A large fight in a hockey game
Fighting in ice hockey is an extremely controversial aspect of ice hockey. The practice of fighting in hockey is allowed in many of the world's professional men's leagues, including the National Hockey League, but is not allowed in women's hockey at any level. Fights often are spontaneous, as a knee-jerk reaction to an on-ice incident during a game, although it is uncommon for players to arrange fights beforehand. In hockey parlance, a player who would want to get into a fight would ask a potential opponent to drop the gloves and dance.
Consequences of fighting
Although fighting is tolerated in men's hockey, the combatants involved are always issued penalties, and may be ejected. In the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, ECHL, and other notable minor leagues, officials punish combatants with five-minute major penalties for fighting (hence the phrase five for fighting), perhaps more if a combatant is injured during the fight. A player is automatically ejected and suspended if the player tries to leave the bench to join a fight, and is also automatically ejected for using weapons of any kind (such as using a skate to kick an opponent, using a stick to hit an opponent, or wrapping tape around one's hands), as they can cause serious injury. Furthermore, his coach can be suspended up to ten games for allowing players to leave the bench to join a fight.
Also, a player who commits three major penalties, including fighting, during a game is automatically ejected, suspended, and fined on the third major penalty during a game. A player ejected for three major penalties in a game, or for use of weapons, cannot be replaced for five minutes.
In the ECHL, the instigator in a fight is ejected, fined, and suspended additional games fighting in the final five minutes of the third period or in any overtime.
Although these measures help prevent the escalation of a single fight from becoming a bench-clearing brawl occasionally seen in baseball, bench-clearing brawls can and do occur in hockey, and it is sometimes the case that enough players are ejected so that a team may not have enough players to continue playing. Furthermore, the violent nature of fights mean that a player joining in a fight can risk serious injury or even death (although no one has died from a fight on the ice). In some cases, players have been criminally charged for their on-ice actions.
Because of this, it has been argued time and time again that fighting is not necessary in hockey; however, it remains in the game to this day. Critics argue it is dangerous because of the violence which can cause potentially permanent injuries and even death. However, proponents argue that it remains vital as it sets a "tone" to the game to keep opposing players "in check" in an already controlled environment and it will also draw spectators to become even more involved in the game's intensity and allow for the players to become more motivated themselves. Proponents also argue that when fighting is suppressed, players are more likely to engage in "stick work" (i.e., the use of the stick as a weapon), which is arguably far more dangerous to players than fighting. Fighting is also an important means of protecting a star player who is being brutalized by an opponent. The unique condoning of fighting in ice hockey led to Rodney Dangerfield's joke "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out".
In the top hockey leagues, the imposition of more severe penalties for fighting has eliminated mass brawls, and fighting has become highly ritualized. The two players are allowed to fight until one gains an advantage, after which they are separated.
Despite its potentially negative consequences, fighting in hockey also serves as a measure of all-around hockey talent. Often times a player who has made a Gordie Howe hat trick is praised for the rare combination of physical intensity and hockey talent.
The enforcer in hockey
While any given player on a team may instigate a fight, certain players are specifically used in such a role. This person is sometimes referred to as an enforcer. These enforcers are typically players of less than star capabilities who generally see limited time on the ice, often on the fourth line. They are often sent out after a "scrum" or after a star player has been checked particularly hard. Typically both teams will put out an enforcer or tough guy at the same time.