? In his depth of understanding based on one sad occurrence, there is something inherently flawed with the sport of hockey and those who defend the traditions of the game.

I've said it before and I stand by it. I really don't like to watch fighting in hockey. It's not what has attracted me to the game as a fan and a player for the last 30 years. But it is a part of the game. I would like to see it become a rarity, but not because of an across the board ban imposed by alarmists. The self-policing of the game is done by men who choose to fight and who understand that what they are doing is dangerous. One freak accident leading to very sad consequences should not dictate policy in a game.

posted by tahoemoj at 12:52 PM on January 02, 2009

Banning fighting in hockey because of one tragic death. By that logic, should we ban driving cars, swimming in the ocean (or a bathtub) or flying?

The purpose of a fight is to hurt somebody. Injuries aren't incidental; they're the point of the act.

However, I don't know that this tragedy is really a consequence of fighting at all. Hockey players are far more at risk of serious head and neck injuries from crashes into the boards than they are falling awkwardly during a fight.

I'd put this death alongside Steve Yeager's gruesome throat injury, Don Slaught's terrible beaning and Mike Coolbaugh's death in baseball. Accidents happen.

posted by rcade at 01:02 PM on January 02, 2009

In a hockey fight, when the two players go to the ice, there is rarely another punch thrown. One player has won the fight, one has lost, and rarely does one sustain an injury. And I really don't consider a bloody nose or black eye an injury so much as superficial mark. So I guess I disagree that the purpose of a hockey fight is to hurt somebody. Most of the fighters in the NHL and other hockey leagues would tell you that they have no intention of hurting anyone, but just letting them know that if the disrespect the elite players on the ice, there can be consequences. That deters dirty play more than any two minutes in a penalty box can. That is the point of the act.

posted by tahoemoj at 01:22 PM on January 02, 2009

I have long been a proponent of fighting in hockey. To me it gives the players a means to release any feelings of anger toward an opponent without resorting to cheap shots. I think that dirty play is far more likely to cause serious injury than a good, old fashioned bare knuckles fight.

Last Tuesday, December 30, Tim Wallace of Pittsburgh and Boston's Milan Lucic had a fight. Wallace wears a visored helmet, and in a gesture of fairness, for which he received much positive comment, he removed it. Lucic removed his conventional helmet in return, and the two had at it. As they began swinging, I thought of Sanderson's injury and immediately held my breath. These were 2 strong men on skates, and either could easily have fallen to the ice head first. Frankly, I was scared. For the first time, I began to doubt the place of fighting in hockey.

I still think that fighting is not the worst thing, but with Sanderson's death, I wonder if it is worth it. I would not want to see an angry player, denied the possibility of a fight to redress grievances, take to swinging his stick, attempting a low check, or pushing an opponents face into the glass. But as I said above, I'm afraid that a Sanderson style incident will happen again. Thus, I'm caught in a dilemma. Where do we go from here?

posted by Howard_T at 02:15 PM on January 02, 2009

I've got to assume, Howard, that you have no problem with two football players taking off their helmets and having it out on the field of play. Or, say, Jimmy Connors, back in the day, having heard enough of McEnroe, just gave him a shot to the jaw up at the net. ...just to release any feelings of anger... How about lacrosse? Water polo? Regular polo? Basketball? Wasn't Kermit's shot at Tomjanovich just meant to release a feeling of anger? Why is hockey the ony sport where this is not considered assault? Even baseball frowns on it after a 100 mph head-buster.

posted by bobfoot at 10:30 PM on January 02, 2009

Full disclosure: I've never played hockey - apparently that makes a difference in the morality issue. Bunk.

posted by bobfoot at 10:35 PM on January 02, 2009

Wallace wears a visored helmet, and in a gesture of fairness, for which he received much positive comment, he removed it.

There's actually a rule about visors and fights. But the player has to be tagged as an instigator first.

Face Protection - If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Should the player (including a goalkeeper) who instigates the fight be wearing a face shield, but removes it before instigating the altercation, the additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shall not apply.

posted by goddam at 11:39 PM on January 02, 2009

I've never played hockey - apparently that makes a difference in the morality issue. Bunk.

