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Why Does Fighting Exist in Hockey?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 7, 2023 3:03 am

Why Does Fighting Exist in Hockey?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 7, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, as mysterious as it is sacred, the Code is an unwritten set of rules—the bible of hockey sportsmanship, if you will—that has been handed down from generation to generation. Ross Bernstein, author of The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, spent two years researching this story and is here to share it with you.

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To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, to iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Hockey is and always has been a sport steeped in a culture of violence. Players have learned, however, to navigate the escalating levels of physical contact by adhering to an honor system simply known as the code. Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, spent two years researching this story and he's here to share it with us.

Let's take a listen. I grew up in in southern Minnesota, which is not hockey country. This is wrestling and basketball country, not like northern Minnesota where they pull the kids out of the wombs by their skate blades as they say. But as a 10 year old kid, I watched The Miracle on Ice and this rocked my world. I begged my parents to please let me go to the Herb Brooks hockey camp. He had a hockey camp that year for kids and I went. I had to go buy skates, all the stuff. I was the worst guy there.

I won the most improved award for the guy who sucks the most. But it got me into hockey and I wound up becoming the star of the Fairmont Cardinal slash Domino's Pizza hockey team. We were so bad. Our high school wouldn't even sponsor us. We had to wear Domino's pizza jerseys.

That's how bad we were. But I got into hockey in a big way and I had a choice to make as a high school senior. Small college football or I could be a golden gopher. I want to go to the University of Minnesota.

That was my dream. My family Bledmer in gold. If you're from Minnesota, you know this means everything. If you're not, this is like Texas football, Indiana basketball, rugby in New Zealand. We love hockey Minnesota. I got season tickets.

It was incredible. And then I took this class. It was a one credit Fied course called Introduction to Ice Hockey 101. It was the class players taught to get their scholarships, allegedly. And I wanted to become friends with a bunch of guys in the team and I would invite him over to my fraternity parties and we'd hang out.

And eventually they said, you know, Ross, you're not that bad of a hockey player. You should try out. You should walk on to the varsity. I said, you know, you're crazy, but they wanted me to do it. And I did it. And I lasted about 10 minutes. I, I made it through a while and I was trying to impress the coaches one day and I wound up taking out our star player or the team captain, Todd Richards, former going to be an NHL player and coach.

And apparently that is not the thing you're supposed to do. So I got cut, but they told me that I could become the team mascot, Goldie the gopher. So I became the mascot. I had a blast.

I was entertaining drunk fans. I got in a lot of trouble, so much trouble that as a senior, a publisher approached me and asked me if they could write a book about all the trouble I had gotten into. Apparently it's not appropriate to throw Kraft cheese singles at the Wisconsin hockey players who knew, cheese heads, but this got me into hockey in a big way. And I wound up begging my mom and dad to use my graduate school money to write and publish my own book about the history of gopher hockey from Goldie the gopher's point of view. And it became a cult bestseller. And I got to interview hundreds of hockey players who would tell me these amazing stories and flash forward. You know, I've written almost 50 books since then, but along the way, I remember I was working on a hockey book and I watched this, this fight where, where Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi had had gotten into this incident and they kept referring to it as the Bertuzzi incident. And I didn't know what it was. And I said that Bertuzzi had broken the code and I didn't, I fancied myself as, you know, as a big hockey guy had written a lot of books at this point.

And I didn't know what that meant. So I kind of went down this rabbit hole and it launched this book called the code about the unwritten unspoken rules and what leads to fighting and retaliation and hockey. And it was just fascinating. And I learned about these unwritten rules, like all star wrestling, like no one talked about these things. There is no fight club.

No one talks about fight club. And I wound up interviewing all the players. And because I think I was a hockey guy, because I was, you know, a player at some level and I was at all the charity golf tournaments, they trusted me and they were sharing with me.

And one would tell me a story in the next. And I wound up interviewing hundreds of players about why fighting exists. I never understood it's the only sport that really allows fighting to exist.

