Updated: May 31, 2019
HOCKEY: beautifully balancing the grace of a skilled skater and the brawns of a boxer.
Although this aspect of the game is often criticized by thin-skinned fans and anti-fighting activists, brawls have held a strategic place in the history of hockey and have been embraced and even ritualized as part of the sport.
Players have been squaring up in this seemingly uncivilized sport for centuries due to the close quarters of the rink and relative lack of rules early on. In 1922, it was officially written in the rulebook when the NHL introduced Rule 56 which formally regulated fighting in the professional hockey league and used the fancy word “fisticuffs” to describe it which, although antiquated, is still fun to say.
In the 1970’s Philadelphia’s “Broad Street Bullies” and the “Big Bad Bruins” of Boston won four championships between them largely due to their ability to outmuscle their opponents. These teams set a standard for future NHL “Enforcers” and many teams followed by signing fighters and pugilists with less-than-perfect puck handling skills to protect their teammates and keep the peace. The unofficial role of Enforcers was to deter opposing players from excessively rough play. As commonly as cheap shots and flagrant fouls went unpunished, vigilante justice was deemed necessary.
Sadly, the days of glove dropping have diminished due to an increase in fighting regulations, red line rules and a recently implemented instigating penalty which increases a player’s time in the “Sin Bin”. The brawls you see these days are purely out of passion. Games are played at a quicker pace, hits happen and opponents hold each other accountable.
It’s the barbarism, the grit, the rawness and rarity of athletes facing each other in a brutal battle of both skills and physicality that makes the sport so exciting. Most fans, players and administrators continue to insist that fighting remain a permanent element of organized ice hockey, so to all the hypersensitive spectators out there, sorry not sorry... fighting in hockey is here to stay so get over it.