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Sunday column: NHL fights packing an extra punch

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media columnist

The first of my now-regular Sunday columns for the Trib focuses on NHL fights, how they’re packing an extra punch, as well as additional purpose.

My thanks to everyone in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg who helped, as well as to the extraordinary website for the database.

Here’s video of some of my talk with Deryk Engelland for this piece …

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. Woomer says:

    Here’s another thought on why the NHL needs to “keep fighting” —

    My 19 year old nephew is really into sports — participating in sports, that is. He participated in varsity Soccer, Swimming and Lacrosse all through high school. He took them all very seriously, and he seemed to love them.

    But even with that love of playing, I couldn’t pay him to watch sports (any sports) on TV. He even admittedly watched the Super Bowl “for the commercials”, and tended to fall asleep during the actual game every year (including last week).

    But suddenly last year, he agreed to watch a few Pens games with his dad, his brother and me. And somehow he got hooked! He’s now in college, and he watches all the Pens games on TV..even to the point of calling me during the games to ask questions.

    So I finally asked him, “Why do you suddenly enjoy watching hockey when you’ve never enjoyed watching sports before?”

    His reply was (and my memory only allows me to paraphrase here) — It’s exciting because of the speed of the game and because something is always happening! Oh, and he also said “…and I love the fights!”

    And this is a kid that falls asleep watching the NFL.

    I agree that’s an extremely small sample set. But if fighting is one of the things that is keeping the younger generation watching hockey, then by all means, the NHL needs to keep it!

  2. MrB says:

    Good column and I agree with your point that the NHL is horrible at policing the game. It’s good that the players can “settle all business for their respective families” in an expedient manner.

  3. grandpagreg says:

    Was at Scope last night for the 4-1 WBS Pens win over Norfolk and noticed Joe Morrow was really holding back offensively and played a very conservative defensive game. Looks like he’s really working on that part of his game. Bennett looked pretty dangerous and could have scored more than the one that he did but for some nice saves by Bobkov in the Norfolk goal.

  4. Naje says:

    Fighting, goons, all of it… out. Every major league sport legislates against moronic, stupid behavior, as well as illegal behavior (i.e. head shots, runs at specific players, etc).

    DK, instead of assailing the NHL repeatedly, you accept this year’s fights because of their purpose? I understand your reasoning, but it’s covering up the real problem(s) in hockey’s terribly flawed leadership, rules, discipline and reasoning for allowing fights to continue.

    I’ve got no need for it and I’m not sure you’d have written a piece like this two years ago when one enforcer after another was taking their own life.

    Zero tolerance. Perhaps those who want to fight could become boxers or get into MMA.

  5. zivkov34 says:

    This New “Inception Format” is Blowing my mind! Its a Conversation inside a Box, within a Box, Inside a box, inside a Conversation, within a Box inside a Conversation within a Box, within a Conversation…

  6. MikeinNC says:

    Fighting ?? OUT ! Its barbaric, moronic and any other similar adjective you want to use. It’s one of the reasons the NHL will never be a top tier sport. There is a reason that fighting rarely happens when hockey is played at its highest level…because its not hockey.. Same for international competition. Fighting is not hockey and has no place in hockey. And those who think that the NHL couldn’t survive without it actually insult the game itself.

  7. Drew71 says:

    Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

    But nothing beats a blog fight.

  8. JAL says:

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  9. JAL says:

    I’m Always Chasing Rainbows Charles Harrison 1918 based on Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin.

  10. Steve says:

    Fighting in hockey is another reason that it will always be a fringe sport.

    DK: The term always amuses me. How does a fringe sport outdraw the NBA at the gate, including several cities where they share arenas?

  11. Eric Bowser says:

    I feel the same way.

    If you want to get physical retribution for a big hit on your star player, then go finish a hard check on their star. Fighting serves NO purpose in hockey. None.

  12. Dom says:

    It seems to me that the NHL is just waiting for a catastrophic event to take place before they take steps to reduce fighting. Their penality is just a slap on the wrist. If there were this many fights in the NFL, NBA, or MLB some credible measure would have been done to limit the amount going on. Time for the NHL to step up.