And it's been that way forever. Going back, you know, years and years and years, years and years, the NHL always said they just allowed it. They said it was originally called fisticuffs. And they said it, whereas other sports, you'll get kicked out.

In hockey, they give you a five minute fighting major. It's a part of the game. It's part of the culture of the game. There's an honor code the players live by where the game polices itself. This honor code says that if you play like a jerk, you'll be treated like a jerk.

It's the golden rule. Do something dirty. Hit a guy from behind. Take liberties to the smaller player. Run a guy.

Do something stupid. The honor code says you must be held accountable. That's why players really aren't allowed to wear face masks once they become professionals, because you have to be held accountable.

There's a code. You can't hit a guy when he's down. You can't turtle. You can't dip your helmet as if to invite a guy to hit your helmet and break his knuckles. I mean, there's all these rules within the rules that dictate how and when you can fight. It has to be both guys acknowledging each other.

You can't jump a guy from behind. The linesmen have great liberties. The NHL has given them liberties as to how they can mitigate and make sure that no one gets hurt and make sure that once it's over, it's over. That if someone doesn't want to be a willing participant, that they won't be. But you'll see guys. It's great when you can go on YouTube and see the audio.

When there is a fight, you'll see that it's very much professional. You want to? Okay.

Swirl. Good luck, man. Good luck, man. Let's go, he says. That's unbelievable. Look at him, this smile on his face. They'll even give out like a flip, flip the thumb up, like we'll flip the lids, meaning, okay, you know what? I got a broken finger. Take your helmet off.

It's like a respect thing. Marty McSorley wound up writing one of the forwards for the book, along with Tony Twist. Would have had Bob Probert, but he wasn't around.

Sadly, we had lost him, but sent me down another rabbit hole again of interviewing. I wrote many books. I wrote a book with Derek Bugard when he's playing for the Midwest. When he was playing for the Minnesota Wild, he remembered taking boxing lessons from this guy named Scott Ledoux. Scott was a heavyweight prize fighter. He fought Muhammad Ali, Holmes. So he understood hockey, leverage, balance, but fighting, body blows, how to leverage reach. So these guys were very technical. And you're listening to Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL.

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Let's go places. And we continue here on Our American Stories with Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, the unwritten rules of fighting and retaliation in the NHL, and where he left off in his story, discussing hockey enforcer Derek Bougard. Derek would go on YouTube every day and study tendencies, the poker tells, what other guys would do.

He said, if this is your job and you're not very good at it, you're not going to be around very long. And back in those days, he might have 30, 40 fights a year, not like today where it's really changed. So going back in the history, I'm weaving around, I apologize, but going back in the history, back in the old Madison Square Garden, the promoters, they were boxing promoters and they would rent an ambulance and they would drive it around the Madison Square Garden with the sirens blaring saying, the Boston Bruins are in town, it's going to be a bloodbath. There was always a story like in wrestling, like the, you'd get heat and you'd build up this bad guy persona and then everything would come to blows and then the loser had to leave town and he'd go to another territory.

Well, that's kind of how it was, but it was real. They knew the last time was in found, you know, Tiger Williams got in a big fight and whoever, and they would dramatize it and the newspaper reporters loved it. And, you know, the fans went crazy.

If there was a fight, no one got up, they wouldn't go into the bathroom, they weren't buying a hot dog, they wanted to see it. And really what's fascinating is, is that it was a way to create momentum. You know, it's hard in sports to create momentum. As a speaker, I talk about momentum and how businesses can create momentum, but in hockey, if your team's down two to nothing and a coach taps a guy in the back or gives him a wink or just gives him a look, he knows to go out there and take on the other guy's heavy weight. And if he wins, you know, the guys are going to bang their sticks on the boards and that's the momentum. The crowd goes wild or you silence the other team's crowd. Either way, it creates momentum and the players feed on that energy. It literally creates a home field advantage and it's remarkable. They'll rally, they'll come back from two to nothing and they'll win three to two and you can credit that that fighter, that fourth line guy and making the league minimum. You know, there's a really interesting story that I thought was brought to light in my book by Howard Bloom that I think really explains a lot.

