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The Globe and Mail

Canadian fans' complex views on fighting in hockey

New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh and New Jersey Devils' Adam Henrique (14) fight during the first period in Game 4 of their NHL Eastern Conference Final hockey playoff game in Newark, New Jersey May 21, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger


According to a new poll, whether or not you want fighting in hockey depends mainly on how much you like hockey.

Your average Canadian, for example, is not a fan of fighting in the game.

But among your average Canadian hockey fans, a group that makes up two-thirds of the country, there's basically an even split for and against it.

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No wonder it makes for such compelling barroom debates.

Fighting was only one of the topics covered in an Environics poll published on Thursday by The Globe and Mail, portions of which can be viewed here and here, but it was certainly the most divisive.

Non-fans hate it. Die hard fans are for it. And everyone else is in between.

One of the most fascinating results from this survey of 1,000 Canadians was simply getting a reaction to the statement: "Fighting is an acceptable part of hockey."

Those identifying themselves as "huge fans" in large part said yes, with 70 per cent totally or somewhat agreeing to the statement. (Only 12 per cent disagreed totally.)

Those who are not interested in hockey at all, meanwhile, overwhelmingly said no, with 82 per cent totally or somewhat disagreeing.

Then there are all those in the middle – the occasional hockey watchers – who also came down on the no side (60 per cent).

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So if you include everyone surveyed, the opinion comes out fairly strongly against fighting in hockey, but among fans alone, there's a clear split.

Let's break down who fits in where first. Only 24 per cent of those surveyed said they were "huge fans."

The largest portion of the group, meanwhile, was the occasional fans (42 per cent), followed by those who either don't like or are uninterested in hockey entirely (33 per cent).

If we throw out the non-fans and focus on those who are watching at least some of the time that leaves us with 51 per cent of hockey fans surveyed who totally or somewhat agree that fighting is an acceptable part of the game.

Or about as close to a 50-50 split as you can get.

<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>"Fighting is an acceptable part of hockey."</h5><iframe src="" scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe><p style='text-align:right; font: 10px Arial; color: #666; margin: 3px 0 20px 0;'>SOURCE: The Environics Institute</p>

Setting aside the U.S. hockey fan here for a moment, this spells out at least in part why fighting remains in the NHL, junior hockey and many other high levels of Canadian hockey.

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For one, it's always been there. Two, while there are many who don't want it in the game, there's really no consensus that it should be removed.

The hard cores, for the most part, want fighting.

The middling fans are slightly against it but mostly just divided.

And by far the biggest push against fighting comes from the one-third of Canadians who aren't watching games even occasionally.

So if you are running one of these leagues and you look at these particular figures to try to chart some sort of a course on fighting, you really can't.

What changes could they possibly make that would satisfy the majority of those involved?

Maybe some of that last group that doesn't like hockey could be won over if fighting was suddenly banned. Maybe. But how many of the 70 per cent of huge fans who like fighting do you alienate?

And a change would please some of the game's many occasional fans and outrage others.

So rather than momentum in one direction or another on this subject, we're left with the status quo – one that will likely be in place for years and years to come.

The only thing I can think of that may have the potential to swing public opinion is a very significant injury (or death) suffered in an NHL fight, something we haven't really seen in a while.

Barring that, fighting in hockey has enough support from its fans that it's sticking around.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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