It was another fight, just another fight in the American Hockey League of which we would never have been aware if not for Twitter.
Or maybe we’d have become aware of the bout in Stockton, California, once it was plastered onto the home page of Hockeyfights.com as its “featured fight.”
Of course it was.
Because what says “featured fight” more than a one-on-one at centre ice in which one guy knocks the other one unconscious, as was the case last Saturday night when Stockton’s Colby Cave KO’d Bakersfield’s Martin Pospisil at 7:01 of the first period?
The scene was revolting. All of it, including the fans leaping to their feet and cheering wildly when the 19-year-old Pospisil crumpled to the ice.
We are moving into the 2020s, armed with irrefutable medical evidence regarding the long-term damage of taking repeated blows to the head no matter what any league’s lawyers posit, and here is hockey across North America not so far removed from the days of Spartacus.
I’m Colby Cave! I’m Colby Cave! I am. I am. I’m Colby Cave!
Once, I’d have been among those fans. In fact, I was, from the side balcony, when Vic Hadfield and Henri Richard staged their series of bouts in the penalty box at the old Madison SquareGarden.
I was, from the blue seats, during the myriad bench-clearing brawls of the ’70s, including the ones in the playoffs when Eddie Giacomin did (or did not) tell Derek Sanderson there was a bounty on his head and the one in 1971 when Hadfield wound up throwing Bernie Parent’s mask into the stands.
But that was a different time. Players were smaller, the impact of their punches likely less damaging. We didn’t know about the devastating effect of concussions.
It was a time when hockey was equal parts skill and intimidation, and a time of visceral hatred between NHL rivals. A time of wood sticks, of players going without helmets and goaltenders without masks; a time of 2:30 shifts, limited backchecking and of lumbering stay-at-home defensemen; a time when pro hockey in North America was played exclusively by North Americans.
Prehistoric times, in relative terms. Of those attendant traits, only one remains. That is fighting. That is truly the sport’s shame.
Fighting in the NHL will probably disappear organically at some point, but why wait? And most men playing pro hockey are not in the NHL. What about them? Don’t tell me eliminating fighting will deprive some players of their dreams of making it to the NHL, because for every player that doesn’t make it, another one will.
Don’t tell me that fighting belongs in hockey because it has always been part of hockey. Beanball wars used to be a fairly regular part of major league baseball, and the sport has survived without them.
The spectacle demeans everyone.
The 24-year-old undrafted Cave, by the way, texted the 19-year-old, fourth-rounder Pospisil following the fight to check in on his opponent’s health, a classy manoeuvre, so do not misunderstand this as a criticism of the athletes.
Pospisil, by the way, did not play in his team’s following game that took place six days later. Rather, this is aimed at the essence of what is still a part of the sport’s culture.
This is not about manliness. It is about evolution. We are nearing the 2020s and fisticuffs are still sanctioned and sold as part of the pro hockey entertainment experience. Enough. Enough, already.