Yesterday, the London Convention Centre hosted a symposium on violence in the game of hockey. Guest speakers ranged from Western faculty to professional media as well as former professional and amateur players.
Hits from behind, blows to the head and Justin Roy-style assaults undeniably need to be eliminated from the game.
Finding the root of the current issues surrounding excessive violence in hockey is a toss up between the impact of grass roots instruction and the glamorization of the professional game.
Despite Hockey Canada’s best efforts to educate amateur coaches, many of those responsible for coaching children are products of a hockey environment that required the need for enforcers and glamorized fighting.
Conversely, many argue the fact that fighting is accepted in the professional ranks serves as a poor example for younger players and is the origin of a filter down effect, where fighting and violence finds its way into the minor hockey game because of the actions of those at the elite level.
Regardless of the root, holding amateur coaches accountable for the actions of their players may be an effective way to curtail youth hockey violence. While there is no guarantee a young player will always take heed to the words of their coach, a greater measure of accountability might be helpful.
In addressing the professional game, the role of economics cannot be ignored.
Right or wrong, the business that has become professional hockey derives income from the physicality of the game — particularly in markets where the game is not well understood and subsequently fans relate better to a hard body check or fight rather than an athletic play.
One ray of light for those who want fighting — and the role of the enforcer — out of the game is the increasing physical nature of hockey’s elite players. Specifically, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby represent a new breed of NHL stars that do not require an on-ice bodyguard as did the great players of the past.
The fact events such as yesterday’s symposium are prevalent today, identifies significant interest in making changes to the sport.
The biggest challenge in any attempted changes to the physicality of the game will indeed be the cultural ties related to it. Particularly in Canada — where hockey is considered part of our national identity — asking the culture to change is essentially asking Canadians to question what they have historically identified with in terms of the game.
Leaving the contentious issue of fighting aside, for the sport to move away from dangerous violence such as hits from behind, a balance must be found in compromising what hockey players and fans — Canadians in particular — have traditionally related to and what they are willing to acknowledge is core to their game.