NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, left, says his Fighting Camp promotes safety not goonery. (Sherri LaRose-Chiglo/Associated Press)
School of Hard Knocks
Fighting academy adds fuel to hockey's fisticuffs debate
Last Updated Wed., July 25, 2007
By Jesse Campigotto, CBC Sports
At a time when the NHL wants to avoid another black eye from fighting, Derek Boogaard is aiming to help youngsters do the very same by teaching them how to fight.
The Minnesota Wild enforcer and his younger brother Aaron, a former Wild draft pick now with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, last week hosted the second Derek and Aaron Boogaard Fighting Camp in Regina.
The one-day academy is more or less what its name suggests. For $40, players between the ages of 12 and 18 receive fists-on instruction in the art of on-ice scrapping from two of the toughest customers in pro hockey.
The camp drew 20 eager participants and wrapped up without any significant blood-letting or other unsavoury incident. But it has, not surprisingly, offered much fodder for debate.
At least for those aware of it. Derek Boogaard, who is a restricted free agent, has been keeping a low profile, declining to talk about the camp following its completion last Thursday.
But during an interview at the camp with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Boogaard explained that his goal as an instructor is not necessarily to teach youngsters how to pummel opponents, but rather how to avoid being hit.
Boogaard smiles as he watches two young hockey players spar with boxing gloves on during a session at the the Aaron and Derek Boogaard Fight Camp (Sherri LaRose-Chiglo/Associated Press)
"We're not teaching kids how to fight and how to hurt people," said the six-foot-seven, 270-pound Regina native, who has 278 penalty minutes to go along with seven points in his two NHL seasons. "We're teaching kids how to protect themselves so they don't get hurt on the ice."
A noble objective, but one that doesn't hold water with Hockey Canada.
Glen McCurdie, a spokesman for the sport's national governing body, takes particular exception with the age of the participants at the Boogaard camp.
"We're trying to promote a safe environment," McCurdie told CBCSports.ca. "I don't see the value of actively promoting fighting, which is clearly against our regulations, especially for 12-year-olds."
McCurdie also doesn't buy Boogaard's claim that the camp promotes safety through self-defence.
"To suggest it's a safety mechanism is ridiculous," McCurdie said. "It actually increases the will of somebody to engage in a fight, and increases that person's capabilities against someone who may not have any desire to get into a fight."
"Minor hockey is not about fighting, and to suggest there's a safety aspect there, I find that ludicrous."
Judging by the reaction in Regina, McCurdie isn't alone in that belief.
Hockey Night in Canada analyst Drew Remenda, who co-hosts a Saskatoon-based radio show that is also heard on Regina's CJME, estimates that 70 per cent of the listeners who called into his program to talk about Boogaard's camp "were upset with it," with some labelling it a "goon school."
"The biggest thing that people in Saskatchewan had a problem with was the age group he was teaching," Remenda told CBCSports.ca.
Remenda, though, says he is generally in favour of the camp, likening it to the self-defence-based martial arts lessons he took growing up.
"Personally I didn't have a problem with it. Fighting is in the game," said the father of three. "I'd rather have my kid know what to do if the gloves ever got dropped on him, so he's able to defend himself."
"I'm not sure I'd send him to a camp to do it, but I understand what (Boogaard) is thinking."
While pundits, puckheads and parents alike have been arguing about fighting's place in hockey since time immemorial, this year's Boogaard camp came on the heels of an especially violent NHL season in which the debate made one of its periodic high-profile reappearances.
Boogaard, right, amassed 120 penalty minutes in 49 games with the Minnesota Wild last season. He also scored one point - an assist. (Associated Press)
Fighting's role up for debate
As usual, the controversy stemmed from a string of fighting-related injuries that made the rounds on highlight shows. The fervour reached a peak in mid-March, when in the space of five days three players suffered significant injuries.
In separate altercations, then-Thrashers enforcer Jon Sim broke a bone in his face, then-Flyers tough guy Todd Fedoruk was knocked unconscious, and Stars defenceman Stephane Robidas got KO'd by a gloved punch from Predators pest Jordin Tootoo, who later received a five-game suspension.
Those incidents prompted NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell to publicly question the future of fighting in the league, though he stopped short of calling for an outright ban.
"No one is saying we should get rid of fighting," Campbell said in an interview with Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean."I'm just saying we should ask the question, because before everyone was afraid to ask the question."
Campbell went on to pledge that the NHL's competition committee would discuss the role of fighting in hockey, but the outcry seems to have faded along with the memories of those brutal incidents in March.
Indeed, it often seems that the critics of fighting are heard only in the wake of high-profile injuries. So could the key to placating both the opponents and proponents of fighting be finding a way to make scrapping safer?
That's what Boogaard is ostensibly doing with his camp, and Remenda, for one, buys the enoforcer's claim that his ultimate goal is to teach safety.
"I don't think he was promoting fighting as a way for these kids to get ahead," Remenda said. "I think he came up with a unique idea for a hockey school, and he's legitimately trying to make sure kids don't get hurt when they get in a fight."
The kids, though, may not get that message, Remenda concedes.
"The thought and the theory behind (the school) is a good idea. The drawback is, kids could come away from the camp saying, 'I learned how to fight, now I'm going to show you what I learned this summer.'
"It's like giving the kids the green light to go."