Jack Jackson with a couple of good left hands. Why is intimidation effective at changing the whole pace of a game? Because once somebody on your team gets hurt, that becomes a real preoccupation.

Either makes you feel like a victim or makes you feel like it's time for revenge. The adrenaline level goes up. It changes the very hormonal sea on which hockey is played. Hockey's not just played on ice. Hockey's played on hormones. How that game goes is going to determine whether for the next week or month they are winners or hormonally and biologically they are losers.

Without him doing that role, they don't win. So it's really remarkable. So they're the most respected players on the team.

When I was getting to know Derek Bougard when he was with the Minnesota Wild, you know, they sold more Bougard jerseys than anyone else's jerseys because those guys are and they're teddy bears. They've all got that Jekyll and Hyde persona. They're all the nicest guys off the ice but on the ice they're animals. Their job is to inflict pain and it's never personal.

Tony Twist said that he'd knocked out the four front teeth of the best man in his wedding. It wasn't personal. It's just business. That's what they got to do. And it's hard because those guys as they get older, Marty McSorley, we'd get together.

His hands barely worked because there were so much inflammation and arthritic. And he'd say during training camp they dreaded it because you'd have to play with what they would call the football players. And those are the guys who are the tough kids from Medicine Hat, Moosejaw, Monkton. They knew they were never going to make the team so they gave them like their jersey numbers were like number 75.

They were the football players. So these guys would come in and they would, you know, you want to be the man, you got to beat the man. So they would say very cordially, you know, Mr. McSorley, I'm trying to make the team or, you know, the minor league team, could I please have a fight with you, sir? It's like, all right, you know what, kid, you're okay. You know, we'll do it tomorrow.

You know, the end of the game, I'm okay. But I got to sore shoulders so don't come at me from this side and we're going to flip the lids because I got to, you know, and it's just amazing how it was very much just business. It wasn't personal. And Tony Twist described this.

It was fascinating. He described going to work every day like I thought something that every guy could relate to. He said it was like being in eighth grade, junior high, and the biggest bully in the school called you out and they challenge you to a fight.

And they told everyone. So when that bell rang at three o'clock, man, at three oh five, you had to be there. And that stress of knowing that you had to fight this guy at the end of the day and every guy's been there, right? If they've been in a fight in your life, you've been there and you know what that's like.

And they had to do that every day. And they know that if they were going to Chicago, he had to fight Proby. And the last time he fought, probably he cut him. So now probably he's angry and he embarrassed him. So now he's coming, he knows he's coming for you. And he knows during pregame warmups, it's coming like first period, maybe first shift, right? And you're going to get it out of the way.

And then, and then there might be a rematch. Here's Bob Probert. Yes. At a certain point in my career, you know, I had a reputation as being one of the tougher guys in the league. So you either had players that would, would come after you and try to make a name for themselves or would stay away. So you had a little bit of both. You know, it was a job that was, it wasn't easy.

You know, you didn't have to, you know, if you're a goal scorer, you just have to worry about going out there and keeping your stats up, going out and trying to score a goal, right? A fighter, there's a lot more to it. You got, you're thinking, you're constantly thinking, okay, well, who are we playing tomorrow?

Who are we playing next week? Okay, next week I'm going to have to fight this guy. You're always, you're thinking that it takes a lot, a lot, it takes a toll on you. And then they got to get up, right? So they're taking amphetamines or painkillers because they got to get up for this. But then afterwards they got to come down because they got, they want to read stories to their kids to go to bed and they got to do it all again the next day.

So it's this cycle. So, so many of these guys get addicted to painkillers and it's tragic, but a lot of these guys, that's their ticket. And it was fascinating. A lot of guys I met, they were, you know, four year college guys. These were smart guys.

It wasn't like it was hockey or else. A lot of these guys like Blue Guard, they left home and they were 13 to go live with a billet family in Saskatchewan. And that's your job. Like if you don't make it, there's nothing else.

You're going to the back to the farm or the salt mine or whatever it is. So a lot of college guys said, you know what? I'll take that role. The bottom line is you got to protect your skill players. And if other teams know they can take liberties with their skill players, they're going to come after them.

