What is fighting’s place in low-pro hockey?

It’s the middle of the second period, maybe is a ho-hum game, when suddenly behind the play you see two guys yelling back-and-forth at each other.

They hack each other with their sticks a little. You inch to the edge of your seat anticipating what might come next.

Next thing you know the sticks and gloves fly and two guys are throwing hands. You and everyone else in the rink are out of their seat to get a better view, maybe your phone is out to get video in case something REALLY crazy happens. Barring a knockout punch, the refs breakup the two players, the crowd roars, the players on the bench rattle their sticks against the boards in appreciation, and each player takes a seat for the next five minutes.

That’s a scene, that, even in minor league hockey and even in the lowest leagues, is becoming more and more rare. A fight. Two players squaring off to see who is truly the toughest guy on the ice.

But what is fighting’s role in low minor league hockey, particularly in leagues like the FHL, SPHL, and LNAH? Because even in leagues like the AHL and ECHL, fighting is dropping, because those are NHL-affiliated teams, and they want prospects who could someday help them win at the highest level, not sell a couple extra tickets in Wheeling or wherever.

I bring this up because recently the Watertown Wolves signed one of the all-time tough guys in FHL history, Nick Wright. Wright has 98 games of FHL experience to his name across parts of three seasons, in addition to 14 games in the SPHL, and in those 112 games has racked up an astounding 719 penalty minutes, 659 of those in the FHL, including 383 in 2016-17 with the Berlin River Drivers. Meaning, that every time Wright suits up for a game, you can count on him being in the box for 6.5 minutes.

I bring up Wright because the news of his signing was post in a FHL Fan Group on Facebook, where the thread started with, “Nick wright is a goon and has no hockey skill’s (sic) at all” and from there the comments turned into every gutter of the internet, and has more than 250 comments from people chiming in on the signing, and then doing every bit of name-calling and keyboard warrior-ing that you can imagine.

The discussion on Wright started innocent with a (harsh) remark that he has no skill, because to be a pro in any league you must have some skill, but, outside of that 2016-17 season where he also posted a respectable 18 points in 45 games, Wright has just SEVEN points in the other 67 games of pro hockey he’s played, so roughly one point every 10 games. He was also a -33 one season, according to HockeyDB.

It’s no secret when a team signs Wright, he isn’t there to score goals or play lock-down defense, he’s there to fight.

Which brings me back to the question at the top of this post, What is fighting’s place in low-pro hockey?

There are some people who complain that hockey stinks now because the players don’t fight anymore, and to that I say, if you really feel that way about the game, why even watch hockey when there’s MMA and Boxing? Because if you solely come into a rink for the fights, more often than not, you’ll leave disappointed.

But a signing like Wright’s is important for a team like Watertown, or really any FHL team, because you can say to fans, “You’re probably seeing a fight tonight,” and that DOES bring fans  in, whether you want to admit it or not, and whether you acknowledge the dangers that fighting has or not.

Ask any minor league team’s general manager, or promotions department, and they’ll tell you that yes, they are in the business of winning games, but they’re also in the business of entertainment. And a player like Wright does bring entertainment value to the fans who do come in, even if he really doesn’t bring a lot to the team that helps them win on the ice. And no, fighting other players and spending 10 percent of the game clock, and probably 30 percent of your ice-time, in the penalty box does not help your team win.

Wright and players like him are truly a dying breed. Teams want players who a fast, can pass, shoot, and play a two-way game. Players who are fighters…typically don’t do those things. They got to where they are for one reason, because they can throw hands, and do so without thinking about the consequences.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that a player like Wright would have made his name for himself in the FHL or UHL or whatever bygone league, and teams in the AHL or NHL would have noticed and given them a shot at the higher level because they needed “toughness” in the lineup to “protect” their stars. But even a lot of those guys, like Bob Probert or Marty McSorley, were decent players on offense. Probert had 62 points one season, while McSorley, also a defenseman like Wright, had a stretch of 5-straight seasons of 26+ points, despite never playing more than 75 games a season.

But there’s also less fighters for the reason of long-term health: Fighting is dangerous. Getting punched in the head repeatedly, and possibly hitting your head on the ice when you fall or get tangled up in a scrap could do life-long damage. And frankly, a lot of players just don’t want to risk and injury like that for $150 a game in the FHL or SPHL, especially as we just mentioned above, your chances of moving up the hockey ladder with that style of play are extremely low and getting lower.

I’m of the opinion that if fighting went away from hockey, that I wouldn’t miss it that much. But I’m also one of those fans jumping out of his seat when a fight does happen.

It’s a delicate line to balance for low-pro teams, because you do want to win and that in turn brings in fans, but you always want to give fans a reason to show up if the team isn’t winning, or if they’re competing with another team in a higher league that’s nearby, and fighting just might be the way to do that.

It’s a question that I genuinely don’t think there is a cut and dry answer to, but one that will likely be debated as long as there is fighting allowed in hockey.

What do you think fans, do you show up to games because of the fights, or if it went away would you not miss it that much?

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “What is fighting’s place in low-pro hockey?

  1. I’m not sure there will be much of a place for fighters going forward. Making $175 to $200 a week in the FHL is much to subject yourself post-concussion syndrome. At the higher levels, I think we will one day see the players wearing facemask. It’s crazy to spend eight figures a year on a player and a puck or stick could kill your investment. At the lower levels, how is it worth it to subject yourself to such dangers? All minor leaguers have to work when their career is over, and there’s not a lot of money in hockey and the competition is fierce for those positions–and they’re tough to have a family life with. I know concussions can easily happen otherwise, but pure fighters with no chance of making even the ECHL?

