||12-03-2013 04:02 PM
I've lurked long enough (I go back to the pre-9/11/01 days of HFboards when we had single line threads) while holding my tongue due to time constraints but after reading some of the patently false narratives as of late, coupled with the Rangers' pathetic performance on the ice I felt the need to speak up.
The "cheapshot deterrent" argument has some merit but to me is tertiary to the main tenet of fighting and toughness in hockey; promoting a culture of brotherhood within the team. Fighting and physical play promote this. Again, the overwhelming majority of NHL players support fighting in hockey. I'll defer to them and enjoy a more entertaining product as a fan but I digress...
I'm a fan who's hockey acumen developed right at the dawn of our most recent "glory years" which culminated in an ECF loss to the Flyers in 97. This of course ushered in the dark ages of Rangers hockey. As I saw the Kamensky’s, the Fleury’s, the Driver’s, and their ilk sully the ice on the 7th floor of MSG I learned quickly that there was much more to hockey than goals, assists, skating, and the scoreboard at the end of one game. Many of our dark aged teams were constructed to excel in those areas yet these rosters remained fatally flawed. The Rangers were being built to play in a vacuum devoid of human emotion, psychology, and without appreciating the “war” rather than the “battle.”
NHL hockey is a game in which the collective wills and talents of a locker room must build and culminate throughout a season to peak at just the right time. It comes down to establishing an identity that can win and being able to execute on that identity in the harshest of circumstances. The Ranger teams in years past never had an identity or never had the horses to win with the identity that they attempted to emulate (2011 being the closest we came). The mental aspect of this is just as important, and perhaps I’d argue even more important, than the physical skill necessary to score goals. This is why we often see hockey seasons morph into wars of attrition where the best teams will sacrifice games over the course of the season in order to further build the identity that will help lead them to their ultimate goal of a Cup. The Bruins would be glad to sacrifice a late-November game against the Rangers in order to instill a physical fear in the Rangers and a camaraderie in their locker room that will pay dividends going forward.
This is where fighting and physical play become integral in the successful development of a team; teammates that can look at one another down the line and know that they have the will and ability to defend each others' honor when called upon will likewise lay themselves on the line to further the interests of the team. Its human psychology at its most rudimentary level. We can discuss the impact of a physical team culture on camaraderie, intimidation over opponents, and so on but I must say it really is common sense when looked at logically.
Again, there is a reason why every little gnat on Boston seems to play a bit bigger and skate with a sense of entitlement each time they step on the ice. They know that when the Brian Boyle's of the world attempt to exert a bit of fortitude against them they have a legion of guys, including their captain, willing to demonstrate that the ice is theirs. And while our fans gleefully exclaim when Chara is off the ice for 5 minutes (a loser's mentality, I might add), the Bruins gladly accept the short-term Chara for Boyle tradeoff for the long-run benefit of furthering their identity while demonstrating physical superiority over their opponents.
There are those that do not have the capacity to grasp or the will to understand the concept of the mental idiosyncrasies of athletes, human beings, to affect the outcome of sport through a season long campaign. These folks do not understand hockey at its most fundamental level. These folks see every game in a vacuum and think that the team with the fastest skaters, most precise shooters, and highest score total at the end of the game will win the championship. Thankfully that is not the game that I have grown to love.
The beauty of hockey is that there are so many different ways to win and compete. The one constant of all championship teams that maintained success over multiple seasons was that they never went too extreme in one team-building direction, rather they had a bit of everything (toughness, skill, speed, offense-defense-goaltending) while still emphasizing their key identity.