I remember one of my, a real good friend of mine, Neil Sheehy, who played about 10 years for Calgary. And this is a smart guy. This guy went to Harvard Law School. He's an agent today for some of the best players in the league. But he learned that it's chess.

He said, you know what? If I can go punch Gretzky and McSorley or Semenko will come beat the crap out of me. My team will gladly exchange me for Gretzky.

So he'd do that all day, every day. And they figured out that they ultimately became the instigator rule that they literally, they named kind of after him because he figured out an arbitrage, a gray area where you could, you know, if you can get Gretzky to fight, we'll gladly take him off the ice because we got a chance to beat you. So it was really interesting learning about the history, the culture, the honor of sticking up for your teammates. It's the toughest role in sports, in any sport, bar none. The fact that these guys typically don't fight their own fights, they're fighting for someone else. Someone takes out your star player knowing that they're going to have to go out with two minutes in the game when they could just go home and go to bed. But now they're going to go have to get stitched up. I remember interviewing the old team doctor for the Montreal Canadiens. He said, if you, a lot of times the team doctor, if they were traveling, they wouldn't pay him in money. They didn't have money.

They'd pay him in booze. So you hope if you got cut, it was like in the first period, because by the third period, you were getting those Frankenstein stitches, like, you know, cut six inches might get four zippers, right? So it's a fascinating look into a really unique part of what I think is the greatest sport in the world. I love it.

I know you love it, Greg. It's something we both played at, we're very passionate about. And you're listening to Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, the unwritten rules of fighting and retaliation in the NHL. And as a hockey fan who spent many a night at Madison Square Garden watching the Philadelphia Flyers brawl with the New York Rangers bullies, now I understand they weren't bullies.

They were protectors. The history, the culture, the honor of sticking up for your teammates, your star players is fundamental to the game. That's what we just heard from Ross Bernstein. Hockey is not just played on ice. Hockey is played on hormone. When we come back, more of these insights and so much more. And by the way, America's passion for sports is unrivaled and the world's passion for sports is unrivaled. But there's something about going to an NHL game.

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Once again, 855-933-5252. This February, Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades, snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan A Royal Romance, or crank up the action with Godfather of Harlem from MGM+. Get down and funky with the Classic Soul playlist from iHeartRadio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app.

Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Wherever you go in the all new Toyota Crown, you make a statement because the Toyota Crown is the car that always has something to say. It's style that says you're ready to steal the show, even when you're not trying. And the available Hybrid Max powertrain and standard all-wheel drive lets you rule the road and tells everyone to get ready for a show-stopping performance every time. Outside, the Toyota Crown has an innovative design that always makes you look sharp. But it's on the inside where the Toyota Crown really does the talking with a premium driver-focused interior that puts you in control. When you're ready for a vehicle that makes every entrance a grand one, get behind the wheel of the car that speaks softly but commands attention and makes everyone listen. Introducing the all-new Toyota Crown, the car that says so much.

Toyota. Let's go places. And we continue with our American stories and Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, the unwritten rules of fighting and retaliation in the NHL.

Let's pick up where we last left off. I think one of the things that really changed in hockey came at the advent of the early 70s when the Philadelphia Flyers under Freddie Shiro really changed the rules. They were tired of getting beat up by the big bad Bruins.

They just couldn't make any headway. So they decided, Freddie Shiro decided they were going to put a fighter on every line. Schultze and Moose DuPont, and they basically created an arms race.

It became legendary. Players would always say they, the bus would start shaking when they would go over the Walt Whitman bridge because the guys were nervous because they knew it didn't matter if you were on a fourth line or not. You were going to have to fight. They would take on anybody and everybody and they intimidated you. And guys would get what they called the Philly flu. They'd say to the coach, oh, coach, I don't feel good. Yeah, right.

Because you don't want to lose any teeth. But they found this system through fear and intimidation to win. And it was brilliant. It was no different than Belichick creating his system. Great coaches figure out ways to win. And he worked within the rule book. They eventually changed the rules because of him. But during the time they were able to win two Stanley Cups.