But it does make a difference, and the fact is that you don't understand the role of the enforcer on the ice. Throughout its history, hockey has realized that a few minutes in the penalty box, or even a major or match penalty, is not really a deterrent for cheap shots. There is always the possibility that some low skill level thug will take a cheap shot at one of your highly skilled (and highly paid) players. Now, you're out one of your team leaders for the period, the game, or the season and, if the thug gets caught, the other team might be short one nobody for two to ten minutes. The game found a way to deter this from happening, in the form of the enforcer. Traditionally, these guys were barely serviceable hockey players who only set foot on the ice when it was time to send a message. Lately, the skill levels of the enforcers, dictated by the requirements of the modern game, have greatly increased. However, just because these guys can contribute in other ways, they know what their job is. Why do you think that wherever Wayne Gretzky went, Marty Mcsorely followed?

There is no morality involved, and it is a misconception that hockey fights are based on emotion. I played hockey for 25 years, and I have been in exactly 2 fights. That doesn't mean I played the game without emotion, my role was to remain on the ice to help our team win. If you look at fights in hockey as a release of a feeling of anger or frustration, you don't understand the dynamic of the hockey fight. In the vast majority of fights in hockey, there is no animosity or anger toward the opponent. In the vast majority of cases, the fighters are like a boxer or MMA fighter, in that they are doing their job, nothing more or less.

Why is hockey the ony sport where this is not considered assault?

Boxing and MMA, like I said before, come to mind. And I haven't seen too many charges filed for "assault" after fights on the court, gridiron, or diamond. These sports suspend players who fight because fighting is not part of the game. This is not the case with hockey, and you would know that if you had ever played the game. Making your point.....bunk.

posted by tahoemoj at 01:31 PM on January 03, 2009

Why don't we all agree that comments can only be made by folks who have played the sport being commented on. Sure, that would make those NASCAR and polo conversations a bit brief, but it's all for the good of Sportsfilter, eh?

posted by avogadro at 01:39 PM on January 03, 2009

bobfoot, hockey is the only sport among the several you mention (with the exception of baseball and lacrosse) in which the players carry something that could be used as a weapon. Also, the physical layout of the hockey playing surface makes it probable that a cheap shot will result in serious injury. Thus, some sort of release is a better idea than cheap shots. There have been plenty of instances on a football field where a player has been deliberately fouled (by a low block usually) and sustained a serious injury. Perhaps if a harmless fight had been allowed, with appropriate penalties, perhaps including ejection, being applied, the deliberate act would not have occurred. The same goes for any sport, and the difference being that falling headfirst on a grass field is a lot less hazardous than doing so on an ice surface. The point is that the equipment and playing environment attributes of the game, coupled with its speed, make the run of play in hockey more dangerous than the other games.

My original point was that I recognized and agreed with the sentiment that fighting has a place in hockey, but that the Sanderson incident has me questioning that sentiment. I have given it some thought in the past few hours, and I am still in a quandary. Should those who engage in a fight be given a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension? It is the rule in collegiate hockey, but is it a good idea in the professional game? I think not. My reason is that even now too many teams try to send a less-skilled player onto the ice with the intent of goading the opponent's best into a fight. In essence this amounts to trading a "goon" for a star for 5 minutes or more. That's hardly fair, but how do you identify it and prevent it? So what's the solution? I'd like to see more comment.

posted by Howard_T at 01:45 PM on January 03, 2009

I don't want to get in a pissing contest over this, but, sure, I'll bite. The previous comment showed a lack of understanding of the dynamics and motivations involved in most hockey fights. As one with a certain experience level, I thought I'd point out something that he was missing. Then I included a word he had used in his post, I hoped, to comedic effect.

Never did I suggest that someone should not be allowed to comment on a sport they had never played. From a position of knowledge, I found what I felt was a flaw in a fellow commenter's point, and I addressed it. And that is what Sportsfilter is all about. Thanks for the witty sarcasm, though. It was clever.

posted by tahoemoj at 01:53 PM on January 03, 2009

On review, I had not read tahoemoj's comment above before I posted my latest. I agree for the most part that hockey fights are generally without emotion, but that in nearly all cases are retaliatory in nature. It still holds true that even without the emotion, fighting is a cleaner way of "getting even" than a cheap shot.

