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Current and former NHL players bristle at debate over abolishing fighting

Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr, left, and Vancouver Canucks' Tom Sestito fight during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 2, 2013. A recent survey suggested that more than two-thirds of Canadian hockey fans support banning fighting at all levels of the sport, but many current and former players don't even consider it a debate worth having. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr, left, and Vancouver Canucks' Tom Sestito fight during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 2, 2013. A recent survey suggested that more than two-thirds of Canadian hockey fans support banning fighting at all levels of the sport, but many current and former players don't even consider it a debate worth having. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

If fighting is ever going to be eliminated by the NHL, it's going to take some convincing.

A recent survey suggested that more than two-thirds of Canadian hockey fans support banning fighting at all levels of the sport, but many current and former players don't even consider it a debate worth having.

"I hate that it's even being talked about," Buffalo Sabres captain Steve Ott said. "It's absolutely ridiculous that even the notion of fighting being taken out. What a terrible mindset."

Changing the rules on fighting would require approval from a majority of the NHL Players' Association, which only last year agreed to grandfathering in the mandatory use of visors. A 2011 poll conducted by the NHLPA and CBC found that 98 per cent of 318 players polled did not want to ban fighting.

Canadiens enforcer George Parros suffering a concussion after his head hit the ice during an opening-night fight with the Maple Leafs' Colton Orr seemingly hasn't changed many opinions.

"It's part of the game. It always has (been), and I think it always will be," Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil said. "Every time you see an incident like in Montreal, it's tough to see, but the reality is that's a fluke accident."

Neil is not alone. Jared Boll of the Columbus Blue Jackets wondered why the talk about eliminating fighting was still going on a couple of weeks after the Parros incident.

"It's so strange to me that people target fighting as the main part of hockey that (cause) the concussions and this and that," said Sabres tough guy John Scott, who's serving a seven-game suspension after concussing Boston Bruins forward Loui Eriksson with a hit. "That fight with Parros is an anomaly. There are not many concussions if you watch fighting. I think it's the easiest target that people go after: Get fighting out of the game and it'll solve everything.

"I think when fighting's out of the game then everyone's going to be taken off on stretchers because of hits from behind and high-sticks and dirty checks. It'll be a little different story."

Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who played 141 NHL games and 634 in the AHL, said it's more about fighting serving as protection than the bouts themselves.

Former NHL defenceman Joe Watson, a member of the Philadelphia Flyers' "Broad Street Bullies" teams of the 1970s, defended fighting by comparing it to baseball and football.

"It's easy to pick on hockey because people don't know it," Watson said. "When you throw a ball a hundred miles an hour and you hit a guy in the head, what the hell do you call that? ... Let's analyze football. In football you pick up a guy and throw his head into the ground. Is that not brutality?"

When it comes to hockey, Watson said fighting is a "good part of the game."

An Angus Reid poll released in March suggested 67 per cent of Canadian hockey fans want fighting banned, including at the professional level.

Former NHL enforcer Jody Shelley knows getting rid of fighting is going to be discussed when incidents occur.

"I don't think I could imagine it, but people have been trying to imagine it now for quite some time," said Shelley, now a broadcast analyst for the Blue Jackets. "It's something that's unique about our game, it's something that gets negative press way more than positive press and it's only at times that negative stuff happens."

It's getting a lot of attention now, but many, including Watson, don't think fighting will ever be eliminated.

"I honestly don't think it'll go away," he said.

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