The Paradigm shift needs to start here

Tonight I took Liam to see the Vancouver Giants play the Portland Winterhawks at the Pacific coliseum. It was a fundraiser night for the Vancouver Thunderbirds, Liam’s hockey league, so the place was full of kids. Guy LaFleur was also on hand. For the most part, it was a great game: the home side won 8-4; Ryan Gallagher had a hat-trick (7 points overall), and they celebrated the return of a bunch of plays from the World U-17 & Junior championship.

But, there’s a few things that really disgusted me:

  1. One of the “highlight-of-the-night” film reels they showed on the big screen was of a recent fight. They provided play-play celebratory commentary and the crowd cheered wildly
  2. The biggest cheers of the night were all for fights – bigger than LaFleur’s ovation – bigger than the cheers for Gallagher’s hat-trick goal.
  3. While getting drinks, listening to 2 mums talking about how stupid it was to delay the introduction of hitting, one complaining that her kid was big, so she didn’t have to worry about anything happening to him.

The media talks a lot about how the hockey world needs to catch up to the public on their take on concussions and fighting. The recent NY Times piece on Derek Boogaard certainly has people I know talking about fights differently:

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And yet everyone at the rink was nuts for the fight – even so far as to have the overhead scoreboard show a graphic “It’s Clobbering time!” during a fight. And remember, these are all kids out there: 18-22 year-olds. During the intro video for Guy LaFleur, they showed him whizzing around the rink, his hair flying, helmetless. A few shots showed some players wearing helmets. They grandfathered that in. And you know where they started the change? with the kids. These days, U-17s have to wear full face protection. Juniors have to wear at least half-visors. That’s still not a requirement at the NHL level, but it shows how this could work:

  • Ban all fights. Or if not fights, all hits to the head, in fights or otherwise: teenage boys are nothing if not inventive in thinking up new ways to hurt each other. All & any contact to the head could be an immediate suspension, with minimum lengths for intent-levels.
  • Refuse to release rights to the media to show any fights or head-hits – if the media doesn’t glorify it, it might fade.
  • Remove all encouragement/fighting graphics from scoreboards
  • change the padding rules for the kids – grandfather it in as they progress up the ranks.
  • fine coaches & teams for fights, repeat offenders. Hell – punish teams via the draft if need be.

Hockey will never be a “safe” sport. But I don’t believe for a second that fighting is an integral part of the sport. I also believe that players can learn to stop, to avoid the dangerous head hits. Most people respond well to financial (dis-)incentives.

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