The NHL / Tracy Dodds : Players' Stand Against Fighting Is Taking a Real Pounding on the Ice

Ever since Wayne Gretzky took a stand against fighting in the National Hockey League, it has been the hottest topic on ice. The subject of debate. The subject of polls.

Funny thing is, the players are still swinging.

Just nine seconds into the game between the Islanders and Flyers Sunday night, six players had been given game misconducts and 102 penalty minutes had been handed out by referee Dave Newell.

"I was just talking with Mick Vukota after the warm-up and he made a comment about fighting slowly going out of the game," Pat LaFontaine said when the dust had cleared. "I said, 'You know, Mick, I haven't seen a brawl where everybody drops the gloves in about two years.' And then, this happens."

It started when the Flyers' Craig Berube and the Islanders' Brad Dalgarno got into it along the boards in front of the Islander bench.

When they went to the penalty box, the Flyers sent out Al Secord and the Islanders sent out Alan Kerr. As they lined up for the faceoff, Secord hit Kerr with a high stick, and as they squared off, others started pairing off for fisticuffs. The Flyers' Rick Tocchet took on Gerald Diduck. The Flyers' Kjell Samuelsson took on Dale Henry.

In explaining why the brawl was a good thing, Tocchet told Jim Smith of Newsday: "The guys had to wake up." He added: "I think, after the altercation, we started to dominate and they started to back up. I'm not saying they were intimidated but . . . I think it was the effect of us standing up."

The Islanders, who lost the game, 5-4, thought that they had showed courage in outscoring the Flyers, 4-1, after the Flyers' 4-0 outburst in the first period. Islander Coach Al Arbour said: "We stood up to them. We punished them. We didn't take a backward step."

Apparently hockey needs fights to prove something about standing up.

To get a feel for just where the players who fight, the players who don't fight, the coaches and the league stand on the subject of fighting, the Associated Press surveyed players, 19 coaches and NHL Vice President Brian O'Neill.

One common opinion was that without fighting there would be more stick fouls.

Larry Robinson summed up the opinion of those who are not appalled by fighting: "Two guys aren't really going to hurt themselves that bad if they drop the gloves. They're on skates. The fights don't last that long, anyway. And so what if you take a bop on the nose or a bop in the eye? I think it's a safety valve. Otherwise, people would use their sticks."

O'Neill said that he didn't consider fighting a necessary part of the game, but said, "It is part of it in terms of the emotional type of game we play here."

As for there having been no fights in the 14-game NHL series against the Soviets, O'Neill said:

"Those were exhibition games and can't be compared to our regular-season schedule. It's an entirely different game. We're involved with much more emotion when we play against ourselves and in our division. Everybody says we allow fighting, but we don't allow fighting. It is heavily penalized. What we don't do is automatically banish players from the game--that's the difference."

Angus Reid of the Sports Network polled 1,500 Canadians on the subject of violence in the National Hockey League and learned that 74% thought that hockey would be more entertaining with less violence. And 50% said that, despite the NHL's recent crackdown, the level of unnecessary violence has increased over the last few years.

Reid reported that among Canadians who do not watch televised hockey, 11% said that it was because of the excessive violence.

Despite their disapproval of the violence, 77% of the Canadians polled would still encourage their children to play hockey.

Chicago leads the league in major penalties for fighting. Pittsburgh is second and Detroit third. Los Angeles, the City of Angels, has the fewest.

President Barry Shenkarow of the Winnipeg Jets said that comments made by commentator Don Cherry of "Hockey Night in Canada" were "inaccurate, slanderous and definitely uncalled for" as he demanded a public apology. Shenkarow said: "He is certainly entitled to his opinion, but when he refers to our coach in Moncton (New Brunswick), Alpo Suhonen, as 'some kind of dog food' that is going too far."

Hartford goalie Mike Liut is not happy with announcer Stan Fischler of SportsChannel, who is also a Hockey News columnist, for calling him a clubhouse lawyer when he was traded from St. Louis.

"It was the most insulting and ignorant thing anybody could say," Liut said. "Yes, I've gone through tough years. I've had my moments of frustration. That happens in a 12-year career. But I'm not going to drag anybody down."

Liut, 33, is the subject of a lot of trade rumors now that rookie Peter Sidorkiewicz has played eight of the last 11 games.

Playing clubhouse philosopher, Liut said: "You start out having to prove yourself, and you end up proving yourself. I'm 33. Billy Smith is 38. There's some leeway in there. I can still be a very capable player."

Liut told Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant that although he has joked about the trade rumors--"If they give me the starring role in "Policy Academy VI," I'll go to L.A. in a minute"--the talk bothers him. "I find it insulting, embarrassing. It hurts not to be wanted someplace," he said.

NHL Notes

By shutting out St. Louis Tuesday night, 2-0, Vancouver set a club record for consecutive victories with six. The Canucks have closed in on third place in the Smythe Division as Edmonton slipped. Edmonton had lost four of its last five before beating Hartford Tuesday, 7-4. . . . The Winnipeg Jets retired Bobby Hull's No. 9 Sunday night. Hull played with the Jets of the World Hockey Assn. after a long career with Chicago. He is the second player to have his number retired by two teams. The other is Gordie Howe, who was honored by Detroit and Hartford.

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