Ryan Kesler throws down with Dennis Seidenberg whilst rocking amazing hair.

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.

Shawn Horcoff once scored 145 points in 58 games with the Chilliwack Chiefs. You have no idea how hard it was to find a picture of him fighting.

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.

This will never stop being awesome.

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.


Comments (11)

  1. Mmmh, an interesting read… I don’t like fights, neither boxing nor MMA, but I can understand where they are coming from in hockey, but not enough to want to keep them.
    Let’s think and talk about it a bit more…
    (I have to say that I imagined you driving a toyota camy tracted by horses… took me 5 minutes to stop laughing)

    Thank you!

  2. Great read, I think it captures a lot of people’s opinion on this, even if they don’t say it.

    To continue on with your cell phone metaphor, I wouldn’t worry about the woman driving while texting because I know if the police see her, she’ll get a nice little ticket, at least here in NJ. In a league that has more eyes watching on the ice, and now off the ice, is there still room for fighters? Big hits are still going to draw a crowd, but you’ll never see the brawls of old. Instant revenge has been made impossible by officials quick to give guys a game misconduct. What’s left is a few 4th liners playing a few minutes a game and scrapping to stay relevant.

  3. I totally agree. I love the superhero vengeance possibilities within a hockey fight.

  4. Wait, we’re allowed to be okay with Matt Cooke getting stroked in the jaw? This is good news for me.

  5. This article borders on the edge of that fake air of superiority and enhanced value that comes from someone supporting a position that is generally not part of the accepted narrative for that position (“Im a republican but I am pro-choice”, “Im a democrat but I love guns”, “Im against animal cruelty but love hamburgers”).

    However, its good to see someone who is “pro-fighting” at least state the real reasons for it. Basically, you feel like a player or your favorite team got “wronged”, and you want to punch someone for it. Who doesn’t feel that way?

    That said, we need to be clear here – you are not advocate for *justice*, a word you use repeatedly. You are advocating for *revenge*. This is a much different concept, and you even seem to recognize that (…”what seems like justice…”).

    Was justice served when Matt Cooke got knocked about by Kane? Not even close. Matt Cooke has ruined entire careers, and cost athletes millions of dollars of salary. And these are just the *direct* costs (what is the non-economic value lost by Marc Savard in not being able to skate the Stanley Cup around the night the Bruins won?). Meanwhile, Cooke has had a successful career, making millions himself and winning a Cup. So no “justice” was served by him having to endure getting knocked down in a 10 second fight. He wasn’t even technically injured, was he? So he suffered some mild embarrassment, at most?

    What you are really looking for is the short-term mood enhancement that comes from some cheap revenge. You feel like someone “got back at Cooke” for his actions. Well congrats for getting to feel better about the situation for a few minutes. But this is like people choosing short-term pleasure over long-term prosperity. We know people would rather eat cake than fruit even though they know that it would be better to have fruit in the long-run. But that doesn’t make eating that cake the smart choice. What’s better for your team – that one-punch, or having Matt Cooke or his team penalized his actions? What would be better for the game – that one punch, or having Matt Cooke thrown out of the game and his team being forced to play games with one less player on bench during the games Cooke was suspended?

    “Does fighting win hockey games? No. It doesn’t. Does it still belong in hockey? Absolutely. ”

    Paciifist, hawk, or otherwise, this is where this debate is heading. More and more people are starting to realize that fighting’s place in the game is *solely* to give some people a momentary jolt of excitement. And more and more will realize that fighting does not positively impact the game or a team’s chances of winning that game. When that happens, the two positions are so completely unbalances, that fighting ends up with no useful justification, and banning it for good will be inevitable.

    • I’m aware of the cognitive dissonance in my stance. I might argue that fighting isn’t around just to make the fans feel better or more excited, but also for the benefit of the players’ psyches as well. There is a reason, after all, that all of the players stand up and tap their sticks on the boards after a fight and why fighting itself is still supported amongst the players when they are polled.

      I talked to Bill Sweatt, a prospect for the Vancouver Canucks currently with the Chicago Wolves, somewhat recently about this. He wrote a paper while at university on how fighting has no statistical correlation to winning. I asked him about this and he said that he still supports his teammates who go out and fight, still cheers them on and congratulates them in the locker room. Because, sometimes, hockey isn’t all about winning.

      • ——
        I asked him about this and he said that he still supports his teammates who go out and fight, still cheers them on and congratulates them in the locker room. Because, sometimes, hockey isn’t all about winning.

        Not surprised – we hear this all the time about fighters and the psychological impact they have on a team. I don’t doubt it can be a bonding experience within a team. But that doesn’t mean that the removal of fighting will cause a team to NOT bond as well. At the end of the day, to me, that, as a “justification” for fighting is pretty flimsy.

  6. Big shout out from Chilliwack.
    You may have heard, the Chiefs are back.
    Check out their new jersey’s: http://youtu.be/NwAD7mqDvF0

    • Yeah, I heard the Chiefs were back in Chilliwack. I was sad to see the Bruins leave, though. And I’m not a huge fan of the new jerseys. They look like NCAA jerseys.

  7. Skeeeeeeeeeeeter

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