During my interview with Alexandria’s Scott Hennen last week I was curious to see how his views on fighting in hockey might have changed since having the biggest scare of his life because of a fight he got in on the ice last summer.
Hennen had emergency brain surgery at the St. Cloud Hospital last summer after hitting his head on the ice as the fight was coming to an end during a tryout camp for the Granite City Lumberjacks. You can read Hennen’s whole story in this article in today’s Echo Press.
It was the first time Hennen had ever been in a hockey fight. Near the end of our interview, I asked him if his views on fighting in hockey had changed at all since that day. He admitted that he has mixed emotions about seeing it, but feels it still has its place in the game.
“There is a reason for it to be in hockey,” Hennen said. “Not everybody agrees with that, but if someone jumps your goalie, you have to stand up for him…I kind of still feel the same way [as before the fight], but when it is a stupid reason to fight, it’s kind of like, ‘Why are you guys doing this?’ I kind of cringe when I see it or see people’s heads hit the ice.”
It is one of the more talked about topics in hockey right now. John Branch of the New York Times wrote a telling piece this past winter as he chronicled the life of former Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard after his death. Branch goes in-depth to describe what it was like growing up for Boogaard knowing his ticket to the NHL would be as a fighter and how all those punches eventually took their tole on his physical and mental health.
Fighting isn’t allowed in high school or college hockey, but it is in junior leagues like the North American Hockey League. The Alexandria Blizzard were recently a part of one that got the NAHL’s attention when the entire Aberdeen line jumped the Blizzard players at the drop of the puck in the third period during a game played on March 10.
I asked Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo about his views on fighting at this level when I interviewed him for the Hennen piece last week. The popular consensus among those involved in hockey is that it’s simply a part of the game.
“That’s a tough question,” DelCastillo said. “I don’t think we’re known for fighting, our team. I think we can take care of business when we need to take care of business. We’re a feeder system to college, and there’s no fighting in college, but yet, when you play hockey at the highest level, it’s part of the game. Until the rule changes, it’s part of the game.
“We have some pretty tough cats on our team this year,” DelCastillo continued. “I don’t even know if the fans have seen what a couple different guys are capable of doing on our team. When it needs to be dealt with, we deal with it, but I don’t think we’re leading the league in fights…when you come to the rink here, you’re going to see fights. That’s just a part of it, but we’re not an organization promoting it and trying to develop that.”
The NHL sets the example, and it’s clear that players have no interest in eliminating fighting anytime soon. A recent Sports Illustrated poll found that 99.5 percent of the players polled felt it belonged in the sport. That is a telling number of how ingrained it is in the culture of hockey.