NHL legend Bobby Orr has taken a stance in support of fighting in the NHL despite a recent string of injuries, according to an excerpt from his new book, Orr: My Story, obtained by the Globe and Mail:
I believe that especially at the pro level you need to be held accountable for your actions, and the threat of a fight can accomplish that. The truth is, you couldn’t pull the gloves off certain players if a fight was in their future, yet many of those same players in the modern game take liberties with others simply because they can. That is not right, and players should not be allowed to have it both ways. It leads me to the notion of what is commonly referred to as the ‘enforcer.’
Orr was never known as a fighter during his stellar NHL career, but when a bona fide legend like the former Boston Bruins defender speaks on a matter this important, people listen.
The debate over fighting in hockey has raged on for decades and has only escalated as an increase of recent scary injuries have marred the aspect of the sport.
Not only was Montreal Canadiens tough guy George Parros involved in a terrifying incident when he hit his head on the ice during a fight (something that has happened sporadically over the years), but the issue has also continued to spread to junior hockey.
The story of Dubuque Fighting Saints defenseman Dylan Chanter smashing his head on the ice during a USHL game and going into a seizure brought back horrible memories of Ontario senior league player Don Sanderson—a young man that lost his life after falling head first onto the ice during a fight.
Orr is arguing that while the NHL should keep fighting, it should be eliminated from minor hockey completely:
You might think this is an isolated incident, but I recently read about a minor hockey coach who was suspended for giving one of his own players a concussion while teaching the team how to fight. It doesn’t matter what kids see on television – we can and must control our own minor hockey systems. If enough parents, coaches, and administrators determine that fighting will not be tolerated, it can be eradicated from minor hockey. It’s up to all of us to relay that message to our children. After all, we are supposed to be in control of the games they play. However, there’s always another side to every story, and so it is when it comes to fighting in pro-level hockey. In “pro level,” I include all professional ranks plus the highest levels in Canadian junior hockey as well. I include junior here because the players in those leagues are there with the main purpose of apprenticing for the next level of play. They need to be ready for what is to come, and fighting is a part of it.
Orr is not advocating for meaningless brawls that could yield serious injuries, but instead pushing for fighting that has a purpose. With players learning from a young age how to bother other competitors using their physicality, the role of enforcer has morphed into protecting the top stars on the roster.
Franchises spend millions of dollars on the key offensive and defensive players on the roster that will help the team win, and without fighting, the culprits known as agitators would have ample chances to attack those stars without retribution.
Enforcers ensure these agitators won’t take liberties without paying a serious price.
There is no question that the NHL could reform the rules surrounding fighting to protect the combatants, but when a legend like Orr advocates for its place in the sport, the aspect of the game should remain.
Injuries are part of the sport and a risk each player acknowledges every time he skates on the ice.
Instead of removing fighting, the league should make stiffer penalties on those that hit defenseless players with malicious intent. With fewer big checks, the need for fights will be reduced drastically.