Anyone who thinks that removing fighting from hockey will save the NHL from having to deal with any more events like the unexpected deaths of Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak in the future is either trying to find a quick and easy answer or has an agenda against fighting.
It’s just not that simple.
Adrian Dater, Colorado Avalanche beat writer, wrote a post on the role of fighters following the Belak news. In it, he mentioned tough guy Chris Simon’s feelings after winning the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996:
“Truth is, (Simon) didn’t feel like celebrating at all the night they won the Cup. He didn’t feel part of the team at all.”
Simon was an enforcer, and he barely played a shift in the finals.
Dater makes some good points about the role of fighters and the feeling they have that they don’t matter. The question one must ask is if this is a symptom related only to pugilists.
On Thursday, former NHLer Gary Valk was being interviewed on the Team 1040 and was asked if fighters have a tough life. He replied (this is paraphrased):
Yeah it’s tough, but so is being a fourth liner who plays 2 minutes a night; so is being a 6th or 7th defenseman.
Fact is, not all hockey players are on the top 2 or 3 lines. Not all play more than 10 minutes a night, or even have the potential to do so at some point in the future. This is where the real struggle lies, and it’s obviously not limited to hockey players.
For a look closer to home, think of Jeff Tambellini. Tamby was given an opportunity with the Canucks this year, and you can be sure that he felt the need to make an impact in order to stay with the big club and hopefully gain a greater role with the team.
He did his part, scoring 15 points in his first 22 games, but then the points dried up. He quickly slipped back to fourth line duty and then up to the press-box. During the playoffs, he made highlight reels for one of the best defensive plays during the Canucks run when he caught up with Martin Erat on a breakaway and thwarted the effort.
Still, his efforts weren’t enough to change his fate. Following the season, the Canucks had no plans to resign the little forward. For a player who believed he could contribute more offensively, filling the fourth liner job description was not easy and it certainly took a ton of positivity on his part.
This year, Tamby will be playing for Zurich in the Swiss League. He will likely be one of their top offensive players, and he’ll actually be playing the sport he loves again.
There is a point here: following the deaths this summer, people are looking for commonalities and the most plain to the eye is the fact that all 3 players were fighters.
They punch each other in the head for a living! What a pointless job! Why would anyone want to do this?!
Tambellini and so many others like him may not be actual fighters, but they have their own battle, night-in and night-out. They fight for playing time and relevance in a league dominated by superstars.
This is the issue that needs to be inspected at a much deeper level.
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