Disclaimer: I never played hockey other than on the local pond or in inter-fraternity games in college. Even at that, I have 2 bad knees for my efforts. I think that most of us have enough of an understanding of the sports upon which we comment, even if we never played them, that we can contribute to an intelligent discourse. SpoFites seem to be very good at this.

posted by Howard_T at 01:55 PM on January 03, 2009

One of the reasons I stay far, far away from any NBA-related thread is because I just don't understand the game of basketball. I know you throw the ball into the hoop in an effort to outscore your opponent, but I have zero ability to identify the nuances of the game. Or the positions. Or the actual plays. I literally have no idea how it all works. However, if I had played the game, I may have a more in-depth understanding of how it all works. And why? And by who?

I'm not saying that you have to have played a sport to understand it, but it certainly does help. Maybe that point has been made because when a tragedy like this occurs, a lot of the comments seem to be from people who simply don't understand the game, the role of the enforcer, fighting, momentum swings. And simply see fighting in hockey as assault or barbaric act with no importance at all in the game. That just isn't true.

This tragedy was caused by a players head hitting the ice, which could have occurred during a rush, or a dump in or even a line change. In this case, it happened to be after a fight. Tragedy? Yes. Freak accident? Yes. Reason to change the game? No.

In case it is important, I did play, I still do play and have been in quite a few tussles on the ice. Only one can really be marked down as a fight though.

Hey Howard, last year we mapped out a new helmet design in an attempt to reduce concussions, 'member?. I'm not sure we spent enough time on the chinstrap.

posted by BoKnows at 07:01 PM on January 03, 2009

As someone that has played a fair amount of hockey, though very little at a level at which fighting was allowed, I think it is a bit of an over-simplification to say that NHL fighting is not done on an emotional level. Sure, there are the enforcer related fights, however, I don't think the enforcer explains the fights one sees towards the end of a game that out of reach, or those in the playoffs in which one team is about to close out a series. Frustration accounts for those fights, not enforcer mentality.

That the high school and college levels seem to be able to play without fighting makes me question the need for it in the NHL. Though I think the league will be slow to take action as the fans tend to love the fights.

This past week's outdoor game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings brought back memories. All the games for the first 10 years I played were outside! Tough sport to say the least!

posted by dviking at 12:37 AM on January 04, 2009

Yes, Bo, now that you mention it, I do remember the discussion. I'm not sure whether your chin strap comment is tongue-in-cheek or not, but if not, perhaps the helmet should be more difficult to remove. I too see the Sanderson tragedy as something of a freak accident, but one that was very preventable. Let's face it, as I said before, the very structure of hockey makes it arguably the most dangerous of team sports. Nearly every year I hear of the death or crippling injury of a player, and not always the result of a fight or dirty play. Here in the Greater Boston area we frequently see the video of Travis Roy, playing the first shift of his collegiate career for Boston University. He was in an overzealous attempt to check a player, somehow tripped, and wound up going headfirst into the end boards. He is a quadriplegic, but still continues to work as a motivational speaker and with the Travis Roy Foundation. travisroyfoundation.org

I still can't see how the game of hockey can be made safer without ruining the game. That is my dilemma.

posted by Howard_T at 03:33 PM on January 04, 2009

Not meant tongue in cheek Howard_T. I meant simply that if the helmets don't stay on, then it doesn't matter how good the helmet is. (I know that this wasn't the case is this incident, and that the helmets are sometimes removed as pointed out by goddam above.) But I still believe this can happen at anytime, during any play of the game. So an effective method of actually keeping the helmet on, I think, would reduce the chance of something similar ever happening again. Chinstraps can be effective if used properly. Some players do, most don't.

posted by BoKnows at 05:01 PM on January 04, 2009

I've said it before and I stand by it. I really don't like to watch fighting in hockey

I'm on the other spectrum since I actually like a little hockey while watching a fight.

posted by BornIcon at 08:39 AM on January 06, 2009

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