Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dropping the Gloves

The Big Bad Bruins. The Broad Street Bullies. The Third Man In. Bench-Clearing Brawls. Dave "The Hammer" Schultz. Ah yes, the 1970s. Hockey fighting and violence at it's best. The memories of that era came flooding back over the past couple of weeks. Of late, the NHL has experienced a return to play where brawls have become a major storyline in game reports.

There was Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson's one-punch decision over fellow netminder Rick Dipietro. This was followed by Carey Price of Montreal and Tim Thomas of Boston going toe-to-toe in a contest full of fighting majors. In a game played on February 12, 2011 the Islanders and Penguins racked-up a combined 346 minutes in penalties. Referees Dave Banfield and Dan O'halloran certainly were kept busy. For the longest time, officials have let players go to battle and burn-off steam. They will maintain their distance and allow the combatants to duke-it-out.

Red Dutton
 The origins of this philosophy for dealing with fisticuffs dates back to the 1943-44 season. It was part of an experiment initiated by league President Red Dutton. At the time, on-ice officials were being criticized for trying to break up one fight and subsequently being in a weakened position when another skirmish developed on the ice. Dutton changed things up prior to a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. Referee Bill Chadwick and his linesmen were instructed to resist the urge to lunge in and separate the participants.

Dutton commented on his observations of the game which just happened to include a fight.

 "You know how long the fight lasted, just 30 seconds. Know what Chadwick did? He stood back and observed what went on. After it was all over, harmlessly by the way, he skates away to the penalty bench and gives his findings. He didn't punish the starting pair, he penalized the two chiefly responsible.. He got the real offenders because he was in a position to see.
 I find nothing in the rule book which compels our officials to barge in and break up these affrays."

By the 1970s, the referees had no other choice. Remember the referee standing at centre ice while a donnybrook was going on all around him - firmly gripping a a clipboard - ready to take names and numbers?

As Red Dutton astutely stated "the officials as spectators".

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