By David Matthews
Last Friday, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins played knowing full-well that things were likely to turn dicey. What resulted was hockey mayhem.
Two weeks ago, during a different Islanders-Penguins game, Islander goalie Rick DiPietro was knocked out by Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. DiPietro suffered injuries as a result and is missing over a month of play. When the teams played again, the hockey code of honor called for retribution on the Islanders’s part. They delivered.
The game epitomized the old saying, “I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out.” 15 fighting majors were handed out along with 346 penalty minutes between the teams. The Islanders were fined $100,000 and three players received suspensions: Pittsburgh’s Eric Godard (10 games) and the Islanders’s Trevor Gillies (nine games) and Mark Martin (four games).
However, as violent as the game appeared, and coming on the heels of a brawl-filled game between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, it was an aberration. According to USA Today, fighting is down by 1.1 percent this season, and would be down 3.9 percent if not for those two fight-heavy games this month.
But fighting is as integral to the game as a puck and skates. A fight in hockey sends a message to your opponent and all the other opponents. If your team’s star player is unnecessarily roughed up by the opposition, a fight can be the only way to keep the other team from roughing him up some more. If your team is losing, a fight could spur a rally. If it weren’t for fighting, the movie Slap Shot would either not exist or be markedly shorter. Fighting is the reason hockey fans will always remember players like Tie Domi or Bob Probert.
A hockey game that’s fast and gives ample opportunity for players to show off their technique and skill is great. It’ll be what leads to new fans of the sport. But for the fans who have been there, sometimes seeing your backup goalie knock out the other team’s guy is what you need to see to remind you of why you root for this team in the first place. If he cares that much, it’s not so bad that you care as much.
Here’s a video of the best hockey fights of all time, as compiled by one YouTube user.