The shocking deaths of former NHL tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak this summer were used by some critics to attack fighting's "place" in professional hockey. In some cases, former NHL brawlers were questioning whether it was time to eliminate it.
As the new season kicked off Thursday night, noted lover of hockey's physicality Don Cherry took to CBC's "Coach's Corner" pulpit during the first period of Hockey Night in Canada's broadcast of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens opener to sound off on the state of fighting in the game and single out a trio of former enforcers:
For the video impaired:
"Is that ridiculous? I'll tell you one thing there. You people that are against fighting you should be ashamed of yourself. You took advantage of that to make your point on fighting. You should be ashamed of yourself for doing something like that.
I did a little research. Since 1999, there's been eight guys commit suicide and not one of them was a fighter. And when I played, I remember four guys commit the suicide. Not one of them was a fighter. But you jumped on this with both feet. You should've been ashamed of yourself.
But the ones that I am really disgusted with -- and I hate to say this when the kids are listening -- with Georges Laraque said about ... but the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. 'Oh, they reason that they're drinking drugs and alcoholic because they fight.' You turncoats. You hypocrites. It's one thing I'm not, it's a hypocrite.
You guys ... you were fighters and now you don't want guys that make the same living you did."
As many tried to tie the deaths of the three players to their participation in fisticuffs, Thomson and Laraque spoke out on the issue.
Thomson, who had 31 NHL fights over seven seasons, said he'd be in favor of banning it altogether. "Get it out. I mean, come on, why do we need it?" he told the National Post in May. Laraque (131 fights in 12 NHL seasons), however, called for better treatment for players who struggled to deal with off ice issues. Grimson discussed his life after hockey, one where he's now a lawyer and also one lacking the demons that have battled other former fighters, in a piece on Grantland.
Nilan responded via his Twitter account attacking Cherry's comments:
"Let's get it straight right here and now " I never said that players who were fighters were prone to alcoholism and drug abuse. #misinformed"
"I guess those who can't play coach, or just had a show called coaches corner"
"pretty sad he has to say that to get ratings. Guess he see's the writing on the wall with CBC losing market share to Bell and TSN."
The former NHL coach who is also known for his line of "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em" hockey DVDs has been a staunch proponent of keeping physicality in the game. His take that the hits we used to love seeing are slowly finding their way out of the game is one that is also on the minds of some current NHLers in this era of stricter supplemental discipline.
Do you think the NHL is heading that way?