    Fights will keep happening, but it’ll be like the NHL is now.

    This story is right about how 20 to 25 year’s ago these guys got shots. Kyle Friedrich played in the NHL. Jonathan Tremblay was outscored by Marc-Andre Fleury in the Q, was drafted, and even saw time in the AHL (that was about 12 year’s ago).

    What I hope happens is that Wright develops his game like Brandon Blair did in the SPHL or even Jay Kenney. Kenney was an eyebrow-raiser out of college (barely played in college). He’s not awesome, but he’s come along. I respect Nick and his dedication.

    Like

    1. Wearing face masks are you nuts?
      Plus concussions in fighting aren’t as much as you think. Watch ice guardians on Netflix only 5% of concussions in hockey come from fighting.

      Like

  2. You guys should watch ice guardians on Netflix if you’re worried about concussions in hockey fights.
    I think there is a place for fighting and enforcers and there always will be. Goons on the other hand I never thought they were needed. However I went the a Chicago Wolves AHL game and a Blackhawks NHL game, and I found the wolves game more entertaining than the hawks game. Because they were actually hitting and had animosity and the refs didn’t call 20 minutes of power plays in the AHL. Fighting stays!

    Like

    1. Do you know anyone who has played one or two seasons of SPHL or FHL hockey who had to retire because of post-concussion syndrome? I do.

      I know that fighting is not the primary reason concussions happen. In fact, I know that concussions can easily happen regardless of the helmet because it’s about your brain hitting the inside of your skull most often and that can easily happen with a perfectly legal check right to your sternum. However, getting your head pounded is a real easy way to get a concussion, too (or to get those sub-concussive blows that really add up). It’s one thing for an NHLer to get paid to fight, but ECHL and especially SPHL and FHL guys? You aren’t retiring on your hockey income and can’t really afford to destroy yourself to just be a sideshow. Even in the NHL, there are no pure fighters. You can’t afford to roster one and the Vegas Golden Knights officially killed it off with how they thrived on a third- and fourth-line that could be rolled without hesitation and which outplayed almost everyone else’s third and fourth lines. NHL teams have many more players to work with in games than SPHL and FHL teams. This will trickle down and add in how the SPHL and FHL pure fighters make a pittance…it’ll soon be realized it’s in nobody’s interest to have a pure fighter anymore.

      Fifty years ago the players being required to wear helmets would have seemed ludicrous. Twenty years ago, players being required to wear half shields at high levels would have seemed ludicrous. Football players are required to wear facemasks and the football travels at what speed? A lot less than a puck. Hockey is WAY more dangerous than football. NHL salaries are low compared to the highest levels of MLB, NFL, and NBA; but, the owners are still investing a lot of money in these players. If Connor McDavid has his career ended by a puck to the face, thinking will change.

      We all grow up wearing a facemask. I ditched mine in juniors and hated wearing it in college and I know, I’ve been there. Once you have a family and you take a puck just below your eye (even with a half shield) and a stick that comes about an inch away from taking out a bunch of teeth all in the same meaningless men’s league game, you start thinking differently. It took awhile to get back used to it, but how irresponsible of me to risk my family’s income. Someday, some player will have the balls to wear a facemask because he knows his entire life is important and he knows his odds of avoid life-ending or life-altering injuries are a lot less if he keeps wearing his facemask. A facemask is an insurance policy for high-level players to increase the odds they can continue to keep playing and make millions for years. As for pure fighters, we can all pretend we really care about Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, but we don’t have to live it and we aren’t the ones truly with a void the rest of our lives–and these were NHLers who were well-compensated.

      Team Canada’s and Team USA’s Olympic women players still wear facemasks. This is because they know hockey isn’t their end game. In this day and age of instant information, all it’ll take is for stories of beaten and battered minor pro hockey players to get out who struggle to support themselves financially afterward because of their various physical ailments for people to wake up. To say nothing of the forms of self-medication that the players employ just to be able to keep playing, much of which is highly addictive and also very damaging long-term. You don’t get a full week to recover like NFLers do, many of whom spend five figures on legitimate methods to help with inflammation and some six figures.

      The players are adored during their playing careers; but, for the vast majority, they are quickly forgotten once it’s over, and they have 50 or more years to live with the damage just so they could entertain us. Serious injury will always be possible in hockey; but, some of it is entirely unnecessary and entirely avoidable. These young men are worth a lot more than just their short hockey careers.

      Kudos to Bus League Hockey for exploring this deeper issues. For Nick Wright, he’s obviously extremely courageous and I pray that the story ends well for him. He sounds like a young man who could also do great things outside of hockey once his career is over. I just hope he has the chance to live the rest of his life to his full potential once hockey is done.

      Like

      1. Jesus a whole novel about something that isn’t that big of a deal. Its fighting in hockey not war pal. With that nobody gets bent out of shape over boxing and UFC, but god forbid fighting in hockey and it’s bad. Listen concussions are blown out of proportion by the media. I suggest you watch Ice Guardians on Netflix it might change your mind. Fighting stays

        Like

      2. I forgot to mention you have a thing for face masks you say the women Olympic teams and kids wear them guess what these are professional men’s athletes were talking about they wear visors in jr. On top of that I think they should go back to player choice with visors too. Let them play let them fight they know the risk.
        Ps. 99% of NHL players want the fights to stay does that answer your question?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s