For those who haven’t heard, Brian McGrattan of the AHL's San Diego Gulls was knocked unconscious, and stretchered off of the ice, after a fight with San Antonio Rampage’s Dan Maggio.
For the entirety of the video you can hear the fans cheering at the fact that Brian went down and, as you can hear in the video, went “night night.”
Jonathon Willis, an NHL columnist, calls this the ugliest side of a beautiful game. While that holds truth, this side of hockey is also one of the most important.
Bearing no ill-will towards McGrattan (the San Diego Gulls reported that is alert and moving), his fight didn’t happen without a cause and effect.
Fighting, and physicality in general, always happens for a reason in hockey. Whether it be for protection or to spark some sort of fire under a team’s rear end, fighting and dropping bodies holds value. You’ll hear players talk about an important hit or fight in a game as something that sparked momentum in their team’s favor. Because, like it or not, physicality sends a message throughout the rink that no one is losing without a fight (metaphorically and sometimes literally).
Willis also has said that that fans pay for entertainment and pay to essentially see players fight and get hurt. I say that’s wrong; fans pay to go watch their respective teams win and stand up for themselves.
Players that put their lives on the line, and unfortunately take a very bad cost psychologically for doing so, do so willingly. They know and understand the cost that comes with being an enforcer. I’m not implying that I condone such actions as I never wish players to get hurt, but I’m implying that I understand the road that said players, like Brian McGrattan, take to earn a living.
In the junior leagues or even the AHL, if you can’t score or effectively move the puck you need to earn your keep by hitting and fighting to have any professional team even sneeze in your direction. The enforcers style of play isn’t unwarranted in any aspect. It’s a choice to get yourself noticed because you put in the heart and effort to get to the goal that all players work their entire lives for: The National Hockey League.
McGrattan tweeted this out on Wednesday after his fight:
Clearly players who live the bad-boy lifestyle understand the risk they put themselves under. Steve Dryden of TSN wrote an article claiming fighting should be banned all together because of the risk that it comes with, but in that same article he mentions that enforcers live by a code. So, clearly the players who put their lives on the line fully accept and don’t mind the risks they live with.
The world of NHL enforcers as we know it may be coming to an end, for better or for worse. I don’t know yet. The era of “dangle, snipe and celly” is at a full frontal. Some want it that way, some don’t. No matter which outcome the NHL decides on going with, people will be upset. While I understand getting rid of fighting will be beneficial for the health and safety of everyone, it’s getting rid of an aspect that every player has accepted and lives by: the aforementioned “Code”.
Brian McGrattan sat down with Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy for an interview after the fight and said, “when I lose like that, that doesn’t change anything for me. That’s not going to change the way I approach going to the rink, change how I’m going to play. It’s not going to change anything. I’m always ready for something like that to happen.”
Case in point.
Here’s to the ones with the busted knuckles, your work doesn't go un-noticed.