It's interesting. I wrote another book with a guy named Glenn Sonmore. Glenn was a legendary coach. He coached the Minnesota North Stars. And the North Stars had never beaten the Boston Bruins.

They called it the Curse of the Garden. The North Stars had entered the league in 1967 as an expansion team. And all those years, the 13, 14 seasons, they'd never beaten the Bruins. The Bruins came to Minnesota. They were crushing them. And Bruins tough guy John Wensink came out and he challenged the entire North Star bench to a fight. And that one guy answered the bell. And it killed Glenn.

Glenn, it killed him. And that offseason, he said, I don't care if we win one game all year. We're going to face the Bruins. We're going to beat the Bruins. We're going to fight the Bruins. So they go to Boston the next season. And Glenn tells the guys, he says, not the third time, not the second time.

But the first time these guys try to intimidate us, we go to war. So opening face-off, Bobby Smith, star of the North Stars. He just won the Lady Bing a trophy, which is emblematic of the league's most gentleman player. Like Bobby never got penalties. He never fought before. But opening face-off, one of their guys came up and he brought his stick straight up on the opening face-off and cut Bobby's chin wide open. And he's bleeding like a pig. And Bobby looks over at Glenn.

And Glenn looks at him and puts up his fists. And Bobby drops the mitts. And it's on. And this was a bloodbath. It still stands as a record. Most penalty minutes ever.

It was like 405 penalty. They almost couldn't finish the game because everyone either got ejected. It was unbelievable. And the Bruins killed the North Stars.

They beat them. But afterwards, Glenn had champagne brought in to celebrate what he took as a moral victory that we finally stood up to the Bruins. And during the game, he almost got thrown in jail because he threatened to throw Jerry Cheever, the head coach at Boston, rip his head off and give it to him in a basket. I mean, it was just unbelievable what was going on, all the fights. And sure enough, as the hockey gods aligned that postseason, Minnesota went back to Boston the first round of the playoffs and they swept them.

And that confidence of knowing that they could fight him, that they were able to face him, it was great. I wrote Glenn's book. It was called Old Time Hockey. Actually, I wound up writing a screenplay about a team he coached called the 1977 Birmingham Bulls, the Bullies.

And I wrote a book with the Hanson brothers from the movie Slapshot. Dave Hanson was on that team. And Glenn basically traded away all their top talent on this team in the old WHA to sell tickets down in, you're in Mississippi, this is in Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama. So it was unbelievable.

And they would sing, instead of singing the national anthem, they'd sing Dixie. And all these fans would come and it was a bloodbath every night. And it was just Glenn traded away all the good toys and all these tough guys and the fans loved it. But Glenn understood the business of hockey and how to sell tickets. And they were in the competition to sell tickets and everyone wanted to keep their job. So it's fascinating, really fascinating stuff.

Okay, guys, show us what you got. So I wrote this cool book called Slapshot Original. And I got to interview Paul Newman right before he died. And he said it was the most fun he ever had making a movie. He said they drank more beer during that movie than anything. And the Hanson brothers, who are legendary, if you haven't seen the movie Slapshot, please, once this recording is finished, leave immediately and go and go watch it. Because if you're any kind of self-respecting sports fan, you've seen it at least 100 times.

So you've got a lot of catching up to do. But it's a great movie, horribly, horribly, politically incorrect. You could never make a movie like this today. It offends every culture, race, creed, religion, sex, everything.

It's an iconic movie of the era, of the times. And I'm telling you, Brown County is just visibly upset by this display. Come on down and get places for the home games.

Bring the kids. We got entertainment for the whole family. At one point, it was the number three rented VHS of all time. I say VHS, not DVD, because I think it was behind Animal House and Stripes. So back in that era, it was a classic comedy. But really, it was really art imitating life. They were imitating the Broad Street Bullies. They said if we don't change hockey, it's going to become a parody. It's going to become nothing but fights.

