Stephen Harper says he doesn't like fighting as a strategy in professional hockey, an opinion the Prime Minister is offering up as he takes a break from the hard-knuckle sport of politics to promote his new book on the early decades of the game.
Ottawa may have been in an uproar over the Senate expenses scandal, but Mr. Harper made time to tout A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey, which launches in stores Tuesday. It chronicles the transformation of hockey from an amateur sport into a professional sport.
The Conservative Leader, who has been dogged by the expenses scandal for the last few weeks, conducted a radio interview Monday with Sportsnet 590 in Toronto. Mr. Harper, whose style of politics includes never shying away from a fight, was asked if he thought fisticuffs should be banned from the game.
"Hockey has been violent from Day One," he said. "I'm sort of torn on that. … I don't watch hockey for the fights. It wouldn't bother me if we didn't have fights."
He said hockey remains his favourite sport and he feels it's played today as well as it's ever been played. But the Prime Minister said the opportunities for injuries today concern him.
"I do worry about with the speed, the size of the players, the new equipment, I do worry about not just the violence but the very serious injuries we're seeing," he said. "I do think the NHL and others have some work to do to really address that problem."
He's not a fan of brawling, however. "I don't like fighting as a strategy. I actually hate it as a strategy. But the fact that it happens once in awhile in a tough sport is not a surprise."
Mr. Harper said the writing offered him a break from the daily grind of politics and proceeded slowly. He began researching and writing as a diversion from politics when he was leader of the Opposition – and the work amounted to about 15 minutes a day for nine years. "That's not quite accurate but it gives you a sense of it," he said.
He's a member of the Society for International Hockey Research and his speciality is pre-First World War hockey and early professional play, when the game Canadians know now took shape.
He said the game as it was played in Toronto in the early years of professional teams was very different. "Fans would have trouble recognizing the game," he said, noting it included seven players on the ice, no substitutions and no forward passing.
All author royalties from the work will go to Canadian military families. Proceeds will be funnelled through the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services to support the Military Families Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance.