A second period scrap between uber-prospect Connor McDavid (Erie Otters) and Mississauga Steelheads forward, Bryson Cianfrone, revved the never-ending debate about fighting in hockey into the redline. The fight started in the fashion that typical fights in hockey do, Player A delivers a hit on Player B and Player B takes exception and engages Player A in a fight. On most nights, this is business as usual. This type of non-staged, heat of the moment fight is the type of fight that most anti-fighting lobbyists are willing to accept, for now, in the battle to clean up the game.
So why are people so mad? Two things elevated this run-of-the-mill fight into a full-blow, headline story. No. 1, Player B just happened to be Connor McDavid—the biggest prospect to come along since Sidney Crosby. No. 2, McDavid broke his hand in the fight and speculation is swirling that he could miss the World Junior Championships.
So now, the real question is, does Connor McDavid’s unfortunate injury provide further proof that fighting is severely detrimental to the game, or does it provide proof that enforcers actually help limit these types of injuries to star players?
From the anti-fighting camp, in the red corner, it’s a simple argument: Fighting is bad. Want proof? Connor McDavid is the most marketable player outside of the NHL and he got injured in a fight. Therefore, fighting is costing the hockey industry money.
Across the ring, in the blue corner, fighting supporters are making the argument that McDavid’s injury is a direct result of phasing out the enforcer role. Their argument is this: Fighting protects star players and the integrity of the game. With an enforcer present, Connor McDavid has more room to excel. He doesn’t have to worry about players taking runs at him every shift and doesn’t have to drop the gloves and fight Bryson Cianfrone. The enforcer keeps the hyenas of the game at bay. Therefore, with an enforcer present, McDavid doesn’t drop the gloves and break his hand.
So which side is right? Answer: Neither. The reason is Connor McDavid is a competitive athlete who plays a sport where emotions run high and split-second decisions are made. McDavid made a big boy choice at a heated moment in a competitive hockey game and the result was an unfortunate injury. The polarizing aspect of this injury is that McDavid was hurt in a fight. However, he could have easily broken his hand blocking a shot or stepping on a puck (Sorry Joffrey Lupul).
Also, there is no proof that with an enforcer present, McDavid doesn’t engage in a fight with Cianfrone. Even in the days when enforcers reigned supreme, Wayne Gretzky (The unlikeliest of all combatants) got into a couple of dust-ups. It’s the nature of competition. You can’t always predict when you’re going to snap.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Bryson Cianfrone isn’t a fighter. He’s 5 foot 8 and 169 pounds, led the Steelheads in scoring last season and his leading them in scoring this season. In 16 games this season, the fight (the only one of his major junior career) was Cianfrone’s first penalty infraction. We’re not talking about a super-pest here. This is one skilled player getting frustrated and fighting another skilled player and unless you make fighting a lengthy suspension, this is going to happen from time to time.
So is it fair to blame McDavid’s injury on fighting or the absence of an enforcer? No. Despite the star power of the injured party, it was simply an unfortunate situation. Hockey is a competitive, contact sport and Connor McDavid made a choice during a heated moment that resulted in a minor injury. It is what it is and nothing is going to change that.