It'll be the old Rodney Dangerfield. I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. And after that, that became the end as we got into the 80s and those epic brawls of the bench-clearing brawl, the line brawl, the instigator. You wouldn't see guys jumping guys.

And today, it's a much more sanitized version. But everyone's roots goes back to the glory days if you're a hockey purist. So I'm not advocating fighting. I certainly don't advocate it for kids.

There's your PSA. But in hockey, it's part of the game. And when you see a captain, when you would see Marc Messier, a very respected guy wearing the seat, when you see those guys stick up for a teammate and they drop the mitts and it's heat of the moment, it's beautiful.

It is, because they're sticking up for their teammates. Or if someone takes a cheap shot and they drop the gloves and they go at it, and even say to their heavyweight, their enforcer, their job is to protect them, they say, no, I got this. Even today, if a guy gets a Gordie Howe hat trick, which for your listeners, if they don't know, that means you score a goal, you get an assist, and you get in a fight.

That's like they're breaking out the champagne. I think the game has really changed. And the head injuries, the post-concussion syndrome, the CTE, it's really taken a toll. And back in the day, the guys like Gretzky, he had bodyguards, McSorley, Semenko. You didn't even look cross-eyed at Gretzky.

Someone would take you out. But now, a lot of the star players, the guys like Sid Crosby, they have to take a lot of those hits. Maybe not fights, but they're taking a lot of body blows. And the concussions, it's a big problem.

And the players see this now. And football, it's much worse with the CTE and the brain injuries. And football and hockey have a problem. I mean, even football, for a company that owns a day of the week, they need new customers.

They're like big tobacco. Kids aren't quitting football. They're not starting football. That's a problem if you're in the football business. And we're seeing the same thing in hockey. I mean, mostly that people don't play hockey because it's so expensive. But it's certainly become that way now where everything about hockey is bigger for them. Everything about hockey is bigger, faster, stronger. You look at a guy like Dave Schultz, who was a monster back in the 70s at six foot 185 pounds. I mean, when I was working on a book with Derek Bougard, Derek was six, eight, 250 pounds. Look at Zdeno Chara. Look at some of these guys.

They're, they're beasts. And you're listening to Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, the unwritten rules of fighting and retaliation in the NHL. And by the way, we don't advocate fighting here stories either.

That's our PSA. But my goodness, as I was telling you about watching Schultze from the Philadelphia Flyers, I was at some of those games. I was 12, 13, 14 years old. I'll never forget them. So exciting.

So exhilarating. And you knew from the time you stepped in the garden, well, it's just a matter of when the fight happened. That was the over under bet at Madison Square Garden. When would the first fight start?

When we come back, more of the history of the NHL, the role fighting played in it, and how it had to change to comply and comport with modern times here on Our American Stories. Listen, the last time the economy looked like this, the stock market tanked 50%. The US dollar lost 46% of its value and the price of oil quadrupled. Yet while the US economy collapsed and inflation ran through the roof, the price of gold shot up 1300% and silver rocketed over 2400%.

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Toyota. Let's go places. And we continue with our American stories and Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, the unwritten rules of fighting and retaliation in the NHL.

Let's pick up where we last left off. Look at some of these guys. They're beasts and they understand physics and trigonometry and angles and how to leverage and how to speed and how to really cause the maximum force with a punch using on skates and grabbing a guy and pulling on one hand and punching on the other and how to cause the biggest damage. And then you add YouTube and places like hockeyfights.com and cell phone video. Now it's escalated because now guys fight.

It's all on YouTube. And then they're going to vote who won, who lost. Well, now you don't win till you bring a guy down. You're not going to land a knockout punch because they've got fight straps. It means your jersey is attached in the back.

Bob Probert used to put Vaseline on and have a rip-away Velcro jersey. You'd grab him and his jersey was gone. Now you couldn't grab him. He's like a greased pig and he'd just pummel you to death. Well, now it's all about leverage. So you got a guy now and you want to bring him down because now it's about wins and losses. Who's going to go on YouTube?

Who's going to be on hockeyfights.com? And these are metrics. I mean, if you're an agent, you're going to use these metrics to say, well, I had this many fights. I want an elevator clause in my contract.