  13. Eric Bowser says:

    I guess when Nick Kypreos falling backwards smashing his head on the ice and bleeding all over wasn’t enough for them. Or the deaths of Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard. Or long time pugilists like Bob Probert. Or Jordin Tootoo in the NHL now who fights and has an alcohol problem.

    The NHL, NHLPA, sponsors, media and fans that support fighting will have blood on their hands when a player dies on the ice. It will happen, just a matter of time.

  14. Drew71 says:

    Boston’s prospect Bryce Brentz accidentally shot himself in the leg while cleaning a handgun two weeks ago.

    Per GM Cherrington, the bullet went thru his left leg and out the other side. Brentz was “lucky” not to have suffered a more serious injury, Cherrington claimed.

    My thoughts…

    1. Hope he’s ok. Even if he is a Red Sox. (That’s not HIS fault)
    2. My first reaction was to double-check the MLB team affiliation. Because, well, you know.

  15. scapper says:

    Today’s players are too big and too strong for fighting to still be an accepted part of the game. There was a time when even a steady barrage of connecting blows resulted in nothing more than some bruises and cuts. Look at the fighters and fights from 20+ years ago. Those guys’ workout regimens probably consisted of a few dumbbell curls and 8 [pounded Budweisers. Guys like Schultz and Cementhead weren’t exactly chiseled masses of muscle. They were big boys who could throw a decent punch, but they were built nothing like today’s machines.

    Most of today’s NHL players are weight room fanatics and, let’s face it, a lot of them are probably juicing to a certain extent. (C’mon, don’t get all defensive. You’ve seen the locker room interviews when the pads are off. The only reason they’re not even bigger is because of the aerobic nature of the sport.) Solidly connecting punches do too much damage, and someone is going to get maimed or killed one day.

  16. Eric Bowser says:

    Read the Paterno report… it was as expected.

  17. Thundercrack says:

    Don’t the Red Sox know that when you do the Navy Seal training you are supposed to leave the weapons at home?

    (glad the kid is ok. But I do wonder if his teammates will start to call him Plaxico)

  18. Jason81 says:

    Really, the whole thing in a hour. Who do you think you are, Louis Freeh?

  19. Thundercrack says:


    I hate fighting in hockey. And in your column you also mentioned that you thought the NHL would be better off without it. But I wonder about this that you wrote:

    “I’m OK with that, so long as it continues to be as purposeful, painless and … well, as dignified as it’s been in the first quarter of this season.”

    What do you mean by ‘painless’?

    DK: Painless as far as damaging the game. Obviously not actual pain incurred.

  20. Drew71 says:

    I wish EYE’d said that.

    And from this moment forward, I did.

  21. Eric Bowser says:

    I read the 39 pages… no interest reading the individual reports by Thornburgh, Clemente, or Berlin.

  22. Eric Bowser says:

    There’s no such thing as a painless fight….

  23. Arriba Wilver says:

    Nice article by 24/7 about Cutch.

  24. kr70 says:

    238 pages total

  25. 21sthebest says:

    I’m embarrassed for the players when they fight. They look childish. Especially when they’re dancing around with the gloves off and fists up.

  26. Playoffs by 2012 says:

    Interesting column today, and I’m really torn on the subject. When I played in college, I got into about a dozen or so fights. Whenever I fought someone, 95% of the time it was because of something that happened to me on the ice.

    A slash that wasn’t necessary, one cross-check too many, an elbow in the ear, or something like that would cause me to “drop the gloves.” It was my way of saying enough is enough, and now we’re gonna dance about it. Unless of course, someone ran our goalie. Then everyone would “pair off.”

    I never did it to inspire the team or change the momentum of the game. That concept always seemed silly to me. Still does.

    I never really considered fighting in the game to be a bad thing until I read the story of John Kordic a few years back. That one really got me. Then saw how the lives of guys like Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard were cut way too short. True all three of these guys had their own personal demons they fought with, but it was sad to read how their role as the “team goon” haunted them.

    I don’t know if you can ever eliminate the fighting aspect of the game. But honestly, I wish it would become a thing of the past.


  28. Oshkosh b’gosh!

    Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! Your Badgers did the job in miraculous fashion last night against Michigan! Heck of a shot, both at end of regulation {miracle 40 footer} and with 30 seconds left in Overtime!

    Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 all lose this week. Looks like #4 Duke back into #1 spot again! We will see if we can hold onto it for a while!

