Every once in a while I get a lot of feedback over something that happened at a Sharks game. It happened again this week on Monday night when the Phoenix Coyotes battled the Sharks at HP Pavilion.
Coyotes forward Mike Comrie objected to a perfectly good hit put on him by the Sharks Mark Bell. Keep in mind that at this point of the game the score was already 4-0, so you can understand why Comrie might have been in a bad mood. Comrie took a few whacks at Bell on the way back up the ice and threw a few verbal insults his way, but Bell is 6-foot-4, 210-pounds while Comrie checks in at 5-foot-9, 185-pounds soaking wet.
Bell wasn't about to engage in a slaughter of the smallish Coyotes forward. But Comrie was still hot and took a cheap shot at Sharks defenseman Josh Gorges. That's when things got really interesting. Bell had seen enough. He tried to go after Comrie but other players got in the way. Then Rob Davison squared off with the Coyotes Dave Scatchard and they engaged in a spirited fight. Ever since then people have gone out of their way to tell me about how much they enjoyed the scrap.
You cannot deny the fact that during and right after the fight, the atmosphere inside the arena was electric. I said it on the telecast and many others have said it to. I've never seen a hockey fan get up from their seat and leave the arena during a fight or right before a shootout. If there's anybody who was disgusted with the fight, they sure didn't tell me about it.
Fans like to see the odd fistfight. It's been a part of the NHL from day one, and it should never be outlawed from the game. My colleague on radio, Jamie Baker, seems to think the current NHL administration is removing fighting from hockey whether they mean to or not, by using the two-referee system. The back, or trailing official, can now see the chippy stuff that used to occasionally go on and penalize it. With the old single referee system, some of that stuff was missed, and it led to some fighting.
Longtime Sharks villain Theo Fleury, now retired, recently said that he wouldn't have been as successful in today's NHL because he couldn't be the agitator that he was back in the 80's and 90's. He couldn't be the bad guy. And remember how much fun it was whenever Fleury was in town with his invisible black hat? Even Chris Pronger has become tame now. Who's out there to hate anymore? Raffi Torres?
Here's my take on all of this. Hockey is an entertainment product that struggles to compete with the Big 3. Over the years the NHL has thrived on a hero/villain formula. You need good guys and bad guys. The NFL has good guy Brett Favre but they also have the bad guys like TO or Bill Romanowski before him. Are you telling me the NBA wasn't a more exciting league when Bill Laimbeer (villain) would rough up Michael Jordan's (hero) teammates.
I know that hockey fans love to see all the skill that is out there, the great goaltending, and the crushing body checks. But they want more. I want more. I'm not talking about bench clearing brawls like in the 70's. I'm talking straight up, one-on-one, fistfights. It's exciting, it's thrilling, and it’s electrifying. Why would the NHL want to take those elements out of the league? Why?
For Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease,” I’m Randy Hahn.