Why Are There Fights In Ice Hockey?

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You can’t go through a regular NHL season without at some stage a top ten video on YouTube surfaces talking about the best fights of the season. This part of the game has taken on a life of its own over recent years, with many novice ice hockey fans regularly using these fights as an avenue to talk about the sport.

But, in essence, these fights have become a part of the sport. Statistics have found that the number of fights per season is decreasing, but the 2014-15 figures still showed that there were 391 fights in that season. That number was a huge decrease from seasons gone by. That 2014-15 season saw a fight in 26.91% of the games in that season, but that is the highest that it has been in the NHL for the last five years. But, where did this all come from, and why is it such an important part of the game?

When Did It Start?

Fighting in hockey has been around since the early stages of the sport being played. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise in truth, due to the competitive nature of the sport and what’s at stake in the NHL, there is always likely to be animosity towards opposing players. Of course, the fighting in games is something that is being slowly ushered out, as there are more safeguards put in place to protect the players.

Why Is Fighting Allowed In Hockey?

The fighting in matches was something that started during the early days, mainly due to the lack of rules and the history of crime and poverty in Canada. The rules made during the introduction of the blue lines in 1918 increased the number of fights taking place. However, the NHL reduced the number of fights per game. Between 1920 and 1960 there were fewer fights in matches, but they would be more brutal.

Why Do Hockey Players Fight?

There are many reasons why the players fight, but much of it is down to the adrenaline and the collisions we see during matches. Enforcers will also use it as an opportunity to halt the opponent’s momentum, or try and gain momentum for their team.

Is Fighting Allowed In Hockey?

NHL’s introduction led to the role of ‘enforcer’ being born. The role was an unofficial player within the roster that was there to purely look after the more talented players that the team had. The 1980s saw a lot of fights in the NHL, as more sides were signing enforcers to protect their players, but those numbers sharply dipper in the 90s.

Since the millennium, the season with the most fights came in the 2001-02 season. There were 803 fights in that campaign, which meant that there was a fight every 0.63 matches. Furthermore, 42.20% of the game had a fight in them, while 348 players were involved in fights. That number remains the second-highest in the past 20 years, with the only season boasting more players involved coming in the 2008-09 season when 355 players were involved in at least one fight.

Fighting Rules In The NHL

The NHL combats the need for fighting in the games by having rules in place to ensure that it is easier to see those involved, and also to deter enforcers from starting fights should the opposing enforcer not want to engage. The rules are an unspoken agreement between all players in the league. The first step is the players dropping their sticks at the beginning of the fight. This ensures that they cant be used as a weapon. The players involved in the fight would also take off their gloves. They aren’t rules, but instead etiquette that players must respect.

Both enforcers must verbally agree that they want to participate before a punch is thrown. The enforcer that losses must do so with grace, otherwise they will lose the respect of their fans and teammates.

Reduction In Number Of Fights

There are a lot of reasons for the decline in fights during NHL games, but the prominent reason is the introduction of Rule 46. This gives the referees more power and ensures that the first player to get involved from the bench is suspended. As well as that, there is a two-minute penalty as courtesy of the ‘Instigator Rule’ which was introduced in 1992.

The 2018-19 season saw the lowest number of fights this millennium, with only 238 throughout the 1271 games in the season. There was also only 213 games with fights, which was also the lowest in 20 years. There were only 0.19 fights per match, which was also the lowest. While it’s unlikely to be the end of fighting in hockey altogether, the reducing number of fights looks set to continue.


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