Flyers, Pens Fight Renew Violence in Hockey Debate

Frank Doyle | Updated Apr 17, 2012


Frank Doyle drops his gloves and gets stuck in to another annual violence in hockey debate.

The Rashomon effect is in full force in the NHL Playoffs. Rashomon is the Kurosawa movie from 1950 in which a violent crime is recounted from four completely different points of view. Everybody saw the crime, but nobody recounts it the same way.

And so it is at those moments in hockey, when the gloves and dropped, the red mist rises and the punches crash home. Is it a blight on the great game, or one or those things that makes hockey great? There seems to be no middle ground – you’re either for it or against it.

It’s come to head again because of events last Sunday. Pittsburgh started the playoffs as Stanley Cup favorites and now they’re on the verge of being humiliated by their inter-state rivals. What else could they do but start puking up their dukes?

On one side of the debate there’s former Boston Bruins head coach and current Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV analyst Don Cherry. Cherry has never been coy about hockey being a man’s game, and when Sidney Crosby fought with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on Sunday, Don was first out of the trenches to defend him on TV on Monday. “I admire him more for doing that than anything,” said Cherry.

And in the opposite corner is Bruce Arthur of the National Post, who called the fighting in Philadelphia “a disgrace.” Arthur, one of the shrewdest observers of the game currently writing, noted that Matt Cooke, once one of the most notorious goons in the game, sat out all the fights. Cooke has been suspended five times and he just can’t afford another suspension.

As far Bruce Arthur is concerned, that’s the way to go. If the NHL clearly displays a zero tolerance policy, the fighting will disappear from the game. It’s just a question of moral courage.

The view from the benches can depend on which bench you’re behind. Both Peter Laviolette of the Flyers and Dan Bylsma of the Penguins were in post-match ecstasy about the fighting, and stuck up for their men. “That’s really playoff hockey, isn’t it? Two of the best players in the world dropping the gloves and going at it,” said Laviolette – but you have to wonder what they would have felt if a, it wasn’t their guys fighting, or b, one of their guys got hurt.

Game 4 is Wednesday night. Seconds out.