November 19, 2018

Fighting will always be a part of hockey, no matter what happens off the ice.  With what has happened in recent times, this statement will be put to the test like never before.

This past summer must have seemed like a never-ending nightmare for the National Hockey League (NHL). Three deaths of three enforcers, including two suicides, have led to questions about fighting in hockey. Is throwing fists on a nightly basis causing both physical and psychological problems down the road?

Fighting isn’t an easy job, but I don’t believe it can lead to wanting to kill oneself.

The first casualty was 29-year-old Derek Boogaard. The “Boogeyman” was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment after a lethal combination of alcohol and Oxytocin. Next came Rick Rypien, 27, who had battled depression for over 10 years.  The cause of death was later confirmed as suicide. Finally and most surprisingly, the energetic and happy-go-lucky Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto apartment which was later confirmed as a suicide as well.  His mother stated later that her son was suffering from depression.

The players who died over the summer were fighters, nothing more.  They knew they weren’t going to be on the first power play unit or even have a chance at seeing the ice when the game was in crunch time.  When their team needed a boost or had to send a message to the other team they would be called upon.

A career full of blows to the head may cause head injuries, but does it really cause heavy depression and suicidal thoughts?  I don’t think so.  The people who are using the events that occurred over the summer as evidence for the removal of fighting in hockey are wrong.

It was a coincidence.  A tragic one, but a coincidence nevertheless.  Depression involves much more than being a fourth line player in the NHL who has to fight every other night.  I think for these players (especially Belak and Rypien) to do what they did, there had to be something much deeper.  Maybe it was something that they kept inside all these years and never told anybody about.  We will never know for sure.  But, to blame fighting as the reason for the deaths of these players is not fair to them and what they did for a living.

It’s the only sport in the world that allows two combatants from opposing teams to square off and fight for the honour and respect of their team and fans.  Taking fighting out of hockey after a few tragic coincidences would not do the game justice.

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