Why is Hockey Such an Aggressive Sport? (Fights, Brawls & Penalties)

Posted on June 17, 2022 by Dan Kent
Washington Capitals vs Dallas Stars

There is no other game in the world that combines speed, grace, and physicality as hockey does. The combination of skill and grit is essential for being a great hockey player, and along with that naturally comes an aggressive style of play.

Often, aggressive behavior in hockey like a fast paced forecheck leads to more success as well as is reinforced by the environment of the player and justified by the player’s loyalty to his teammates, especially in competitive leagues like the NHL where body checking is so common.

In North America alone, more than 800,000 youth are registered in organized ice hockey leagues. Despite the many benefits of involvement, young players are at significant risk for injury.

Bodychecking and more aggressive play are associated with a high frequency of game-related injuries including concussions. With that being said, let’s unpack why hockey is naturally such an aggressive sport to play.

Hockey’s Origin

The game of hockey is directly descended from similar European games such as hurling and shiny, which were quite violent in their own right. It was first organized in Canada at a time when other North American sports were also much more violent than today.

Unlike those sports such as baseball or football, hockey is free-flowing and prone to spontaneous collision, it codified a set of unwritten rules allowing for players to exact a limited amount of vengeance within a game.

The Nature of a Hockey Rink

hockey rink

The standard ice hockey rink is 200 by 85 feet, which is small relative to the speed of play and expectations of contact between opposing teams.

The tight area and small spacing element of hockey lead to inevitably large amounts of contact between hockey players which can lead to further aggression and even fights.

Due to the small parameters for hockey players to maneuver at a standard American rink, collisions are more susceptible to happen than in other sports such as football where the field is 100 by 50 yards.

Aggression is Encouraged and Fighting is Legal Still in the NHL

ice hockey fight

Any sort of fighting is not allowed in amateur and youth hockey but that still doesn’t mean it’s illegal for higher levels of hockey. In the NHL, and especially during the NHL playoffs, fighting is encouraged to give your team a psychological edge over the other team when winning is most important.

Teams that body-check, fight, and are more aggressive tend to win more games in the NHL because they possess the puck more and grant them more opportunities to succeed while also winning the psychological battle.

The three biggest reasons for hockey being more violent than other sports is body checking, stick checking, and fighting.

A big hit on the ice can get the home crowd rowdy and encourage your teammates to play harder. A fight can also uplift your team in any situation, especially when you are down.

The reason hockey is an aggressive sport is that the more aggressive you are, you are giving yourself more opportunities to win.

Today, hockey is much tamer than at any time in the past. Fights occur somewhat infrequently, and group brawls are dying down. However, the legacy of the past continues to influence the debate over fighting’s role in the sport.

What is the Amount and Type of Hockey Equipment?

Bruins Warm Up
Photo by Amanda at licensed under CC BY 2.0

All hockey players must wear a helmet, shoulder pads, hockey pants with padding, knee pads, skates, a mouthguard, and sometimes even a neck guard (we will get into that later).

The large amount of equipment required for hockey relative to other sports has one large implication: it allows you to be more aggressive because the equipment is there to protect you.

Unlike many other sports where little to no equipment is required, the rules and parameters of the game require a lot of protection from aggressive play.

Have There Been Efforts to Change Rules and Penalize More?

hockey fighting

Hockey is one of the most dangerous sports as players are constantly fighting and pushing to get an advantage over the other team. While this aggression can be an exciting part of hockey, it has become a growing concern for many players, coaches, and fans.

The issue has become so severe that many new rules have been implemented over the years as a way to decrease violence between two teams.

An example is more penalty minutes for a dirty hit or unnecessary roughness which encourages players to act smarter when choosing to be more aggressive.

The ultimate goal for hockey players and fans is to find a happy medium between allowing aggressive play while also facilitating sportsmanship and class between athletes.

hockey fights

While these rules have had some impact over the years, the violent nature of hockey has still remained a problem ever since it was introduced.

The results from these rules reflect the commonly held notion that aggressive behavior is a natural by-product of the frustration inherent within hockey, and also that such behaviors facilitate performance.

Rather, these behaviors may be better explained as learned responses that are modeled and reinforced differently for each athlete.

Moreover, these early learning experiences play an important role in shaping future behavioral patterns of these athletes and are therefore deserving our full attention.

What Are Some of The Risks Associated with Playing Hockey?

Photo by Mark Mauno at licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite a large amount of padding worn by players, they still manage to mangle their faces and break their bones in almost every game and then smile to the press afterward as their bloody faces fill the sports pages.

In addition, the blades attached to the bottom of a hockey player’s skates are extremely sharp and have caused severe accidents including gruesome neck cuts.

This is a large reason why youth hockey players are required to wear a neck guard to protect themselves from being severely in danger.

Playing hockey is truly a marvelous experience as it teaches you to work with a team, develop better skills, and build through hard work and the thrill of having success.

Many hockey players enjoy the high-speed and collision-based nature of hockey, but it certainly is not for everyone.

Nonetheless, hockey is a great sport to either play or follow as it is action-packed and requires aggression for greater success and winning.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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