Hockey is a Lifestyle, Not a Fight

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Whenever you think of the “big three sports” in America, you think of football, basketball and baseball. The fourth sport, hockey, is usually just an afterthought,  so many who are not passionate about the game will not know that National Hockey League (NHL) teams are now entering the heart of the 2011-2012 playoffs.  Hockey fans know.  In fact, to die-hard hockey fans and players, hockey isn’t even just another sport – hockey is a lifestyle.

Each of the approximately 700 players active on rosters has his own story of how he made it into the NHL. Considered the premiere hockey league in the world, the NHL comprises 30 teams, seven are located in Canada and the other 23 are in the United States. Players come from all over the world. Many of these players have been in other leagues such as the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and the KHL (the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia) to gain experience prior to joining the NHL. Some players join the NHL as young as 18, and many play the game until they are in their 40’s.

Yet some non-hockey fans criticize hockey because it “allows” fighting, according to them. Hockey fans, on the other hand, understand that fighting has always been a tradition, an unwritten rule in the game, and that certain regulations have evolved to control this aspect of the game.  

Those who see hockey as just hitting and fighting are making false assumptions and focusing on a trivial part of a great sport.  As a die-hard fan, I can say from experience that the game is not just about fighting. The reasons fights happen are the rivalries between certain teams, the emotions that are running high, and in some cases, because players are protecting their teammates out of a sense of team unity.

“Fighting is retaliation if the opposing team hurts one of their star players. It also riles up the crowd and changes momentum of the game,” said VHS senior and goaltender of the VGR hockey team Matt Brehne. He believes the best part of hockey is “the speed of the game, the constant action and how it is different from other sports because it is played on ice. No other sport can compare to it.”

 If both players drop their gloves and are willing to participate in a fight, a fist fight ensues. Despite common thought, fighting does not go unpunished. Each participating player gets a five minute major penalty, but does not get thrown out of the game.

 However, certain things can get a player thrown out. For example, in Game 2 of the New York Rangers- Ottawa Senators playoff series this year, Matt Carkner of the Senators got a game misconduct for continuously punching Rangers forward Brian Boyle when Boyle did not drop his gloves. Forward Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers also got a game misconduct for unofficially being the “third man in.” Carkner and Dubinsky nights ended 2:15 into the game. 

To promote the sport as whole, not just the fighting, HBO created a series called 24/7 Road to the NHL Winter Classic which consists of four episodes a season. Over the course of four weeks, HBO chronicles the two teams who are playing in the Winter Classic, a game played in an outdoor venue on January 1. This show goes into the lives of players and the routines which they go through every day. The show also emphasizes how players and coaches feel about the game, and examines the ups and downs of a team’s season.  

“It captures how players are down to earth, how they give back to the community and how they interact with the fans,” commented Brehne on HBO’s 24/7. “It shows how they eat, sleep, breathe hockey.”

Being a hockey player himself, Brehne admitted that at every level from the pee wee leagues all the way through to the NHL, hockey players think of the game as a lifestyle. Brehne even created his own blog that captures “all things hockey.” He covers college hockey, pro signings and trades and now the playoffs. He started it for people to “gain knowledge and watch the sport.”

You can find his blog at <theopeningfaceoff.wordpress.com>

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