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Fighting in rookie games: Team or self?

September 14, 2011

A B’s prospect at Ristuccia this past week, where rookie camp opened up. 

After moving, starting a new job and getting things settled on both fronts, I’ve been left with scant time to write. But I did watch the Bruins v. Islanders rookie game last night over the interwebs. The Bruins fell 7-2 in an all-out thumping by the Isles, after vanquishing them the night before, barely, 8-5. The Islanders have a crowded and dynamic farm system, perhaps one of the best in the league, so the events shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The goaltending tends to be weak, the prospects are nervous and excited–and putting loads of stock into these rookie events is probably a foul idea.

That said, I was more than a little horrified at how the first 10 seconds of last night’s game unfolded. I am all for a little fighting. Even retributive fighting. In this case, Isles’ prospect Rhett Rakhshani was downed by a concussion in the first game, and so the Islanders wanted to make their displeasure known right off the bat, or the dot. Three fights, three very violent and boisterous fights, ensued. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet video of it all at this time.

These are statement fights, by very young players. These fights, especially for the Islanders, but even more so for the Bruins (as they were not the aggressors, initially) scream “don’t cut me, I will do anything for you.” This is a job interview, these prospect games. Of course 18 and 19 year-olds (or older) will do anything to show their worth, even if it is in a semi-staged fighting situation. After the events of this summer, you would think it would give everyone pause. But a spot on an NHL is as valuable as ever, and showing you’re willing to put it all on the line in a rookie contest is seen as the path of least resistance, or most hope. Nino and Kabanov weren’t fighting, neither were Spooner and Hamilton. Last night’s bout were made for the more marginal player to make a name for himself. That they invariably did. But is there a point when a coach or management look at one of these fights and think “gee, that was dumb, is he that desperate?” and wonder? It can’t all be about the “sticking up for your teammates” M.O.

Does fighting in a rookie contest distinguish you as a team player? Or as a selfish and self-interested player? Because I would think it might be the latter. Five minutes in which you are off the ice is five minutes less you’re out there to help the team, then again, it’s five minutes less of precious, precious time to showcase your talent. I’m not sure.

But you don’t watch rookie games for the fights. The games are devoid of meaning in the context of a regular season in terms of points. You watch to see skill, not to see guys kill each other.

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