Everyone with a cognitive apparatus in reasonable working condition should know by now that anyone who tells you nobody gets hurt in a hockey fight is not telling the truth. The latest example proving those people to be liars came Tuesday night when OHL superstar Connor McDavid suffered an apparent right hand injury in the first real fight of his burgeoning career.
McDavid’s Erie Otters were taking on the Mississauga Steelheads when, after the whistle, McDavid and Steelheads center Bryson Cianfrone decided to fight. By the end of it, McDavid was the worse for wear, leaving the ice holding his right hand gingerly in his left and subsequently heading to the hospital for x-rays.
Of course, it should go without saying a player of McDavid’s stature shouldn’t have been fighting. You can say whatever you like about how much his teammates value him showing how passionate he was by choosing to drop his gloves, but the reality is, any time an elite player like McDavid fights, they risk hurting their team by being absent from the lineup because of an injury suffered in that fight. And it doesn’t matter how much increased team cohesion results from a star player fighting – it’s not going to make up for the skill vacuum created by that player’s absence. In McDavid’s case, if he is sidelined long-term with a broken hand, the Otters will be notably less dangerous of a team – and if for some reason he can’t play for Canada at the World Junior Championship, he will have impacted negatively his country’s chances at a gold medal.
This is why this type of behavior isn’t tolerated by stars in other sports. Can you imagine if LeBron James had engaged in a brawl as a young Ohio high-schooler and knocked himself out of the lineup for a significant period of time? He would’ve been crucified in the press as a thug and a selfish reprobate. But over the decades, hockey fans have been conditioned to believe their favorite sport is different. This long-term, carefully-cultivated strain of exceptionalism is the reason hockey fans in Erie and elsewhere may be robbed of the opportunity to watch McDavid perform. And make no mistake, McDavid is there to showcase his otherworldly skills, not his ability to punch.
When news of McDavid’s injury began making the rounds on Twitter, some hockey traditionalists immediately tried turning around the discussion to focus on the “anti-fighting crowd”, as if those of us who question the utility of fighting in hockey had anything to do with the young man hurting himself. They can’t argue that the Otters or hockey will be better or more interesting with him out of the lineup, so they lash out at the people who don’t agree with them. But such ad-hominem arguments are the death rattle of that traditionalist community when it comes to superfluous fighting. Thanks to advancements in science, there are fewer people today who think McDavid fighting was a smart thing than there was five, 10 or 20 years ago.
And if McDavid is in civilian clothes watching his teammates play for weeks to come instead of blowing people’s minds on the ice, I’ve got a hunch their numbers will continue to plummet.
UPDATE: THN’s Ken Campbell reports McDavid will see a hand specialist Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury.
UPDATE 2: Sun Media’s Steve Simmons is reporting McDavid slightly fractured a small bone in his right hand and his World Junior Championship status is indeed in doubt. If Canada doesn’t win the gold medal and McDavid isn’t playing, you can bet this issue will be revisited in a serious way.