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Saving the NHL from its own Stupidity: Why Fighting and "Finishing the Check" have Got to Go!

Updated on April 4, 2012

It’s not by accident that I help build teams for a profession; I love teams. Love working as a part of them, love playing on them, and love watching them. And like many Canadians, I happen to love watching hockey-especially playoff hockey when goonery is gone. Well, I should clarify, I want to love watching hockey, but the NHL and its macho culture of wild-west violence and vigilante frontier justice keeps getting in the way of my love. The recent assault on Max Pacioretty by Zdeno Chara leaving Pacioretty with a broken neck, concussion, and possible loss of career, left me frothing at the mouth and birthed the following rant. Join me in ranting, won’t you? Let’s save our game!

I am so sick of the hypocrisy and sheer stupidity of the NHL! The truth must be told, the NHL is an antiquated bush league run by dinosaurs and Neanderthals, overly influenced and represented by a blustering old man whose voice is the only thing louder than his suit. Enough is enough! You and I must pull the stale guardians of our beloved national sport kicking and screaming into the 21st century! Join me in declaring, “Fighting and ‘Finishing your check’ have got to go!”

The assault on Pacioretty was nothing new. Last year Washington forward Alexander Ovechkin pushed Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell from behind headlong into the boards. Campbell’s collarbone was broken and he missed the rest of the regular season. It was a completely cowardly act, and at first, Ovechkin was not going to be suspended. Then, possibly due to public outrage (see you can make a difference) league vice president Colin Campbell suspended Ovechkin for two games. Chara has not been suspended because league disciplinarian Mike Murphy stated accurately and stupidly that the assault was “a hockey play that resulted in an injury.” That was a stupid statement because it seems to have been made without trace of a sense of irony. Yes, that assault was a sanctioned “hockey play”, and that is the problem!

A week or so prior to the Ovechkin assault, Penguins’ Matt Cooke hit Bruins’ Marc Savard in the head with his shoulder. Savard suffered a concussion and missed the remainder of the season as well. Cooke was not suspended, but the hit caused NHL GMs to scurry together and attempt to come up with a plan to prevent players from being hit in the head-like that had never occurred to them before! Oh wait, I misspoke, they didn’t gather together to prevent players from being hit in the head-that’s actually still allowed, just so long as you use your fists, not your shoulders. Fighting, after all, as the old timer hockey bromide goes, “is part of the game.” Since then, that blow to the head concussion scenario has been replayed several times over including currently with the game’s marquee player, Sidney Crosby-also hit without puck possession. Nothing has changed.

Think about the stupidity of allowing fighting in a sport that has fallen behind tractor pulls in the States in popularity. Try to imagine how impossible it is to market a league so pathetic that it insists it cannot referee itself, but has to rely on vigilante action by players (and now possibly on the Montreal police) to mete out justice. Try explaining that to people who might become new fans if they could take hockey seriously and accept it as being on par with intelligently run leagues like the NBA and the NFL rather than the WWF. Consider how incredibly antiquated and dangerous a notion it is to argue that NHL players need to be able to fight in order to release their frustrations-after all if we don’t let them, they might hit each other with their sticks. Think about what that stupidity teaches our young ones about violence and being responsible for their emotions and actions.

As for the argument that fans love fighting and cheer it at the game; yes, many fans that go to games do seem caught up in the blood-thirsty moment, but then they did that at the Roman Coliseum as well, and I’d like to think we’ve gotten a bit better than having to appeal to, and give in to, the baser elements of our natures since then. Besides, for every fan that does go to the game, there are thousands who don’t, who, in fact, don’t watch hockey at all. Hockey needs to appeal to them.

Here’s what I really want you to think about that no one else seems to have the awareness and the guts to say besides myself and Bill Kelly on 900 CHML today. Think about all the times you’ve heard some loud mouth hockey know-it-all prattle on about how important it is to “finish your check”. What that means, in case you don’t know, is that you must make sure you hit the other player after he (or she) no longer has possession of the puck. The point of “finishing your check” is to send an intimidating message to your opponent punishing him for making a play. Next time maybe he will think twice. Well, that’s the thing that the Chara, Ovechkin and Cooke assaults had in common. All of the plays happened after their victims had released the puck. That’s what the old school, musty-minded, blowhards tell you is a crucial element of good ol’ hard-nosed hockey! And we’ve unquestioningly accepted that idiocy for decades as some sort of sacred hockey truism.

