My name is Daniel Wagner and I am an ardent hockey fan, having been indelibly marked at the age of 10 by Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Kirk McLean, and, most of all, Cliff Ronning. I bleed orange, gold, black, blue, green, burgundy, navy blue, and red, but now that I’m an official unbiased hockey blogger, I try to avoid bleeding so as to appear more objective.
I am also a pacifist. I grew up in Chilliwack, BC in a little farming community called Greendale. That little community, consisting of three churches, two mechanics, and one corner store, resides in one of the many areas in Canada known as a Bible belt and I grew up in the Mennonite church. If there’s one thing people know about Mennonites, it’s that they are pacifists. If there are two things, it’s pacifism and driving a horse and buggy.
I’m not one of those Mennonites. I drive a Toyota Camry.
Even though I’m a pacifist, I have no problems with staged fights: if two people organize a boxing match or agree to wrestle or join an MMA league, fine. In fact, at my old Mennonite summer camp, we would set up wrestling matches all the time, a bunch of pacifists agreeing to a fair fight under established rules. A situation where you let your emotions get the better of you and, in anger or stupidity, start a fight? Not cool. At least, off the ice.
On the ice, however, I believe in the exact opposite. Give me a spontaneous fight driven by the emotions and passion of the game not a staged tilt between two heavyweights off a faceoff. Yes, I am a pacifist who loves hockey fights.
Growing up in Chilliwack, I often went to Chilliwack Chiefs games in the old BCJHL with my grandpa. When I was young and couldn’t really follow what was happening on the ice, I simply did what everyone else in the stands was doing. I stood up and cheered when everyone else stood up and cheered. I would boo when everyone else booed. I would yell at the ref when my grandpa yelled at the ref, which was whenever we weren’t cheering or booing.
As I grew older, I figured out that we were booing because the team not from our geographical location had scored a goal, or hit one of the Chiefs, or simply stepped on to the playing surface. We were yelling at the ref because he was a bum and wouldn’t know his head from a hole in the ground. And we were cheering because the team from our geographical location had scored a goal, or hit one of the opposing players, or stepped on to the playing surface.
Or, oddly enough, whenever any players dropped their gloves and started punching each other in the face.
In this quiet town in the middle of the Fraser Valley Bible belt, everyone would stand up and cheer whenever a fight broke out on the ice. And I was one of them. A Mennonite pacifist celebrating the violence in the game.
To this day, I still appreciate a good, honest, spontaneous outburst of violence in hockey. I laughed in astonishment at Kevin Bieksa’s Superman Punch on Mike Richards. I nodded in approval when Jay Rosehill bloodied Jody Shelley after Shelley hit Darryl Boyce from behind. And, like everyone else, I stood up and cheered when Evander Kane dropped Matt Cooke.
So how can I justify this? How can I be a pacifist and love hockey fights? In some ways, I’m not too sure. The two philosophies set up an absurd cognitive dissonance in my head. In other ways, I know exactly why I like fighting in hockey.
As a society, we still like to believe in consequences and justice. Frequently, we find ourselves wishing for frontier justice or vigilantism. We want to see evil punished. Or not even evil; sometimes we want to see common discourtesy get punched in the face. Surely the guy who just cut you off in traffic without using his turn signal just needs a good slap upside the head. The woman driving next to you texting while driving would never do it again if someone gave her a solid kidney punch whenever she did it. Right?
It’s this same impulse that led to the creation and popularity of the superhero. In Superman’s original appearances, he fought for social justice, taking on profiteers, gangsters, and corrupt politicians. He was a creation of two men who were unable to take a stand against the injustice around them and imagined a mythic hero who could bend the rules of both physical laws and human laws. He and the superheroes that followed after him did not hesitate when they saw wrongdoing: they punched wrongdoing in the face.
In real life, this vigilante urge doesn’t work out so well. It turns out that punching someone is assault, even if they really deserved it. Real-life superheroes generally see more success when they pass out sandwiches to the homeless than when they start throwing punches.
In hockey, however, this urge for frontier justice is satisfied. If a player is running around with his elbows out, endangering your teammates, you can challenge him to a fight and, wonder of wonders, that player will frequently accept. If an opponent is taking liberties with his stick and the referees don’t see it, justice, or what feels like justice, can still be served.
Matt Cooke ended the career of Marc Savard and received no punishment. Evander Kane one-punched him in an entirely unrelated incident and every hockey fan still felt a rush of catharsis.
Does fighting win hockey games? No. It doesn’t. Does it still belong in hockey? Absolutely. Hockey is the last area in life where I can see wrongdoing, wish that someone would just punch the guy, and have a reasonable hope of seeing that wish come true.
In this era of hyper-concern over head injuries and high-profile deaths of enforcers, it’s an unpopular opinion. It’s not exactly a popular opinion among other pacifists. Fighting and pacifism sit inside my brain under an uneasy truce. Fortunately, the third thing that Mennonites are known for is mediation, so that truce is in safe hands.