In the past, the enforcers on a team were individuals who could skate and may show up with a goal or two during the season, but their main role was to protect teammates from the goons on the other team. Of course, when a cheap shot was taken by one fighter, that would force the other to react.
However, things have changed, and hockey isn’t the same game it used to be. Today, the concept of the “classic enforcer” isn’t really one that’s accepted. While the fighting isn’t going to stop (let’s face it, it’s a vital part of the game), the “goons” of the past only really have two choices – extinction or evolution.
The fact is, fighting and brawls are what help set the NHL apart from other sports. In some ways, hockey is like a last vestige of a past era, and those who exist just to fight are slowly being weeded out of the game.
In the 2001-02 hockey season, there were just 803 fights total, by 2013 that number had dwindled further to just 469. While last season (2016-2017) saw an increase to 538 fights, only 344 of them ended in a “fighting major.” And it’s important to note that these numbers are nothing compared to the fighting from decades past.
The fact is, the age of the “goon” in hockey is coming to an end – rather quickly. Today, the game is too fast, making it necessary for everyone to contribute something – besides their fists. This new trend has been illustrated by a number of players, including Derek Dorsett from the Vancouver Canucks, who received 11 fighting majors in one season, but also scored 16 points over a period of 71 games.
In my opinion, fighting is a great part of hockey. However, it is no longer what it’s all about. In fact, there are now a number of rules and penalties preventing players from taking their helmets off during the fight due to more awareness of brain injuries.
While the traditional concept of the enforcer may no longer have a place in hockey, there are a few greats who will never be forgotten. Some of the best enforcers in NHL history include Terry O’Reilly, who accumulated more than 2,000 penalty minutes during his career; Stu Grimson, whose actions earned him the title of “Grim Reaper”; and Dale Hunter, who had over 3,400 penalty minutes.
So, is less fighting a bad thing in hockey? In my opinion, no. As more and more young players are looking up to players in the NHL, it is imperative a good example is set to minimize injuries and turn the focus of the game into becoming a great player and having fun.
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