Fighting belongs in hockey; Emery's actions don't

Fighting belongs in hockey; Emery's actions don't

Line brawl erupts in Flyers-Capitals game

November 2, 2013, 11:00 am
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Ray Emery was thrown out of Friday's loss to the Capitals after leaving his crease to fight Braden Holtby. (AP)

Ray Emery was frustrated, and it’s hard to blame him.

He’s spent the majority of this young season watching the Flyers from the bench, powerless to stop his team’s hemorrhaging. When he finally got a chance to enter Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Flyers were already down 3-0 and had all but officially given up on any chance of victory.

Emery didn’t play well on Friday. He allowed four goals on just 15 shots, which probably aggravated him even further. Coach Craig Berube had called on him to replace Steve Mason with a hope that doing so would light a fire under the Flyers.

It didn’t. And Emery didn’t do himself any favors with the way he looked in his almost 23 minutes on the ice, either.

I get that frustration. I completely understand it.

But what I don’t understand – and what I don’t believe belongs in the game of hockey – is what transpired next.

Wayne Simmonds and Tom Wilson had just dropped the gloves, the result of a clean hit by Simmonds on Steve Oleksy. Emery then left his crease, skated the length of the ice and let loose on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who had made it clear he wanted absolutely nothing to do with a fight.

“He didn’t want a fight,” Emery said after the game. “But I said, basically, ‘Protect yourself.’ He didn’t really have much of a choice.”

He didn’t have much of a choice. And therein lies the problem.

 Yes, Emery gave Holtby a chance to prepare, and Holtby did attempt some punches in return. But what happened Friday looked more like assault than a hockey fight. Emery wailed away on Holtby, connecting with the back of the goaltender’s head a few times, too.

Now, this whole thing doesn’t belong on Emery’s shoulders. Referee Francois St. Laurent actually waved away Holtby’s teammates when they tried to step in, and allowed Emery to continue to pummel away until he was content. That was wrong, too.

That kind of attack doesn’t belong in the game of hockey.

But fighting does.

I’ve seen players police themselves in every level of hockey – from the youngest kids just starting out, to my own women’s league, to, of course, the NHL. Players speak frequently of the threat of the fight “keeping players honest.” I believe it does that – when you know the tough guy on the other side of the red line might take it to you if you throw a dirty hit on his captain, you’ll probably give that potential hit a second thought.

I think Bobby Orr, in a recent interview with Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, put it best: “I just worry if we take it out completely that we’re going to get a bunch of players that are suddenly real brave. They’re protected now, with the rules. That fear of getting beaten up is a great deterrent.”

It is a great deterrent. But what happened in Friday’s game had nothing to do with answering back for an ugly hit or attempt to take out a player. It had nothing to do with anything but one goaltender’s frustration and desperation to do anything to make a statement to his teammates and the few thousand fans who remained in the Wells Fargo Center despite the score.

General manager Paul Holmgren didn’t have much of a problem with Friday’s line brawl. He approached the situation from an unsurprising position, content only because his team actually did something, even if they weren’t able to do anything on the stat sheet.

“Do I have an issue with it? Probably not,” Holmgren said, referencing the total melee. “It’s a response from an embarrassed hockey team.”

The Flyers were embarrassed Friday, and rightly so. But they shouldn’t just be embarrassed for the 7-0 final score. With the roster the Flyers have, the Caps game should never have ended up where it did -- but here we are.

Emery might very well receive a suspension from the league for his actions and the motivation behind them. And, in my opinion, he deserves it. It’s a fine line between the kind of fighting that should be in hockey and the kind that shouldn’t, but what Emery did Friday is the perfect example of what the game doesn’t need.

The Emery-Holtby fight is the definition of the kind of fighting that makes non-hockey fans call the sport barbaric. And it doesn’t belong in the game.

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