When it comes to low-pro hockey, one of the things the fans say they like about it over the NHL, or even AHL and ECHL, is that the players in the SPHL, FHL, or LNAH still fight.
They still hit, play physical, and aren’t afraid to drop the gloves when they sit fit, or as older hockey fans like to call it, “Old Time Hockey.”
Those older fans love to sit back and remember the days when a bench-clearing brawl was a routine thing, when there were three fights a night, and love the idea of something like Mike Milbury going into the crowd and hitting a fan with a shoe, or a game straight out of the movie Slap Shot.
Well Saturday night in Carolina during the Thunderbirds’ FHL game against the Mentor Ice Breakers, fans got treated to that type of game. Multiple fights, including one stretch in the third period with multiple fights going on at the same time, one player who left the penalty box to get back in on the action, and so many ejections that both teams were down to single-digit available players by the time the clock finally hit zeroes in a 3-0 Mentor win.
The exact type of game these blood-thirsty fans clamor for, so how did those fans in Carolina react to that type of game? Not exactly positively. Here’s a sampling of some of the posts in a Carolina Thunderbirds fan page on Facebook.
Now, if people want fights, hitting, violence, and all the other stuff that comes with it, then why was Saturday’s game so awful in the minds of so many? Yes, some of it may have had to do with the hosts getting blanked 3-0, but on paper it would seem like an entertaining game for those types of fans. There were even comments that made the always hilarious (NOTE: Not hilarious) joke of, “Oh I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out!”
Here’s why: Because no matter the league, from junior hockey, to the FHL, and up to the NHL, you are there to see hockey. And yes, fighting is a part of hockey, but it’s not the only reason the fans buy a ticket to the game. They want to see passing, shooting, great saves, goals, and the players go up and down the ice as fast as possible. And if a big hit or fight naturally happens during all that, it’s a bonus.
I said it before on this site, but if you’re there only for the fighting, you’re going to be disappointed, and may as well go spend your money on boxing or MMA.
But for the game to stop a handful of times because two guys, or often times just one, want to throw hands, then after a while it gets old, and boring, and the game has no flow. Because every other minute there’s a slash, or a punch, and the play stops for a penalty, and instead we get to watch a parade of guys being led to the penalty box. Nobody wants to see that. And then it affects the actual play, because guys can’t get into a rhythm, or scoring chances are wiped off the board while something happens behind the play. And then you have half the team in locker room or penalty box, and the players on the ice worn out by the end of the game.
The other reason I think people long for the days of old time hockey, at least for my age group (I’m 30), is because we grew up in the glory days of probably the last great, nasty rivalry in the NHL, the Red Wings and Avalanche, who routinely had fights, and were the two best teams in the NHL for a stretch of about eight years. And yes, the games were nasty, they fought, hated each other, and had high stakes on the games…but the actual play from that era sucked.
Every game felt like it was 2-1. Players couldn’t get through the neutral zone without getting slashed, or hooked, or held, and the refs would let it go for some reason. Games were an ugly, slow slog where it felt like a scoring chance just kind of happened out of thin air rather than being the development of great passing or speed. Seriously, the next time you get the chance, watch a full game from the mid-90s and you’ll wonder how you ever made it through that era. Even the worst team NHL team in 2018 would skate rings around them and blow them out of the building. I hope we never go back to that brand of hockey even if it was “tougher” than the modern game.
One common complaint about the modern NHL is that people don’t hit each other anymore, which is a load of bull shit. If you watch any NHL game, every time a player plays the puck there is a hit. Players in this era more than ever before have been taught to finish their checks. It doesn’t result in a ton of big hits like Larry Robinson used to hand down, but on every play, somebody has a body put into them.
Now, this isn’t to say that fighting doesn’t have a place in hockey, or that I’m advocating for banning fighting in hockey. Far from it. I think fighting absolutely has a place in hockey, either to settle scores, or get revenge on a player who may have made a dirty hit or something. If a fight happens in the normal flow of the game, or caps off a weekend rivalry series of pent-up frustration, that’s fine, I’m all for it.
And shoot, there are people who may get into hockey as a result of the fights. Carolina GM admitted as much on Saturday, saying they sold 12 season tickets as a result of Saturday’s fight fest. Now, hopefully those fans keep showing up and enjoy the actual hockey, because again, if they are there just for the fighting, you’re going to leave disappointed more often than not.
Because to sit there and watch fight after fight, and 900 whistles for other cheap shot penalties, with no goals, no skating, no flow, and generally, no hockey, that’s not fun, and even the fan who loves fighting would admit that.
Again, a fight is fine, but to have an “Old School Hockey” night straight out of Slap Shot where there’s little actual hockey and nothing but fights, that sucks and gets old in a hurry.