Think about that for a moment, and give your head a shake! Better yet, protest this nonsense so that the hockey poombah’s dusty cobwebbed heads are given a shake. Let’s talk about how ridiculous that philosophy is. If you have any doubt, consider applying that mentality to other major sports. Let’s take football, for example. Football is, after all, at least as manly in its violence (without, strangely enough, requiring fighting to add to its entertainment value or to police its participants). Can you imagine the NFL or CFL allowing players to hit each other after they no longer have the football? In football, the equivalent of “finishing your check” is called what it is, “a late hit.” Think of all the rules the NFL has put into effect protecting quarterbacks and other players from late hits because they recognize the value of the player, and because they aren’t stupid enough to insist that hitting someone when they don’t have possession is somehow fair play.

How many times do we need to have players seriously injured before we finally get it through the thick prehistoric skulls of the hockey ancients that fighting, and hitting players when they are not in possession of the puck, should be eliminated! You see, that’s the issue, the majority of us inherently know that this nonsense is wrong-and many of us are increasingly less inclined to encourage our precious offspring to play hockey and subject themselves to being assaulted. But the NHL is still run by an “old school” boys club whose minds have been untroubled by new ideas since they were taught that real hockey is played by “real men” who take the law into their own hands. As long as these hypocrites, who babble about fair play and sportsmanship, while believing in their heart of hearts that fighting and finishing checks is critical to masculinity and ratings are in control, nothing will change! And you will have players knocked out ruining your team’s chances of winning The Cup, or worse, have one of your children suffer broken bones, concussions, or even death. Speak up and put an end to this madness!

If you found this article interesting or even helpful, I'd appreciate it if you thanked me by clicking onto the Google ads on this page which will give me a tiny tip!

Theo Selles, M.Sc.
President, Integrity Works



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    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      On this we completely agree.

    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      I am quite disappointed in Shanahan for allowing this to happen. Why was Shea Weber not suspended for smashing Zetterberg's face into the glass with his hands? And all these other nasty plays are resulting in short 2-3 game suspensions .. it is about time the league makes a statement ... otherwise they will encourage more vigilante justice ..

    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      We can agree on that last point, that is for sure. But I don't agree that the reason for this stupidity has to do with the lack of enforcers. I think it has to do with the lawless "frontier justice" mentality that has been embedded into the genetic make-up of the NHL due to a belief in self-policing. NHL players consistently demonstrate a lack of respect for each other and for authority. This disrespect has been fostered by idiots like Don Cherry who encourage players to mete out justice on their own and advise them that brutality is entertaining. Name one sport that relies on vigilante justice other than the NHL.

      Imagine if the kind of ignorant behaviour that we are seeing escalating in the NHL playoffs occurred in the NFL playoffs or even in the Super Bowl. It wouldn't, of course, because at the first sign of this nonsense, players would be indefinitely suspended without pay as would their coaches, and the behaviour would be so severely penalized during the game that it would be too costly for players and teams to consider.

      Every organization requires strong vision and leadership. That vision and leadership is supposed to come in large part from above, not determined at will from individual employees. The NHL lacks both. It tries to have it both ways; on one hand professing to be professional with a belief in respect and safety, and on the other encouraging gratuitous violence. It can't have it both ways.

      The NHL has to decide whether it is a professional organization firmly run by a leadership that holds its members accountable or whether it means to be "Rollerball" (Check out that old movie, it's pretty cool). You won't save the NHL by giving more power to the clowns that are making it a circus. "Ringmasters" Stern and Goodell would never put up with this self-policing crap.

    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok


      I am not sure if you have witnessed the goings on the first round of this year's playoffs? It is a sad display of head hunting and cheap shots, it seems that the players have no fear ... it is the worst I have ever seen. There was a time that going out to injure a team's best player would result in a punishment imposed by "enforcers", and rarely would anyone risk that. This year it seems that the best players are being openly targeted, look at what has happened to Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson ...

