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Georges Laraque on why the NHL needs fighting

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Well-known NHL tough guy and former Hamilton Bulldog Georges Laraque has some choice words for Steve Yzerman and any other retired NHLers who say fighting should be taken out of hockey.

“Steve Yzerman played in Detroit, where Bob Probert and Joey Kocur were there. They were the toughest guys in the NHL,” Laraque told CBC Hamilton. “Because of them, Steve Yzerman had all the room he needed to be a successful player. [They] put him on the road to the hall of fame.

“And he’s spitting on that job. He’s spitting on them saying ‘thank you very much. Now I’m a hall of famer, lets take fighting out of the game.”

Laraque is responding to statements Yzerman made to TSN earlier this week, in the wake of the fight during the Montreal Canadiens home opener that left enforcer George Parros with a concussion after crashing face-first into the ice.

'A lot of people might think it’s easy and say ‘I’d love to get paid to fight,’ but you know what? Any fight you get into you could die. And that crosses your mind.'- Georges Laraque, former NHLer and Hamilton Bulldog

"Yes, I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting," Yzerman told TSN. "We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.

"We're stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be. Either anything goes and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting."

Other NHL mainstays like Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh's Ray Shero and even Red Wings legend Scotty Bowman chimed in with similar sentiments.

"I support views of Steve Yzerman, Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for addressing most fighting issues," Bowman tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "Poll all players."

Overwhelming support from players

Players have been polled in the past, and voiced overwhelming support to keep fighting in the game. Slightly less than 98 per cent of NHL players who filled out a National Hockey League Players' Association poll in 2012 voted no to banishing fighting.

George Parros, Colton Orr

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Colton Orr (28) kneels over Montreal Canadiens right wing George Parros (15) after Parros hit his head on the ice during their fight during third period National Hockey League action Tuesday, October 1, 2013 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Laraque says players voted that way because they know that if fighting is eliminated, “there will be more cheap shots and there will be more guys getting hurt because nobody will be accountable to their actions.”

“They know that. The players that play the game today acknowledge that.”

Laraque played 13 seasons in the NHL after getting his start with the Hamilton Bulldogs back in 1996. He racked up 1126 career penalty minutes — many of which from fighting.

But though he supports fighting in the game, the Montreal native never liked it.

“I did it for 13 years and I never liked it,” Laraque said. I did it because it was my job and I did it because that’s what got me there and let me stay in the NHL.”

“But I have never actually talked to a fighter, other than Steve McIntyre, that liked fighting. They all did it because it was their job — but to actually like it is really, really rare. It’s dangerous, it’s tough, it’s scary, and it’s really hard on you psychologically.”

“A lot of people might think it’s easy and say ‘I’d love to get paid to fight,’ but you know what? Any fight you get into you could die. And that crosses your mind.”

'It's what's special about our game'

While the debate about fighting rages, Laraque says people really should be paying attention to a different issue: hits to the head.

“In the last few years, there has been a big problem with injuries in the NHL. But it’s not because of fighting, it’s because of the hits to the head — the flying elbows, the cheap shots and all that stuff,” he said. “Nobody is trying to fix this. We thought suspensions would, and it hasn’t.”

“Now somebody gets hurt in a fight, and everybody is jumping on the bandwagon — that fighting is this and it’s that, and that we have to get rid of it. But we’re forgetting about the real problem the NHL has, which is the hits to the head.”

On Monday, the day before the NHL season opened, CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge asked NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about hockey, the fans and fighting. "It's what is special about our game," Bettman said, adding, "We don't go out of our way to market or promote that, it is what it is and happens when it happens and while some people would prefer not to see it in the game, other people enjoy seeing it."

Bettman also told Mansbridge, "No damage done. Nobody gets hurt, [it] takes down the temperature."

The commissioner wanted to make the point that "before you make a fundamental change and say, okay, we are changing the rule on fighting, you know, you fight, you are gone for two weeks, you have to be very careful, it needs to evolve."

It was the next night that Parros was carried from the ice on a stretcher after teeing up with Toronto’s Colton Orr for the second time that game.