I want to be able to get paid. I mean, when Beric Bougard left the wild for the New York Rangers, he signed a multimillion dollar contract. Beric Bougard had one goal.

That's it. He was only there to fight, but they realized the value. It's like having a kicker in football. If you don't got a kicker, you're not going to win.

And if you don't have a good fighter to protect your best players, even to send a message. You know, Tony Twist was so good that at one point he said he didn't even have to tie his skates. He was never going to go on the ice, but the other teams knew. With him sitting at the end of the bench, no one was going to mess with their guys because they didn't want to face Twister.

He was crazy. He'd come out and kill you. So it's like us and the Russians with the nuclear bombs. We have them so that we never have to use them. And that's what these guys are. They're nuclear bombs sitting at the end of the bench, knowing that a guy goes, I'm going to think twice about cheap shotting a guy or finishing a check because I don't want that guy to come out and take me out and take out our star player. So it's tit for tat.

That's how the code works. You take out our guy, we're taking out your guy. Same in baseball.

Tony La Russa, manager. You take out our cleanup hitter, we're taking out your cleanup hitter. You drill our center fielder, we're drilling your center fielder. You pimp a home run, you steal signs, you disrespect us, we're taking your guys out.

There's always going to be cheating. Gamesmanship, spy gate, defray gate, sign stealing, you name it. Even in the world cup, just saw these referee will come over and he'll spray paint. They have a little can of spray paint where they spray paint a little circle where that guy can put the ball for a free kick. You watch all the guys run over there and they try and kick that little circle and they want the dirt all fluffed up so that he can't get a clean shot.

You watch them, they'll distract him. One guy will pretend he's injured just so they can come kick it up. They're constantly trying to cheat. Everyone's cheating, except golf. That's the only sport where there's no cheating. But fighting is the ultimate equalizer. You cheat, you're going to lose some teeth.

Spitting chiclets, as they say. And that's what keeps the game honest is that when you have that level of respect and accountability, you knowing that, hey, if you cheap shot us, we'll cheap shot you, the game gets cleaned up. Look, back in the 70s when college hockey players didn't wear face masks, there was a lot less facial injuries, believe it or not, because you didn't see a 5'4 guy cheap shotting some 6'2 guy.

He'd get killed. It was a level of respect. Without a face mask, you know, keep your stick down. You know, be responsible. Don't don't run a guy. But then when the face mask got put on, they were invincible.

Now you see guys running around, right? Smacking guys. Because what are you gonna do, hit me in my face mask? Big deal. So believe it or not, by keeping the face masks off, it cleans up the game, and it makes it more fair. And the players live by that honor code.

You break that code, you're going to get it. And that's more sacred than anything in hockey, the code. You know, it's interesting. I actually got to work with the Colorado Avalanche a couple years ago. Patrick Waugh and Joe Sakic became good friends, and they brought me in to work with their team.

And I got to spend a weekend with him at their retreat. And it was interesting, but you know, Patrick Waugh, and you know, he was legendary for fighting. And that, you know, the code says that, you know, heavyweights fight heavyweights, middleweights fight middleweights, lightweights fight lightweights, and goalies fight goalies. You don't break that code, unless a goalie totally says, we're going to do it, and the linesman agrees, right?

But otherwise, you don't break that code. So if there's a fight, that means the two goalies are going to meet in the middle, and that's how it goes. But decency is a really important, and it seems like hockey's so barbaric, but there are real rules.

There are real laws. Some of these guys, like the book, The Code, got turned into a movie with an academy war running director. It's called The Last Gladiators. And the kind of the star of the movie is Chris Nyland. And Nyland was a guy, he was a small guy.

You know, Nyland's barely six foot, maybe, maybe 180 pounds, but he'd fight anybody. And he had the crazies, right? He was, and his teammates loved him. They adored him in Montreal. He was just beloved, and the fans loved him, because he was just that guy who grew up with the chip on his shoulder, and he didn't care how big you are.

