I was excited to be exiting the TD Garden after watching professional hockey in the month of September. Last year's half "season" didn't allow for such things. As I walked out I was left thinking about one of the new rules being implemented this upcoming hockey season that is creating for some interesting interactions before fights occur in the NHL. The rule being that you are not allowed to remove your own helmet before a fight.
However, in an effort to keep fighting alive in the NHL, players have adopted a new pre-fight ritual. Rather than removing their own helmets, the players now come in close to each other and knock each other’s helmets off so as not to incur the additional two minute penalty to go along with the five minute fighting major. In lieu of getting up close and personal, before trying to punch each other out, players have also agreed to take their own helmets off so they both equally receive the extra two minute infraction.
The old rule regarding helmets and fighting was specific to players wearing face shields and encouraged helmet removal.
Fighting will always be a part of hockey. It’s an emotional, physical game and at some point the pot is going to boil over whether it is an emotional reaction between two players or the team sending out their respective tough guys to settle a score.
I do not agree that removing your helmet is unsportsmanlike and I would argue that it is rather very sportsmanlike. A lot of these guys that go out and fight are fighting a couple times a month and, though the unskilled goon is disappearing from the NHL, are often only on the roster because of their ability to trade blows with the toughest guys in the sport. A broken finger or knuckle because they banged it off somebody's helmet could take guys like this off the roster until they are healed enough to throw punches again. Taking your helmet off before a fight deters such things from happening.
The people in favor of this rule are worried about players going to the ice during a fight, or after getting knocked out, and hitting their unprotected head on the ice potentially causing a much more severe injury than a busted finger. While I agree the danger is there, I think those types of situations are far too few and in between that the addition of the new penalty is undeserved.
Not to mention the possibilities of adding even more gamesmanship (and annoyance) to fighting. If a fight is about to happen and the players agree to remove their own helmets and one player does while the other goes back on his word and leaves his helmet on it gives his team the advantage on the ice as well as himself in the fight. A move like this could trigger more fights as a way of getting back at the player who pulls the helmet trickery.
Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton isn’t looking forward to the new rule especially as it’s now combined with the mandatory visor rule. Players with less than 25 NHL games prior to this season will be mandated to wear a face shield.
As a fan I know I’m not that excited about the rule. I hate the idea of some of the more exciting players like Thornton turning down fights or taking games off because they busted their hands, fingers, or knuckles on somebody’s visor or helmet the week before. That could lead to losing some of the teams more skilled and more utilized players to five or seven minute stints in the box because they are now forced to take on a bigger share of the dirty work. I say let the fighters fight and police themselves as to how they want to handle their pre-fight preparations.