    Good job, Wisconsin!!

  29. Cracker, You are a wise man.

    I don’t like fighting——I did not like it as a kid, even when I won.

    It adds nothing to hockey. Do I watch it? Yes . . . and I also rubber neck at accidents along the highway, but that doesn’t mean I approve of car accidents.

    If 80 % of the fights this year have been in the 1st Period, that means they are not retaliatory but just to “establish turf.”

    Just as baseball is better without Don Drysdale-type beanballs, hockey would be better without “knock this battery off my shoulder” fights.

    Fighting/goonery (like the Asham-Engleland fight) is a Minor League approach to a Major League sport.

  30. Jordan White says:

    I disagree. While fighting off of opening faceoffs and goon on goon fights are mostly pointless, they’re really just a desparate attempt for a team to gain a spark, there are several instances where I’m glad fighting exists.

    For example, I can’t stand in other sports when teams or certain players intentionally and continually cross the line just to get under the opponents skin, and the “victim” of the behavior is basically helpless other than to stoop down to their cheapshot level. In the examples I’m thinking of, the referees either refuse to enforce the rules or miss the constant infractions away from the play, which eventually results in a blow up (think Xavier/Cincy college hoops last year).

    In hockey, there is a system in place where the players can hash that out themselves in 45 seconds, rather than continue a tit for tat on every play, which causes tempers to escalate. After a fight, everyone should walk away with the understanding that, “ok, you’re not going to treat us this way, this has been addressed, it’s settled, let’s all move on” – which speaks to Dejan’s dignified comment. Fighting can get out of hand sometimes, but I think it’s an efficient system of check’s and balances.

    And I’m fairly certain this is a weak argument to include to the above, but there’s something to be said for the history of fighting within the game. Been going on for how many years now….

  31. sarah says:

    Not to put words in DK’s mouth … but fights happening early, as described, serve to protect the stars. Knowing a professional ref or two myself, they say tbat a fight can actually settle everyone down and make the rest of the game safer for all skaters. Admittedly at the cost of the fighters.

    Having played 30+ years myself (as a goalie,a sometimes target to be “run” by frustrated opponents,) I can say that at times the refs allowing a fight relieves tension, and make cheap shots less likely.

    Do i wish it was different? Yes. Does it make the sport second rate? Yes.

    Do i often feel safer “after” a fight blows off collective steam?


    What I hope is the sport changes the culture gradually from Squirts up thru Jrs and college….and eventually we arrive at a sport with no fights.

    That will take time …

  32. Thundercrack says:

    With all the info that has come out about concussions and the long term problems they can cause, it really started a few years ago that I have been against fighting in hockey.

    A few weeks ago I turned the dial to Mark Madden’s show. He was in the middle of an interview. It was with a former hockey player and he was describing the problems he faced with concussions (caused by fighting) and how they ended his career. Sad & scary tale. It turned out to be Matthew Barnaby.

  33. JohninOshkosh says:

    Groat-very exciting game. Lucky the neighbors didn’t call the police ’cause I was whooping it up at the end of that game! Blue Devils have BC tonight right, I think.

    Watching some of the Knicks/Clippers. When Anthony wants to be, he may be the best baller on the planet.

  34. Arriba Wilver says:

    Milo—I think JAL is paying you back for yesterday’s comment. :-)

  35. Drew71 says:

    What are you doing to me, Groat? Next weekend, temps plummet 50s and 60s, with a good chance of rain Saturday morning.

    Oh well. At least with the cooler temps, my grouper corsage won’t rot.

  36. sarah says:

    Yup i heard that too. Sad and scary indeed…again, hope they can change the culture from youth hockey up.
    They did it with helmets, another stigma issue….here’s hoping.

  37. Vinny Giardina says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Fighting has no place in hockey anymore. Good, hard hits… yes. I remain convinced that there’s an untapped audience that would outweigh the current fanbase that would flock to hockey if the fighting and goon antics were eliminated. The popularity of hockey in the Olympics has shown this time and again.

  38. Vinny Giardina says:

    As much as I dislike the NBA, I think hockey is a fringe sport because it’s not part of the overall popular culture. “Normal” people don’t talk about hockey the way they do about baseball, football and basketball. Only hockey fans care about hockey.

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