It may be the highest level of “pure” hockey in North America. There are no fears of potentially being traded to a bottom-of-the-basement team. There are no arbitration hearings that require a team to tell players every little aspect of their game that is flawed. There are no contract extension snafus because it is set in stone that a player will be there for one to five years.
While the college ranks provide us with a break from the headaches that are the NHL salary cap and bogus long-term contracts, there is one issue that has turned into a fierce debate: fighting.
Rarely do you see an actual drop-the-gloves fight break out amongst college foes, even after one’s own teammate has been injured by an opponent. It is not that they don’t want to stand up for their teammates; it is the fact that doing so could further hurt the team. For those not familiar with the NCAA, players who fight receive a disqualification penalty (ejection) and are automatically suspended. According to Section 17. A. R. 2 of the 2008-2010 NCAA Ice Hockey Rules and Interpretations, even a player trying to break up a fight in progress can be removed for the rest of the game. Having such strict rules against fighting can actually end up being a detriment to the game, as The Ciskie Blog pointed out back in February.
Last November, North Dakota senior captain Chay Genoway received a nasty hit to the head from St. Cloud State’s Aaron Marvin just nine games into the UND’s regular season schedule. Genoway missed the rest of the season due to post concussion syndrome, but he will return to Grand Forks for a fifth year after being granted a medical hardship by the NCAA. All that ensues is a scrum filled with little gloved punches to cages, yelling, and grabbing jerseys. In any NHL game, mitts would be dropped (helmets if there’s time) and the man guilty of causing injury would be facing a very angry opponent. It is part of the fighting “code” in hockey, but it is essentially nonexistent in college rinks.
On any given bench, there are twenty 18 to 25 year old young men. Testosterone and adrenaline are already high, but add the overflowing emotion that follows an incident like Genoway/Marvin to the mix, and the results could be dangerous in future games between the teams. In the third game of the series, there were several times where the pent-up anger of the Sioux was put on display. In the first period, Mario Lamoureux and Marvin attempted to duke it out NHL-style by throwing down the buckets and gloves. While it went nowhere because of the officials intervening, it was clearly premeditated, and it was Lamoureux’s attempt at getting vengeance for his sidelined teammate. The second period saw defenseman Ben Blood lay what the commentator called a “jack in the box” hit on Marvin. Whether he meant to catch him with an elbow or not, it was apparent that Blood had all the intention of knocking Marvin on his ass and was rather satisfied with himself as he exclaimed something in a fallen Marvin’s face and wore a smirk on his face in the penalty box. The third period had to have something, right? Darcy Zajac slashed the back of a Husky’s legs and melee ensued. By the end of the night, penalties were 18-17 North Dakota, and the teams had amassed a total of 135 penalty minutes combined.
Thankfully, there was no serious damage done to any of the players involved. However, there may come a time where that is not the case. The next time someone gets injured, there will be a bounty on the player who hurt them. It will probably only get rougher. The premeditated fights will be more skillfully done, the huge hits could become Matt Cooke-esque, and scrums could get out of control and become full-on line brawls. To some, those “could be’s” may all sound slightly over-exaggerated, but when players can’t respond by fighting right after something happens, they are going to hold a grudge and emotions will build up and only get stronger while they are unable to take too much action. It is not to say that the NCAA should necessarily condone fighting, but something needs to be done so that future incidents do not end much worse than North Dakota vs. St. Cloud.