Friday, March 13, 2009 | 11 a.m.
Fighting is as much a part of hockey as the ice it is played on.
A hockey fight is not only a crowd pleaser, but it also serves a unique role as judge, jury and hangman under an inimitable set of unwritten laws that universally governs hockey players.
Yet despite its popularity with most fans and players, whispers of change regarding the allowance of fisticuffs amongst the NHL's top brass grew a little louder this week at the annual General Manager's meeting in Naples, Fla.
The possibility of eliminating fighting from the game sparked a rage with Las Vegas' own professional hockey players, the Wranglers.
"I think fighting is a big part of the game," said forward Tim Spencer, who has been in 13 fights this season. "It changes momentum of the game and it allows guys to feel safer. If guys are just going to run around out of control, then you have to have somebody to keep them in line. To take that away could make it even worse with guys throwing hits to take someone's head off."
Three days of debate at the GMs' meetings about fighting did not result in much change except for a clear assertion that they do not want staged or pre-planned fights to take place.
The NHL GMs recommended the addition of a 10-minute misconduct to participants in a staged fight – a move Wranglers' coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan approved of.
"I agree that staged fighting has really no place in the game," Gulutzan said. "Fights break out in the game naturally, which is fine. But really the role of fighting is diminishing in the game as a whole. I don't think there is a need for staged fights though."
Not all of his players agreed, though.
One of the chief proponents of leaving the fighting rules untouched is team captain Shawn Limpright.
"Okay, look at us, we have lost a bunch of games in a row, so if a guy wants to get the team fired up by going at it at the get go then why not?" Limpright said. "It's something I think should not come out of the game."
Aside from the staged fight rule, the NHL GMs also recommended a tighter enforcement of the instigator rule that adds an additional two-minute minor penalty if the player instigating a fight is wearing a visor. The NHL instituted a rule in 2005 to assess a game misconduct and suspension to the instigator of a fight in the final five minutes of any game.
Another policy that the GMs tabled for now involved the issue of whether or not helmets must be worn during a fight. The danger of players hitting their heads on the ice following a fight took center stage after the death of junior Ontario Hockey League player Don Sanderson, who died in January when his head struck the ice during a fight.
"It's unfortunate why they are looking at it with what happened in Ontario, but it's a big part of the game," Spencer said. "I think if you are willing to fighting then you know the risks. It's like going across the middle with your head down -- you're taking a chance."
The Wranglers are certainly no strangers to the dangers associated with fighting as they rank eighth in the ECHL with 60 fights in 61 games. The Wranglers also lead the league with an average of 22.6 penalty minutes per game and are second with 1,380 total penalty minutes.
The ECHL as a whole, which has progressed a long way from its past reputation as a goon league, averages about .947 fights per game, while the NHL averages .62 fights per game, according to Hockeyfights.com.
Although no significant changes in the culture of fighting came out of the GM meetings, hockey fans and players should expect this debate to rage for many more years.
"There are certainly ups and downs to both sides," said defenseman Mike Madill. "I can see where both sides are coming from and even though I never really fight, I know it's an important part of the game that would be hard to take out."
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].