Friday, 30 December 2016

Hockey Goons

In the UK ice hockey is at best a minor interest sport, and at worst it simply doesn't even feature in our sporting consciousness. Not so of course in other parts of Europe and especially in North America, where its both a major sport, and in the case of Canada the national sport.

The Hanson Brothers .... Ice Hockey Archetypes?

But for us, the heroes and villains of this sport are largely unknown .. maybe the name Wayne Gretzky rings a bell if you are old enough, or a sports nut .... but in fact the knowledge is so limited generally that we are more likely to recall fictional characters such as the bespectacled violent goons, the Hanson Brothers, from the movie Slap Shot, or perhaps Goon which featured another 'enforcer', Doug Glatt,

Ross "The Boss" Rhea and Doug Glatt - Two Enforcers

Both great movies by the way (and there are of course many other ice hockey movies, which largely bombed in the UK), but concentrating on the organised violence in the sport. However I don't think that I realised that the role of 'Enforcer' was a real part of the game .... must be unique for a team sports league to have organised (but against the rules) fighting and violence promoted as part of its marketing and appeal. For instance Ice hockey in Europe or at the Olympics does not allow fighting - if you fight you get sent off - but the NHL usually gives just 5 minutes in the sin-bin.

Jim Thomson for example, only got into the National Hockey League because he was willing to fight ... 41 fights in his first 57 games, in an NHL career of just 115 NHL games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, enforcers in the NHL often have short careers and many resort to drugs, alcohol or domestic violence as escapes from the pressure of having to 'fight' some very hard men, in nearly every game.

Thomson resorted to drugs and alcohol use while Derek Boogaard, another enforcer,  died after an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. Others commit suicide .. Rick Rypien and Wade Belak are both believed to have died in that manner (although this can't be proved).   

NHL Fighting Set To Continue

So while this role of 'enforcer' sells movie seats for ice-hockey movies in the UK, its actually a subverting of talented young men's careers into that of violent goons ... however some associated to the sport such as Canada's veteran broadcaster Don Cherry defend the existence of the role in the NHL "You have to have enforcers. People love hitting, people love banging, smashing. If you see a fight all you have to do is take a look around at the crowd when the fights on. Nobody goes for a coffee, nobody goes for a beer." So the role  will continue.

Oh and if you think we are immune to this blood lust in the UK, anyone who watched football in the 1970's, will know how much more violent it was, but how crowds were no smaller then than now. I still remember the epic and literal battles between Chelsea and Leeds players in the replay of the FA Cup final of 1970. So do the 28 million in the UK who watched that match on TV.

Violence will always have an audience.


  1. The Hanson's were my hero's for a few years after that movie came out. I don't watch hockey.

    1. It was a good movie .... Thanks for the comment.


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