A week and a half ago 21-year-old Don Sanderson died in a Hamilton hospital.

Sanderson, a defenceman with the Whitby Dunlops, died early yesterday in Hamilton General Hospital. He had been in a coma and on life support since his head struck the ice during a fight in a AAA senior league game Dec. 12 in Brantford.

I’d held back on posting until the shock of the death had passed and the debate turned, as it naturally would, to whether fighting would be banned. I’ve been waiting, but the debate has not come. The lone discussion I’ve heard so far is whether the rules governing the tightness of helmet chin straps (which might have held Sanderson’s helmet on when he fell to the ice) should be more strictly enforced. This seems akin to enforcing seat belt laws for street racers, rather than trying to stop street racing itself.

Anyone calling for an end to fighting in hockey is met with ridicule (even Serge Savard), even deemed unpatriotic or lacking understanding of the game. Horseshit. Fighting proponents quote some circular argument about ‘the unwritten code’ of hockey, that fighters are there to ‘take care’ of a guy who breaks the rules, and respect each other, presumably as they punch one another in the face. Meanwhile referees, old hockey guys themselves, give out penalties for some infractions but look the other way for others if they think a team’s fighter will take care of things, thus perpetuating this myth of fighters being necessary for the game. This mutually supportive argument spins itself in a spiral, but in the face of logic eventually defaults to the tired plea that “it’s always been this way”, surely the silliest rule for why anything should continue.

The other argument, say fight fans, is that without fighting hockey won’t be entertaining. This is an easy one to dispel, as anyone who’s watched even a few minutes of a World Junior game, or any international tournament, can see.

It’s a difficult position to justify that hockey alone is the one league that requires fighting, or at the very least does not punish it (beyond a meaningless 5-minute penalty). In every other major sport, fighting is strongly discouraged (not tacitly allowed) and results in automatic suspensions. The only other sport where fighting is part of some kind of protective ‘code’ is baseball, surely the pussiest of the major sports. Football, on the other hand — which by any measure is as tough, smash-mouth and brutal as hockey, and almost certainly more so — does not allow fighting.

Staying with the NFL for a moment, imagine the absurdity of a scene where an offensive linesman, unhappy at the fact that his quarterback was tackled (clean though it might have been) grabs the opposing player by the jersey, rips off his helmet and starts punching him in the face. The other player starts punching back. No teammates try to break them up, and linesman (understandably) wait until they tire themselves out before interfering. The referee, knowing a teammate would come to the defense of the downed quarterback because of the unwritten code of football, doesn’t bother throwing the penalty flag. He knows these guys just need to let off a little steam. He also knows that if he doesn’t let these guys duke it out at midfield like this, that the other nasty penalties like clipping or face-masking will just happen more often. So goes the common wisdom, without much evidence to back it up.

Back to reality, and to hockey: there’s simply no logical argument for allowing fighting in the NHL, but as long as troglodytes like Don Cherry advocate for it, it’ll be around. If Gary Bettman wants to leave a legacy of actually improving the game, he should ban fighting and watch the rest of the world take his sport more seriously. So long as players in the world’s premier hockey league are allowed to beat each other bloody in the middle of the ice, and then do it again the following night (or even minutes later!), precious few outside of Canada will associate the game with skill, grit or speed. They’ll associate it with thuggish brutality.

Finally, I submit that fighting should be banned if only to prevent pathetic displays like this from ever again occurring:

Mats who?

Time for your sports update, you bunch of wussies.

Tonight I watched the Montreal Canadiens handle the New York Rangers 6-3. That makes them the third-best team in the eastern conference points-wise (though they’re ranked fourth, though, because division leaders get the top three seeds) behind Boston and Washington. While the Canadiens were expected to win the conference this year, no one expected Boston to be as good as they’ve been, or for the Canadiens to suffer the injuries they’ve had.

The Habs are currently missing their #1 goalie Carey Price, as well as what’s essentially their #1 (or at least #1b) line of Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Chris Higgins, not to mention defenceman Mathieu Dandenault, but they’ve won 5 of their last 6. I’m not sure how they’re doing it, but they are. I just hope they can hold it together until those guys get back.

OK, normal cerebrally whiny programming will resume momentarily.

Misery loves company

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Toronto getting a second NHL team. Many have weighed in, both pro and con. Sure, the market could support it, but it sounds more like the kind of fantastic speculation that Toronto fans and sports writers engage in when the Leafs aren’t worth watching. So, daily.

I, for one, support it based on curiosity alone. It might help to solve the mystery, or at least dispel some myths, about the Leafs fanatical fan base. Lots of sports analysts have asked whether Toronto fans love the Leafs or love hockey. I say it’s neither. First, Torontonians seem to hate the Leafs as much as love them. Second, I don’t think a strong case could be made for them simply loving hockey, or they’d have stopped watching during the Ballard years when the product on the ice barely resembled the sport. No, I’d suggest that Torontonians are infatuated with the Leafs, but infatuations are fleeting. If a second team appeared with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup, how many Leafs fans would jump ship? I suspect more than in other hockey-crazy markets who’ve enjoyed success in recent decades like Detroit or even Montreal, even though Leafs fans typically refer to themselves as “better” fans than any others.

Anyway, I think Gary Bettman would rather give Bob Goodenow a hot oil massage than allow another Toronto team, and Hamilton might well lose their collective shit and blow up the Kings Highway if their city is passed over for expansion in favour of Leafs II, so I guess my social experiment will have to wait.

Squeak. Thump.

I love me some long weekends. Since we’re going away next week we didn’t really plan anything for Thanksgiving, save getting a bunch of stuff done, having a nice big turkey-less meal on Monday, relaxing and enjoying the abnormally beautiful (for mid-October) weather.

After shaking off the work week at Smokeless Joe last night and sleeping in this morning, we bought enormous amounts of produce and other groceries, dropped a bunch of stuff at Goodwill, had a beer and a bite to eat on the wonderfully sunny Volo patio, ran a few errands, bought a few things, and came home. After a quick nap Nellie was fired up to do some cleaning, and when it involves throwing stuff out I always get excited, so we did that right up until the hockey game started.

Watching the Canadiens manhandle the Leafs 6-1 (in their home rink, no less) was like watching my old cat torture mice in the yard, just swatting at them as they cowered and shook, until I went outside and killed them with a shovel. I almost felt bad for them, right up until I heard Don Cherry giving Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau shit after the game for having the gall to play his usual power play units late in the game. I watched the game. They weren’t even trying, and they still almost scored, but apparently Cherry knows some unwritten rule that used to matter 30 years ago, and this had him angry. It made me wish Montreal had scored five more goals.

More relaxation and patio-sitting to come tomorrow. Yep, I do love me some long weekends.