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Is it legal to fight in Hockey?

Is it legal to fight in hockey
The quick answer to this question is yes, it’s legal to fight in NHL games. Technically, though, it’s a violation of rules. In this article, we’ll talk about why fighting is allowed in hockey and what practices are acceptable for players who fight. Read on!

Why is Fighting Allowed in Hockey? 

Fighting has been an accepted part of a hockey game for decades at the professional level. Leagues outside of the National Hockey League don’t practice it, however. 

Though technically a rule violation, “Fisticuffs” have been a part of the game since 1922 when the NHL incorporated Rule 56 into the official rule book. At present, the rule that governs fighting in-game is Rule 46. This gives referees a “very wide latitude in the penalties with which they may impose under this rule.” 

This tradition doesn’t seem to be going away soon. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, fighting is a “thermostat” for the game. It “may prevent other injuries” that may occur in the sport. 

Ross Bernstein — the author of the book “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL — says that fighting is hockey’s way of policing itself. To some extent, it reminds the players of the consequences they may face if they violate “the Code”. 

NHL Games and Fighting 

Hockey games require plenty of hard-hitting actions as players play the ice puck. Hip checking, body checking, and tripping are among the most common physical plays with professional hockey players. 

In other words, playing hard and rough is part of the game. As a result, it’s inevitable that fights occur after a hit. Generally, hockey players can predict whether or not a fight will occur during the game even if there has been no hard hit. In fact, fighting is often expected by both the players and the audience. 

Reasons Why Fights Begin 

Hockey fights often start as a retaliation against a player’s opponent. This can take the form of many things, but retaliation often relates to standing up for your teammate, who may have been struck on ice. 

In some instances, retaliation can be caused by unresolved issues relating to incidents that have happened earlier in the season and not within the game. For instance, a team’s star player may have gotten hurt during an earlier game in the season. The team can make a statement by starting a fight the next time they play as a form of retaliation. 

Players can also use brawls as a way to motivate their teammates to play better during the game. If your team is losing heavily and your star player can play, you can consider starting a fight. Winning a fight can vastly improve the morale of the losing team — this in turn makes their players play better because of their newfound motivation. 

Last but not the least, fighting is a way to intimidate your opponents. Fighting gives you a chance to make the other team nervous — this is a great advantage for everyone on your team. The opponent’s players may fear getting hit or getting into a fight. 

The Unwritten Rules of a Hockey Fight

Most hockey fights start with two players talking aggressively back and forth to each other. They then agree to have a fight and throw off their gloves. 

Why do the players throw their gloves off? 

The primary reason is to signal that a battle is about to begin. It’s also a sign of respect for each player. If one player doesn’t drop their gloves, that player doesn’t want to fight. And if you decide to fight with your gloves on, you’ll be suspended from the league. Players also can’t fight with their hockey sticks. A hockey fight must be done barehanded.

Once the fight begins, the referee will pause the game to allow the battle to start. The fighting players are often the team’s “enforcers”. Teams often assign an enforcer to act as the tough guy in the team and who takes on fights. 

While this is an unofficial role, most teams will have someone who can respond to dirty plays. It’s rare for a team to have two or more enforcers, but they usually bring their enforcer in throughout the game as a sign of retaliation against dirty plays.

Generally, the fighting players will start the fight by grabbing each other for a few moments to gain balance. Then, they’ll begin punching. After a few punches and if one person is losing the fight, the referee will start breaking the battle up. Otherwise, the referee will stand by and serve as a fight moderator. 

Another reason referees don’t break up fights right away is the fans — hockey fans and teams love fights. The referee will let the fight go as fans cheer and the players work out their differences. In most cases, the referee breaks up the fight only when it gets out of hand. 

Penalties for Fighting 

Although hockey fighting is an accepted practice, penalties exist. Both players who engage in the fight will receive five minutes in the penalty box. Each player has to enter their team’s respective penalty boxes so that the teams don’t have an uneven number of players on the ice — you’ll go in the penalty box for five minutes even if you win the fight. 

Goalies rarely ever get into fights. They do happen during NHL games, and most goalie fights take place when the rest of the players are fighting each other. Goalies don’t have to go to the penalty box after fighting. Instead, another player takes their place in the box. Apart from having an injury, a goalie can only leave the game when they receive an ejection. 

The updated rule book has added new penalties for fighting. Players can be categorized as Instigators or Aggressors in specific situations.

The Instigator — someone who starts a fight by dropping the gloves too early or skating to the opposing players to fight them — receives penalties such as a 10-minute misconduct penalty or a five-minute major. 

Meanwhile, the Aggressor — someone who tries to fight another player who doesn’t want to fight or someone who continues to punch even when the referee is breaking the fight up — may receive suspensions.

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