Talking With Messier About Fighting In Hockey

September 27, 2009 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns, Hockey Interviews

Mark Messier fights Jason BlakeFighting in hockey is always a hot topic.  However, due to some recent injuries and an unfortunate death last season, attention has been turned to whether or not players should be allowed to remove their helmets during fights.

I have my opinions on fighting in hockey, but rather than ramble on with my thoughts, why not ask one of the legends of the game?

So, I asked Mark Messier about his thoughts on the subject.

Messier fought no less than 19 times over the course of his career in the National Hockey League.  In addition, his son Lyon had a couple of fights last season as professional player in the Central Hockey League. This gives Mark, what I believe is, a unique perspective on the topic – addressing the subject from the view of both a player and a parent.

In addition, Messier also has first hand experience on the topic considering one of the first NHL fights of his career was with Dennis Ververgaert in 1980.  In this fight Messier was wearing a helmet, while Ververgaert was not. Messier landed several hard left hands, taking Ververgaert to the ice.  Fortunately, they were both okay.

However, if you watch the video , you will see that there is not much difference in the way that Ververgert fell compared to how Columbus’  Tommy Sestito hit the ice and was injured following a fight with Jordin Tootoo this pre-season.

Without any further adieu.

Messier On Fighting

NHL Digest: Do you have a position on fighting in the NHL?  In particular, what is your reaction to taking helmets off during fights?

Messier: Fighting in hockey has been debated for many years by team officials, players, experts, and fans. The one constant in all the discussions is that there are no easy answers or solutions. As a former player, fighting was an accepted aspect of the game. Of course when I first started, very few games were televised around the country, and every move the league or teams made was not scrutinized by millions of viewers.

Over the last few decades, fighting in hockey has changed tremendously. In the 70’s fighting really hit its peak, being lead by the Broad Street Bullies in Philadelphia. The Flyers were the Stanley Cup Champions and played a very aggressive in-your-face game, which often lead to fisticuffs on the ice. Bench clearing brawls were the norm, and of course, all this trickled down to the minor leagues and even into the grass roots level.

The 80’s followed with an invasion of highly skilled European players that started to make their way over to play in the NHL. And soon after came the games Greatest player ever in Wayne Gretzky, who possessed a game of skill and awareness that had never been seen before. Led by Wayne, the Edmonton Oilers became the benchmark for success, adopting a highly skilled, fast skating game, which forced the rest of the league to change their philosophy from a grinding up and down your wing, to a skating, interweaving game that resembled a more European style.

The league took tremendous steps to reduce fighting and eliminate bench clearing brawls. Requiring players to return to their benches as soon as a fight broke out and the institution of many other new rules greatly reduced the number of fights that took place in any particular game.

While the focus now is on a more skilled, high tempo game, fighting is still a topic of conversation, particularly when a player is hurt as a result of the fight. Players are bigger and stronger than ever, and have taken the skill of fighting to a new level. Hockey is a great game of passion, skill, discipline, courage and heart. However, in addition to these great attributes, intimidation has always played and will continue to play a part in the game.

One of the latest problems associated with fighting is players taking their helmets off before engaging in a fight. One of the reasons for this was the mandatory visor rule that was implemented in amateur hockey, much like the hockey helmet was back in 1979. Because of the shields and full cages, taking the helmets off became a way of showing respect and bravado.

Hockey, like life, is ever changing and evolving. We as a league must always have the best interests in our minds and hearts for the players, teams and fans. The changes that have taken place over the last 30 years have made our game better than ever. We will continue to make the necessary changes to ensure we not only protect our players, but provide the fans with the best product and entertainment possible.

Fighting has always been a part of hockey, and I personally believe that it will continue to be one aspect of our game. Part of what makes hockey so entertaining is that it requires physical and mental toughness. But as the game continues to evolve, I believe that player safety and better protection need to be our top priority. If that means instituting a rule – like Hockey Canada – that makes it mandatory to keep your helmet on in a fight, I would support it.

Messier On Head Protection

The Messier Project, my new collaboration with Cascade Sports, is committed to elevating head protection in hockey and we are working to change priorities in the sport. A helmet and its protective technology are just as important – if not more important – than the skates you wear or the stick you use.

In developing the M11, I worked very closely with the innovators at Cascade Sports to bring a player’s perspective to the design. One of the features I am most proud of is the ProFit system, which I think ties into this conversation.

During game play and especially if a player engages in a fight, it is extremely important that the helmet m11_Backstays on to prevent potential head injury due to a blow to the head or the more serious threat of a player’s head hitting the ice.

The Pro Fit system creates a 360 degree fit- tapering the entire helmet in around the head for a snug, “toque” feel. When your helmet fits right, it is safer on impact and when adjusted properly, a good fit increases the level of protection the helmet offers. From a performance perspective, the M11 ProFit allows a player to fine-tune the fit and adjust it on the fly based on the situation and environment.

Thank you for your question. It is conversations and questions like these that are so important to the evolution and continued success of our game.

With respect,
Mark Messier

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Mark’s take on fighting in hockey is not simplistic. He is certainly passionate about the game and his venture with the Messier Project really is about protecting players.

He mentions that he would support a rule to keep helmets on during a fight.  This makes sense, but if that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t want to fight anyone with a Dany Heatley sized visor!

Maybe a quick-release visor could be developed?  That would be sure to appease both the “no fighting with a visor crowd” and the “keep your helmet on during a fight” crowd.

Hmmmm…maybe I just gave Mark and Cascade Sports an idea for the next big thing in hockey? I’m sure my check is in the mail!


2 Comments on "Talking With Messier About Fighting In Hockey"

  1. miss_georgia (Georgia Dagger) on Sun, 27th Sep 2009 6:20 pm 

    Twitter Comment

    Great read! RT @nhldigest Talking With Messier About Fighting In Hockey | NHL Digest [link to post]

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  2. Paul Busch on Sun, 25th Mar 2012 7:15 am 

    I’m not a fan of fighting, something that I have written about on my blog – But I agree with Messier that the total elimination is not possible and that we will always see tempers flaring and players dropping the gloves. I think that adding a game misconduct for every fight would go a long way to reducing incidents from the game. Players could still fight if they really, really think its important but they would make better decisions. Like not fighting after a good clean hard hit or within seconds of the opening face-off. It would also pretty much put an end to the one-dimensional player who is on the roster simply for revenge or to send a message.

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