He'd fight you. And we all know someone like that, right? And we all love those protectors, those teddy bears who are going to take care of us. And someone hits our star player, and you could always expect Nyland to come off the bench and write what was wrong. But they do it in a decent way. They weren't clowns about it, right?

They would do it. And nowadays, if you get a guy who clowns, and they're not going to last long in the league, The Code will make sure that the justice is served. It's a crazy thing, but it's really interesting. Here again is human behavior specialist Howard Bloom. Is there a virtue that's overlooked by those who look at hockey? You bet.

But you don't know it until you step into the dressing room and interview one of these guys. You think that this guy is a monster. You think he has no compunctions about breaking arms, breaking legs, smashing out teeth. You think he's merciless, that he should be exterminated.

He's a cockroach in the game. And then you sit down with him and discover that he has the most magnificent set of ethics and morals you have ever seen in your life. In pursuing the question of the enforcer, you're pursuing the question of what it is to be human. What does the enforcer call on? Profound loyalty.

Loyalty so deep that he's willing to risk his own structure, his own body, his own bones, his own teeth, his own brain. On behalf of protecting people he deeply loves, the enforcer is the most ethical and moral member of the tribe because he is willing to undergo such incredible sacrifice. That's looking at it from the inside of the group. Looking at it from the outside of the group, the enforcer is the ultimate enemy, the super bad guy, and must be eliminated.

But that's because you and I are looking at it from the point of view of another group. If we were looking at it from within the group that the enforcer defends, we would love the enforcer because the enforcer loves every single one of us so much he is willing to give his life for us. One of the last lines in the book, it's, uh, hockey is a interesting mixture of grace and disgrace. And, you know, it's true.

You've got these beautiful poetic skaters, just creative, free-flowing down the ice with their long, beautiful walks of hair using physics and angles and spatial relationships to time perfect passes off the boards and understanding the beauty of an incredible tic-tac-toe goal. And then you've got the craziness of the fighting and the checking and the chirping and the instigators and the agitators and the sideshows and the drama. And, you know, it's just, it's all part of it. It's what makes it's what makes hockey hockey. And there's different levels. You know, I still play old man hockey and and beer league and there's still a level of decency and grace there.

And if you disgrace someone and do something bad, you're still going to get it. There's guys in open hockey that are going to drop the gloves. And, you know, you'll see a game in Nebraska where everyone gets a free small pizza, Billy Bob's, if there's a fight. So that's the kind of stuff that I think has no place in hockey just for for that part because these kids that they're none of them are going to make it as a fighter at that level.

You know, so it's just for show and it's just stupid. So I'm not a fan of that kind of fighting at all. But in the heat of the moment when Jerome McGintla gets cheap shotted or he sees one of his teammates gets cheap shot and he goes and grabs that guy and drops the gloves and faces him head on and he he pummels him and knocks him down.

That's respect. That that's that's the grace of hockey. And I think that's always going to have a place in the game because the players want it. If they didn't want fighting in hockey, they could eliminate it immediately. It would be gone tomorrow. You make it a 10 minute major, a game suspension.

And I promise you, there will be no more fighting. But it exists because the players see the value and the honor. And it's just a really interesting part of the game and a truly fascinating story, which is what this program is all about. And a terrific job on the production by hockey aficionado Greg Hengler, who grew up in Minnesota and the part where, well, they pull him out of the wombs and skates. And a special thanks to Ross Bernstein, author of The Code, The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL.

I remember when Derek Bugard was signed by the Rangers to a multimillion dollar deal, headlines across the daily news about finally the Rangers getting the enforcer they deserved. And that insight about the enforcers actually making the game safer is something I really never thought about before. It's so counterintuitive. And also the honor code and the moral and ethical code of the enforcer.

Again, something I'd never really thought about. Fighting is the ultimate equalizer, Bernstein said. It's what keeps hockey honest.

By keeping the face masks off, he also pointed out, it cleaned up the game. Hockey is a mixture of grace and disgrace. I don't think you could put it better.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-07 04:38:08 / 2023-02-07 04:59:15 / 21

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