NHL players live by their own Samurai code of right and wrong. When put into that context, even the most notorious acts of goonery seem inevitable. A look inside their eye-for-an-eye code reveals:Hey, wait just a second, I'm a "bleeding-ass liberal" and hockey fan who has no problem whatsoever with the code or with fighting in the game of hockey. Come on Nilan, still dishing cheap shots? Like this one that broke a few rules of the code at 1:35 into this clip...
• Captains are untouchable. When a team captain is hurt by an opposing player, retaliation soon occurs, says Bernstein. The wild melee between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators on Feb. 23 was touched off when Chris Neil of the Senators bloodied Sabres co-captain Chris Drury with an open-ice hit. "Touching a guy wearing the 'C' is like touching a made guy in the Mafia. You don't touch a made guy," says Bernstein. [...]
• Don't check from behind. Checking a player from behind into the boards, or using the stick as a weapon, are "unacceptable code violations" that demand payback, says Bernstein. New York Islanders tough guy Chris Simon was suspended for the rest of the season and playoffs after his two-handed slash to the chin of Rangers agitator Ryan Hollweg during a March 8 game. Seconds before, Hollweg checked Simon face-first into the boards. [...]
• Rules of engagement. When one issues the universal challenge, "Want to go?" both typically drop their gloves at the same time to avoid a two-minute instigator penalty. It's bad form for a tough guy fresh off the bench to challenge another who's tired at the end of his shift, says Bernstein. There's professional courtesy. Fedoruk says he has declined to pick fights with rivals recovering from a broken hand, stitches or a facial injury.
• Fight fair. The overriding principle of the code, says Bernstein, is fight fair. That's why NHL heavyweights mostly fight heavyweights, middleweights fight middleweights and, occasionally, even goal-scorers and goalies go at it. The most unusual thing about the Sabres-Senators brawl, notes Bernstein, was Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters trading blows with Senators goalie Ray Emery.
Many critics of fighting, Nilan charges, simply are looking to bash a sport they haven't played, don't like and never will.
"Every bleeding-ass liberal comes out and says how bad our game is. But the hockey fans don't mind it at all," he says.
Going after a player that wasn't a fighter. Trying to deliver a knockout punch while the guy was looking away. Yep, same old Nilan. Too bad he never followed the code that he now claims others are trying to remove from the game.
*Disclaimer: I've always been a big Bruins fan and old grudges die hard.