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Fighting in the NHL: It is Going Nowhere

By Scott Billeck

When George Parros’ head hit the ice, face-first, after a tilt with Colton Orr Tuesday night, the Twitter universe blew up like a sale rack on Black Friday. “Fighting shouldn’t be part of the game,” they said. “Someone is going to die,” others remarked.

People freaked out and jumped aboard the NHL’s pacifist bandwagon. If there was a number for the Whaaa-mbulance, it would have been overloaded with calls.

The fact is, and will always remain: Fighting is going nowhere.

Colton Orr, on the ice with George Parros on Tuesday night.

Colton Orr, on the ice with George Parros on Tuesday night.

There is a group of people that think it is old — caveman if you will — to suggest that fighting still has its place in the National Hockey League. I believe it is neither old nor caveman to suggest that hockey needs fighting to remain accountable.

A prime example of this happened right after the Toronto-Montreal game.  The Winnipeg Jets were in a dog fight with the Edmonton Oilers when Ladislav Smid took a run at Jets’ rookie Mark Scheifele. Not only did he hit him from behind, he then cross-checked Scheifele in the back of the head.

After the events that transpired at the Bell Centre, people took the cyber-waves to denounce fighting. Two hours later they were calling for Smid’s head, begging for Jets’ enforcer, Chris Thorburn, to go out and fight someone – to stand up for his teammate.

Why the change of heart? What happens if Thorburn (or whoever) knocked Smid (or someone else) out cold, head smacked onto the ice, etc.

Pick a side of the fence and stay on it.

Fighting keeps players accountable, there is a price to pay if you do something stupid – the players will tell you this themselves. People made the comment that “fighting isn’t in any other sport, so why have it in hockey?”

My retort is simple: It should be.

Baseball, for instance, has no accountability for beaning a player with a ball. Sure you get those stupid bench clearing moments, but whatever happens in those? I will tell you what does happen: A fastball to the face.

Yes, in baseball, instead of settling a dispute with a 30 second tilt, a pitcher takes the coward’s way out and tries to kill a player with a 90 mph fastball to the dome. But that’s okay, right? Revenge rules?

In football you can’t fight so what do you do? Bounties! Instead of diffusing a situation with a nice scrap between players, said players (and coaches) put up money in return for violence on the field. Why not? You can’t get a “release” any other way, so sure, put some money on it and call it a day.

Colton Orr vs. Buffalo's John Scott

Colton Orr vs. Buffalo’s John Scott

We can go on and on, but in the end, fighting remains a constant in hockey, not only because of its uniqueness to the game itself, but because it “polices” its players when the officials don’t do it. And far too often, the officials don’t do it.

Another common theme that pertains to fighting is the argument that hockey will die if fighting is kept in the game, that parents will choose to keep their sons and daughters out of the game because they are afraid of the consequences.

As parents then, you might as well stop them from driving, walking down the street, and eating. Hell, might as well not even conceive in the first place because of the risks during pregnancy.

The cost to play hockey will kill off the game long before fighting ever will. Not every parent can afford the financial strain that comes with hockey. But the excuse that hockey is too dangerous for my son our daughter is quite rare.

And if the ballet studio is just down the street, use it.

My best childhood memories came from playing organized hockey, and fighting didn’t come until later. Like now. I am a full grown adult, I make my own decisions and I understand the risk if I get into a fight in beer league. And so do NHL players, the ones that have seen it as a staple of the game since they were 16.

If you don’t like fighting in hockey, watch darts, watch tennis, watch soccer. No one forces you to turn on the game. If you decide hockey is for you, then suck it up, buttercup. Fighting is a part of hockey like pepperoni is a part of pizza.

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