      Then there was an incident where Shea Weber grabbed the head of Henrik Zetterberg and drove his face into the glass, it is my opinion that such a blatant attempt to injure should not be tolerated. This is a separate issue, nothing to do with hockey, not finishing a check, or delivering a hit that could be labeled as dirty .. that is all understandable to me .. but this kind of violence is inexcusable. Note that Weber received a fine, and not even a suspension for this.

      What I am saying is .. the NHL has a lot more to worry about than players simply "finishing the check" .. it is turning into a circus!

    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      I could not care less whether a person gets punched in the back of the head or the front of the head, neither should belong in hockey. If you want to watch people punch each other, by all means watch boxing. I do not believe that you need to have boxing in hockey. As for finishing a check, I've clearly laid out my position and reasons why that stupidity should be banned.

    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      Theo, nobody likes cheap shots, punches to the back of the head or hits from behind. What does that have to do with "finishing a check and fighting"?

      You can finish a check without delivering a cheap shot, and two players mutually agreeing to drop the gloves.. to me that is no worse than boxing or MMA.

    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      I have no idea what the possible connection between political correctness and pink uniforms and figure skating is, but I believe I have outlined quite clearly my issues with fighting and "finishing the check" in my article. At no time in my article did I express an issue with a good clean hit. I differ with you in that I believe that the hit should not be made with a fist, nor should it be made when a player does not have possession of the puck.

      The argument that we should keep doing something just because it has always been done that way is surely pathetic. We've seen the impact of late hits and hits to the head. We are far more informed now about concussions. We also, I hope, can grow as a society without that growth being automatically labelled as "politically correct". Sports can evolve, just as society. Hockey needs to, and it can do so while still being the tough, fast game that I'd like to love.

      And, yes, I have played the game without even wearing pink. And I loved a good open ice hit with body or hip. But I despised the cowards who hit from behind or hit after a player had released the puck. And I thought the fighters were ridiculous at best. I am glad that my son did not want to play hockey. I'm glad I never had to watch him get punched in the head, and I'm glad that no one ever taught him that he needed to do the same.

    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      Theo, my comments about hockey players wearing pink uniforms and figure-skating between periods express my greatest fears regarding the evolution of Canada's national sport. It doesn't have anything to do with homophobia, more a fear of the game being corrupted by political correctness.

      If it is OK to teach kids to box, why is it such an issue to teach them how to play hockey, the way it has always been played? If it is OK for men to brutally bash each other in the UFC, then what is the matter with a good clean hit in hockey?

      The fact that they don't fight in Baseball and Basketball is a pathetic argument, it is much like saying "in kick boxing it is OK to kick your opponent in the head". Hockey is hockey, baseball is baseball .. apples and oranges.

    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      Well, I'm not sure if you're asking me a question about boys wearing pink and fiqure-skating between periods or making a homophobically tinged comment.

      At what age do you suggest to your son or daughter that it's okay to punch someone in the face while they're playing a game. Five? Ten? Fifteen?

      I'm a big football fan, and that game seems to do quite well without fighting. As does basketball, soccer, baseball, in fact any sport that does not feature fighting as the actual sport (Boxing and UFC). Are those sports spoiled by lack of fighting? Do they have hordes of pink clad boys skating amuck on the field threatening your masculinity? No (unless possibly in your mind).

      All the best,


    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      If you don't want to get hurt, you can always stay home and watch sports on TV. If you take the hitting and fighting out of hockey, then it simply isn't hockey anymore, it then becomes some perverse politically correct version of a once great game. You might as well suit up the boys in tight pink uniforms, and have them perform figure-skating between periods .. ha .. I bet you would love that?

    • profile image

      Rob 7 years ago

      Wow, put that in you pipe and smoke it Don Cherry.

      The simple truth, yet something so hard for so many to grasp.

    • profile image

      Doug 7 years ago

      Well Said Theo, all true. A Disgusting act of a bully. This goon should be charged with assault. That was premeditated.