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McKenzie: What was the point of the MacIntyre-Ivanans fight?

Bob McKenzie

10/8/2010 4:07:15 PM

Based entirely on the premise that it's never too early in the season to be called a pussy(cat), can someone please explain to me the purpose/meaning/significance of the Steve MacIntyre smackdown of Raitis Ivanans last night in Edmonton?

Now far be it from me to rain on the Oiler parade, because it was a marvelous opening night. Nikolai Khabibulin was perfect in net, the Edmonton defence played hard and smart and coach Tom Renney utilized his bench effectively, spreading his power play icetime between three lines to create the good kind of competition that can exist between teammates/lines. All three members of the fourth line dropped the gloves to fight -- that bigger picture view of the fisticuffs and its context in team building I totally understand and get -- and my, oh my, was Jordan Eberle something to behold. The gap-toothed kid has special qualities and an amazing knack for making breathtaking plays, even though he looks like he isn't old enough to drive a car.

Now, I get that Oiler fans were almost as (maybe more?) titillated by MacIntyre's knockout punch on Ivanans with 2:40 left in the third period, when the homeside was already up 4-0. It was a vicious and powerful exclamation point on a night when the northern neighbour handed its southern rival its lunch in every way. I mean, the sight of Ivanans, bloodied and unable to get off the ice under his own power, pretty much summed up the night for the Flames, didn't it?

I also get that fighting is part of hockey and, to varying degrees, always will be, but that doesn't mean I can, for the life of me, understand the point of the MacIntyre-Ivanans fight. I can't honestly say I would feel as strongly about it if Ivanans hadn't been brain damaged in the scrap -- and not to put too fine a point on it, but that is precisely what happened. But I still don't get the point.

Oh, I know all the tried and true rationales for it.

Ivanans was sending a message that the Flames weren't going to go down without a fight. Though go down the Flames and Ivanans did.

Whether Ivanans was running around in the third period -- he hit Gilbert Brule and knocked him out of the game midway through the third -- to send a message for the next encounter or whether he was doing that solely because he knew it would invite a response from MacIntyre, it was pretty much ordained that Ivanans and MacIntyre were going to dance before this game was over. From the Oiler perspective, MacIntyre was defending the honour of his team.  He, too, was sending a message -- mess with our young players and I'll mess with you.

The two heavyweights were just doing their job.

And heaven knows I'm not faulting either guy, per se, as they were only doing what they've effectively been bred (in the professional hockey sense) to do, and it's a hard job, and a damn dangerous one because I am convinced in this relatively new era of super heavyweight fighters in the NHL it's only a matter of time until someone suffers a catastrophic injury in a hockey fight. (As a side note, noted author Malcom Gladwell did a controversial piece in the New Yorker magazine where he made a case that professional football was not dissimilar to dog fighting although I often wonder if Gladwell, a Canadian, couldn't have drawn more parallels between dog fighting to the culture of hockey heavyweights that starts as early as the teen years in Canada, but that, trust me, is another story for another day).

I also understand the Edmonton fans, and many watching from elsewhere, being excited by what they saw when MacIntyre KOed Ivanans, at least once they saw Ivanans was able to get up and off the ice .

Human beings are complex individuals and why the sight of two grown men beating the daylights out of each other can be stimulating is something I'm not equipped to explain. But I do get it. Or, at least, in some circumstances, I feel it.

I'm not proud of the incongruities of someone who rails against shots to the head -- that would be me -- being a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the UFC, but I am. Go figure. Some things in life just can't be explained.

Now, I can make a case there's a lot more to the MMA and UFC than punching someone's lights out. I mean, Georges St. Pierre is a marvelous athlete who uses as much, if not more, brain/strategy/technique as muscle/brawn. But who's kidding who? It's still, in its most base form, two guys trying to kick the crap out of each other and prepared to do serious physical harm to one another.

So I don't try to make myself any better or worse than the many hockey fans, especially in Edmonton, who took great pleasure in seeing MacIntyre first bloody, then knock out Ivanans. But the one distinction I will make is this: In the UFC, the point of the fight is the fight. That is the essence of it. It's the whole gladiator thing, which is probably as old as humanity.

I don't think you can say the same thing about MacIntyre-Ivanans, can you? Really?

I mean, the point of hockey is to use speed, skill, hitting and yes, in some instances, fighting to score more goals than the other team.

I have never been a black and white guy when it comes to fighting in hockey. Some abolitionists will be disappointed to hear that. The pro-fighting crowd won't care because anyone who dares question anything about fighting in hockey is a pussy(cat).

Having played the game (not very well and only to age 20 or so, aside from the odd beer league game here or there), I get that it can be such an emotional game that things sometimes spill over and the gloves come off. And I'm fine with that. That's a hockey fight - I totally understand.

I also understand the age-old issue of "regulation" and how the threat of being beaten up should, in theory, moderate the behaviour of the players, although in the increasing age of the Rat Factor, there are more and more players who will engage in aberrant behaviour (hits from behind, cheap shots, head shots, stick fouls, whatever) and simply not answer the bell or not feel overly threatened by the fight factor.

Or a player will be such a good and willing fighter that he can hit people from behind , do basically whatever he wants, and welcomes the opportunity to drop the gloves, in which case fighting is no deterrent at all to "unacceptable" behaviour. And I'm not saying there's no place for a fighter in hockey because on a young team like the Oilers, protecting Eberle, Hall and Paajarvi is a legitimate concern.

But this specific MacIntyre-Ivanans bout? I In spite of the rationalizations -- Ivanans was going after the Oilers' young players and that's why MacIntyre fought him -- it had nothing to do with anything meaningful in the game.  It was all part of an orchestrated dance that was set the motion the minute the Flames dressed Ivanans and the Oilers dressed MacIntyre. Yet it seems there are almost as many people talking today about the fight as the Eberle goal. And forgive me for saying this, but that's @$%^*@!

I just don't get it. The game was out of reach, over for all intents and purposes.

These two guys were merely justifying their existence. For me, it was simply a sideshow  and it was happening whether Ivanans hit Brule or not. Let's face it, in any NHL game where one heavyweight is dressed for each team, the odds of them going are awfully high. .

And I suspect the only rationale or defence for it anyone can come up with is: a) the Flames were trying to send a message,  to which the Oilers had no choice but to respond and b) these guys are an important part of the team and fighting is an intrinsic part of our game.

To which I would say: a) If the Flames really want to send a message, they should try scoring a goal, and b) the fighters are so important that when the games actually mean something in the playoffs, it's highly likely they won't even be dressed.

Like I said, never too early in the season to be called a pussy(cat).