Violence in Hockey: Where's the Line?

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Violence in Hockey: Where's the Line?

Patrick Roy stood behind the bench of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Quebec Ramparts, as the melee erupted before him.

It was game two of a seven game playoff series and late in the second period several players from both the Ramparts and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens dropped the gloves—yet another chapter in the bitter rivalry between these two teams.  

The former Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche goalie then did something that created a firestorm of controversy, a decision that not only crossed a line, it lit-up the lines of phone-in talk-radio shows across Canada and started a raging debate in the land of hockey.

With the eye of a television camera firmly staring at Roy, the coach made a silent yell, a quick whistle, and gestured to his goalie, his son Jonathan Roy, to head to the other side of the ice where Sagueneen netminder Bobby Nadeau stood resting on the net waiting for the brawl to end.

The younger Roy pounced on Nadeau, ripped off his mask, and started pummeling him, blow after blow to the head. It was a cowardly move because it was painfully obvious Nadeau had no interest in fighting. Instead, he was doing all he could to protect himself as fist after fist connected with his body.

He fell to the ice and curled up into an almost fetal position, but that did not stop Jonathan from continuing with the beating, pelting him a couple of times in the gut for good measure. Jonathan Roy then skated off, both middle fingers extended to the Chicoutimi crowd, an almost euphoric smirk on his face.  

Patrick Roy denies ordering his son to fight, but the camera doesn't lie. For his silent yell, quick whistle and hand gesture, the elder Roy has been suspended five games, the younger seven for following daddy's orders.

Based on the actions of the Roy family, the argument being put forth by some non-sports fans is it's time to ban fighting from the game—remove the physical element and get back to good ol' fashioned hockey.

Sports fans understand that in every sport there is an acceptable amount of violence. It is expected, tolerated, and even enjoyed. 

Hockey, by its nature, is a physical game that relies on solid fore-checking and a good body jolt to get a power forward off balance. That can sometimes lead to dropped gloves and a good dust-up that usually ends in seconds rather than minutes.

Hours later, long after the final siren goes and the Zamboni is tucked away for the night, the two combatants will most likely to be found sitting together in perverts row of the local peeler joint, sipping a beer through a fat lip and laughing it all off. 

Football is another rough sport. The goal of the game is to ram in to your opponents, break through the defences, and flatten the quarterback before he gets a chance to unload the ball and score points.

It's a hard-hitting, bone-crunching sport loved by millions who, on what is supposed to be a holy day, have little problem swearing at their HDTVs when their team fumbles the ball or joyfully screaming "Ba-boooom!" when the other team's quarterback is levelled for a 12-yard-loss. It's not for the faint of heart and sins can always be confessed on Tuesdays.

What makes all of this a tough sell to non-sports fans is when the line is crossed and malice enters the equation. Unfortunately, it's that sort of behaviour that garners the headlines.

For every solid hit dished out by Mike Komisarek, it's Jonathan Roy who makes the national newscast. 

For every center-ice collision, it's Todd Bertuzzi taking out Steve Moore with a punch to the head and throw down to the ice—breaking three vertebrae—that gets top of the fold.

For every quarterback sack, it's Zinedine Zidane's headbutt that is remembered and replayed ad-nausea.

Sports fans don't want to see this kind of stuff in their game, no matter what game it may be. A hockey fight or a vicious quarterback sack are part of the game, but when the intent to hurt is there, it diminishes the game as a whole and no amount of PR will help. The only line people really want to see crossed is the goal line.

What needs to happen is tougher penalties for offenders who hit the ice, field, or pitch with the intent to harm. Steve Moore has never played hockey since the Bertuzzi incident, but Bertuzzi has since reinstated by the NHL. Jonathan Roy will continue to play despite still having not apologized for assaulting another player. Chris Pronger stomped a skate blade sharp enough to shave with on to the arm of Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler and only got an eight-game suspension.

It's time for sports fans to start holding not only the offending players responsible but the leagues they play for as well. Suspensions do little to weed out the ugliness—it just sweeps it under the rug. It would not be surprising if, one day, the banner headline screams "Player dies from his injuries."

And if that should happen, it'll be hard not to side with the non-sports fans for good or for ill.

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