Wednesday, December 27, 2006

First rule of Fight Code- you don't talk about fight code.....

Pic-----> Tony Twist

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Writer finds that a fight in the NHL is more than just a fight.

A local sports author talks about violence in pro hockey and the code of honor that regulates it.

By David Gustafson, Star Tribune

Fight code is an intricate and unspoken set of rules that govern when players drop the gloves and why. What many hockey fans don't know, according to sports author Ross Bernstein of Eagan, is just how thick the plot runs before two players ever resort to fisticuffs. Behind almost every fight is a story of twists and turns, betrayals and honor.

Everyone learns the code, but no one talks about it.

Bernstein, author of roughly 35 books and a lifelong hockey fan, spoke to about 100 athletes and coaches to learn what happens in the minutes, hours and games that lead up to the brutal climax, when the enforcer gets off the bench and does his job to uphold the team's honor, right wrongs and ensure that lightweight goal-scorers get space on the ice.

Bernstein spoke to Star Tribune North about his most recent book, "The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL." Some of the questions and answers have been edited for length.

Q: The enforcer's job, essentially, is to stand up to bullies and say "pick on someone your own size"?

A: Part of the code says heavyweights fight heavyweights, lightweights fight lightweights, unless there's a spontaneous fight, like if a guy runs into a goalie. If I'm a lightweight and you come plowing into my goalie, I've got to drop the gloves and, hopefully, my guys will be there to back me up. There's certain things, part of the code, that you don't do, and I have to sacrifice my body to protect the honor of my goalie.

But if a guy plays disrespectful, takes liberties with another guy, he has to be accountable. His teammates don't want him back on the bench. If a guy does something stupid, they'll be like, 'Hey, get back out there. You right what was wrong. You stand up to their tough guy and take your licking.' Otherwise it escalates.

Q: The enforcers are trying to keep the game clean so the elite scorers can play without getting constantly harassed.

A: Right. They actually deter 99 percent of all would-be fights.

Q: Why is the code taboo?

A: I probably talked to 100 guys. About half were off the record. ... These guys always have to deal with, in addition to going to a bar and dealing with idiots full of liquid courage saying, 'You don't look so tough,' dealing with the parents' 'Oh, you're a terrible role model for my child.' They don't understand it. So it was taboo. I've heard a lot of people thanking me for writing the book. ... It's a part of the game, and I think a lot of people don't get it.

Q: So you think players were worried about telling people just how institutionalized violence is in the NHL?

A: Could be. One thing I learned is that every guy that grows up playing hockey dreams of hoisting Lord Stanley over their head and scoring that game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7. None of the fighters ever dreamed that their role would be to come off the bench for three minutes a game to beat somebody up.

Q: How do teams recruit enforcers?

A: I talked to a few general managers and they were pretty coy about it. ... But you know it was there. [Former enforcer] Tony Twist was such an advantage. He scared the other team so much that his players got a lot more space. That's not a statistic you can quantify, but it absolutely existed. You know these guys wanted the top fighters, and you know they trained them. I interviewed Scott Ledoux (a former heavyweight boxer and current Anoka County commissioner). He trains these guys how to fight on skates.

Q: Were you afraid of glamorizing violence?

A: No, because in some regards I did want to glamorize fighting. I tried to be clear and say I do not want to advocate violence or fighting of any kind on the amateur level. At the professional level, when grown men decide to take off the face mask and play this game, they clearly and fully understand what they're getting into.

Q: Did you mean to take a side on violence?

A: I'm a hockey guy, so if I had to side with one side or another, I would side with fighting because I believe it has a place in professional hockey. Going into the book, I don't know if I would have said that. But now that I know what I know, I absolutely believe that it has a place.

Q: At one point in the book you describe the Todd Bertuzzi incident, in which Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanches received a career-ending neck injury. You write "Some of the frontier justice mentality that is out there these days may need to come in line with the 21st century."

A: For sure. I think that means with the new rule changes. I think the frontier justice has been meted out.

Q: How did the rule changes affect the Code?

A: When they got rid of the red line, it opened up the game. You can't just box in a team in their zone. Typically, enforcers are big, lumbering snuffleupaguses. They're not fleet-footed guys. And when you get rid of that red line you can't have a goon who just comes off the bench and beats people up. ... I would say the goons are gone. The enforcer is a different player.

Q: A more well-rounded player?

A: Yes. It has changed the game in a really good way.



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