Monday, January 08, 2007

The rumors of their death have been greatly exaggerated

Fighters far from obselete in NHL
WINNIPEG - New York Rangers right-winger Colton Orr is a remnant of the old NHL. But as the league's tall foreheads have noticed in recent weeks, he and those who play just like him, haven't gone anywhere.

A big, strong, tough-as-shoe-leather North End Winnipeg kid with a heart much larger than his physical skills, Orr (absolutely no relation to Bobby) is one of the more recent incarnations of Jimmy Mann or Tie Domi or Dave Semenko or Shawn Cronin.

When Domi retired before the start of this season, many hockey observers thought (or hoped) the fighter would quickly become a thing of the past, a dinosaur made useless by what many declared were the NHL's "visionary changes."

Orr, however, is living proof that nothing could be further from the truth. He was suspended for five games after he cross-checked Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin last Saturday. The suspension cost Orr more than US$13,000 in salary. Washington's Donald Brashear received a one-game suspension after sucker-punching Rangers defenceman Aaron Ward in the same game.

While only the most blood-thirsty would argue that Orr's suspension should have been shorter than five games, people who watched Brashear's actions were dumbfounded. How does a cross-check result in a five game penalty when a punch to the head is only worth one? Maybe the NHL appreciates fighting more than they let on.

Orr wasn't going to question or comment on the NHL's decision, but he had no problem talking about the fact that players like himself and Brashear are still collecting paycheques in the NHL, "and will for some time."

"You still have to have players like me," Orr said. "Sure, there are a lot of people who think we're gone, or maybe hope we're gone, but the game hasn't changed that much. Guys like me are still here to protect our teammates and make sure things don't get out of hand."

To actually think that the fighter in hockey is now obsolete, is to think that the cop on the beat or the professional bodyguard is obsolete. The NHL is still full of Colton Orrs. Try Buffalo's 6-foot-4, 247-pound Andrew Peters. Or Minnesota's Derek Boogard, 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds. Or Ottawa's Brian McGrattan, 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. The list of players who still welcome the occasional punch-up is endless [...]

"The ones who think the fighter is gone ... I've read some of that stuff. It's just not true. Every team in this league has at least one player like me. I don't think we're going anywhere."
No, I don't think they're going anywhere either and I'm just fine with that.

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