Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hockey's gotta fight to survive

By Steven Lienert

Usually to get hockey highlights, I don't have to turn on Sportscenter until 45 minutes into the program. It seems to follow figure skating but comes on just before Ultimate Frisbee.

That was until the other night, when the Sabres and Senators led the show. It reminded me what makes hockey great.


Hockey's dying and it needs to get back to its roots to jump-start it' popularity again.

Let's call this Fighters Anonymous. Be honest here -- even the most fringe hockey fan at least took a peek at Sabres-Senators II to see if there was any payback for what happened a few nights earlier.

And there was. And it was awesome. And if there's a God, the Sabres and Senators will meet in a seven-game bloodbath for the Eastern Conference crown.

Because that's what hockey needs. It's the only sport where, if you fight, they put you in a little box for five minutes to cool down.

In baseball, if you fight, you're kicked out of the game and suspended. In basketball, not only do you not know how to fight, the fans will kick your ass, you'll get kicked out of the game, you'll get made fun of on television and you'll get suspended.

Fighting in football is just dumb because everybody wears helmets. Duh. And if you're one of those guys that takes his helmet off during an altercation, you deserve what you get. But I digress.

The new rules that hockey adopted after the lockout freed up the skill players but almost made the Hockey Goon an extinct species. Now, however, there are signs fighting is coming back in vogue.

Donald Brashear, late of the Philadelphia Flyers, was signed by the Caps to 'protect' the organization's investment in Alex Ovechkin. He just inked an extension with Washington.

And in Pittsburgh (and soon-to-be Portland), with people taking more liberties with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins traded for the current heavyweight champion of the NHL, Georges Laraque. Brashear vs. Laraque: here's hoping the Pens and Caps meet in the first round.

This should be music to Flyers' fans ears. That is, if the Flyers actually had a decent fighter. Or a decent team. Remember the Flyers-Senators brawl in 2004? Of course you do -- Comcast Sportsnet ran a special replay of the entire game for two straight days.

Why? Because hockey fans, especially Flyers fans, love brawls. They love the Broad Street Bullies, beating Russian Red Army teams into submission, goalies dropping the gloves and Ron Hextall starting fights.

Who could forget the Red Wings and Avalanche -- when Detroit went after Claude Lemieux in revenge after Lemieux rearranged Chris Draper's face with a 'check' along the boards during the playoffs six months prior? Everybody on the Red Wings had to fight. It's part of the code.

If hockey wants to get off OLN or, uh, Versus, or Prism or whatever it's called this week, please let teams take cheap shots against the skill players. And let the Goons take the ice and do their job.

It keeps the players in check. Hockey's the only sport where if you break the rules, the referee isn't the only one handing out the punishment. It's what makes it great.

Lienert likes to drop the gloves at
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