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Hockey enforcers

Stashed in: Hockey, Awesome, Neuroscience, Hockey

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The NHL is still coping with the deaths of a big handful of well-known goons.

THIS WILLINGNESS to drop the gloves—win or lose, for oneself or a teammate—is called “showing up.” Traditionalists would have you believe that, time was, every man on the ice showed up, even immortals like “Rocket” Richard and Bobby Orr. This changed when hockey leagues expanded nationwide in the late ’60s. Suddenly, the talent pool was diluted; all these new teams in the South and West were filling up their rosters with muckers and hatchet men. (Their seats and coffers were filling up, too.) It was no longer viable for a hockey player to be some combination of skill and grit, a willing draftee in any fight. These new guys were thugs, animals—laboring skaters who kept getting bigger and stronger, punching harder and harder, even as their quarry’s skulls changed not one bit.

The game became specialized, stratified. Now you had (1) your scorers, (2) your less-skilled players who tried to stop the scorers by any means necessary, and (3) your guy at the end of the bench who beat the bejesus out of the 2s when they got overzealous. This guy belonged to the new lowest class of player, the grunt whose sole job it was to look out for 1s: he was the enforcer.

So the 3's act on behalf of the 1's? That's cool when you think about it. 

Except for the traumatic brain injury they cause and incur...

Right, but that's due to the brutality of the sport. 

I'm talking about how players evolved to protect other players.

It's not just a game of skill; it's about being a team to neutralize threats on the talented players. 

That's why I fileted that section out.  It IS remarkable.  And you're right, hockey has always been a brutal sport.

And yet, hockey players don't consider it to be. 

It has always been a brutal sport, but doesn't have to be. Prior to the NHL, it was actually more brutal. There used to be a position call the Rover. It was the Rover's unofficial job to take out opposing players, usually by clubbing them with his hockey stick. Olympic hockey has vastly less violence, and is a far more beautiful game. Allowing violence and brutal checking slows the game down and results in injuries to the best players. I also find it really boring. That said I'm not opposed to combat sports, but if you're going to win by scoring more goals, then you should take out the violence. If you're going to allow violence, then you should win by beating up your opponent better than he (or she) beats you up. 

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