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Newtown Square, PA • United States • 45 Years Old • Male
"The Code"
If you were to look in the Webster's Dictionary of Hockey for a definition, you would probably come up empty. If you were to ask anyone in the game, they might knowingly smile but likely not cough up to much. Some might. Ask a diehard fan what the Code means and he would likely be able to put some walls around it.

Action and Reaction:
Those walls, in my opinion, begin to equate to something nearing Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion - "All forces occur in pairs, and these two forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction." Newton's Third law of motion can be paraphrased to say "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Surprisingly, that scientific notion is not far off from my view of what the Code actually means. It is about an action and a response. You run at my goaltender, I am obliged as a defenseman to take a swing at you - no ifs ands or buts. You try to injure my star player, you are a marked man will be dealt with. Action and reaction.

Like Newton's Third law, there are a set of mutually understood principles that guide the actions and reactions of players among and against one another during the course of a game. It dictates what can, cannot and must not be done and what the acceptable and demanded reaction is when a player crosses the line in order to self-police the game. The Code determines why and with whom a player must fight and is drilled into the heads of every player that laces up skates for most any hockey team above a collegiate level.

What you want...
The immortal Aretha Franklin also had a hand in summing up what the Code means in her famous seven letter song...R..E..S..P..E..C..T. The Code says that the game of hockey is largely about respect. Respect is a funny thing to qualify or quantify. You might not know how to describe it but you know when you see a lack of it. Players going into the corners with their elbows up, leaving your feet in order to make a hit more devastating, crosschecking to the back of another player, sticks continually up around the face - are all signs of a lack of respect from one player to another. Players respecting each other allows referees to put away the whistle, let the skilled players play and cut down on the unnecessary injuries that rob fans of seeing star players and can shorten or end careers. The converse, unfortunately, is also true.

Steve Downie's sucker punch to Jason Blake's eye with a referee in between the two is a textbook example. Tim Panaccio's excellent blog on the front page http://v4.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=12365 deftly explains why what Downie did was not only against the Code, but also borderline cowardice. What Downie did was show not only a lack of good judgement - score, place and time - but also a deep lack of respect for the player and what KIND of player he was. Downie did not go after Tie Domi, he went after a skill player and did so in a horribly unprofessional manner.

Adhering to the Code means more than just understanding the nature of respect, but also understanding the "why" of necessary violence. Fighting is as much a part of hockey as a puck and a stick. The use of necessary violence as a means to self-regulate the game is as old a notion as chasing a rock across a frozen pond with some sticks and trying to pick a corner. For the most part, hockey's history shows that this honor-bound self policing actually worked.

In the past, if someone like Steve Downie disrespected the unwritten rules and took the swing at non-fighter Jason Blake - the answer was to send out The Hammer, Tony Twist, Bob Probert, Brad May, The Grim Reaper, etc...on the next shift to meet out swift and sure hockey justice. The refs knew what the motive was, they knew the rules and how the Code was allowed to be interpreted within those rules. Action and reaction. I can imagine no deterrent stronger than seeing Bob Probert coming at me with bad intentions because I took a shot at Stevie Yzerman's face after the whistle.

Fighting is not only about retaliation, though the Code dictates that retaliation is not only mandatory but earns the player a coward label if not acted upon. Fighting has its place to ensure that the game is brought back to an even keel and that, once the offense is paid, that there is no further continuation of hostilities. A debt is owed and paid in full. That is the nature of honor in this system. Two guys might pummel each other in the second period but might just as well be having a few adult beverages after the game looking like old pals. They were doing their jobs as the notion of honor said they must. Once it was done, it was done.

Rule 56
In an effort to "clean up the game" the NHL rolled out Rule 56 - better known as the dreaded "Instigator rule." Rule 56 states "that a player who is an aggressor in an altercation...who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major for fighting and a ten minute misconduct." This means that the team that was retaliating would now be man down for two minutes and without the services of that player for 15 minutes. The victim is penalized and the initiating team who broke the Code gets a power play. Something is wrong with that. The thinking, I am sure, is that rule 56 is intended to stop the immediate retaliation of one team against another and thereby reduce the amount of fighting - against which the NHL front office has to defend itself every time SportsCenter leads with a hockey fight or a Steve Downie incident.

While the instigator rule is effective, in that few teams would be foolish enough to knowingly put themselves in the crosshairs of Colin Campbell by sending out a goon to "set things straight," it fosters subsurface anger that ultimately can result in something like the Vancouver Canucks' Todd Bertuzzi sucker punching Colorado's Steve Moore in the head from behind after a clean, brutal hit against Markus Naslund back in 2003.

The instigator rule did not allow for the Canucks to "deal" with what they thought was a shot against their Captain and star player. Brad May never got on the ice to deal with Steve Moore and the objection to the Naslund hit. What we got was a cheap shot that was far more damaging to the sport, because of its prominence on SportsCenter, than any fight could have been. Retaliation of that magnitude only causes greater PR damage to the league than if the proper combatants were allowed to do their jobs according to the honor system. As long as the "instigator rule" intends to force refs to call more penalties, rather than allow the game to regulate itself, the end result will continue to be an increase in cheap shot artists who practice their trade with increasing efficiency. As long as enforcers are not allowed to deal with an honor infraction immediately, instances of chippy play, slashes to wrists, sticks in the face and offenses that are not called by the ref - though everyone in the building saw it - will only increase. It will also permit an entire class of player, who has limited physical skill but is a perfect agitator with the ability to take skill players off their games by hounding and physically abusing them without fear of retaliation, to exist in the league. Jarko Ruutu comes to mind. Wouldn't it be sad if Sidney Crosby was not able to participate in the Winter Classic because he had been clipped under the faceshield and cut his eye from a cheap shot by Tyson Nash? If not Crosby, then AO or Danny Heatley or some other star who the fans could not see because some cheap shot artist broke his wrists with a viscious slash? Rule 56 prevents the players from taking back the game. It stops the system from policing itself. It encourages low skill players to do as much damage as you can but not get caught. Oh...and if you do, it is likely just a two minute minor. Maybe a small fine. And if the other team does send out someone to dispense justice, that team is penalized with an instigator minor and could lose the game because of it.

Is the Code relevent? As long as the game is more worried about its public image than in the history of the game, the honor system upon which it was founded and the health and immense skill of its star players...then, No.

Without law there is lawlessness. Without honor there is a lack of respect. Without respect there is no sense of the rich history that the game of hockey has. Without a respect for and holding sacred the history of the game...why would any kid want to stay out past dinner to freeze his nose off chasing after a rock with a stick across a frozen pond?

While I apologize for the melodramatics, the underlying point remains valid. Let the players police the game as bound by the unwritten laws of honor and the Code. Will it mean increased fighting? Yes. Will it also mean that skilled players will be allowed more freedom to use their incredible talents? Absolutely. Will it deter those who would cheap shot others players knowing their medicine would be waiting the next time they touched the ice? I hope so. Would it mean a reduction in the slashing, stickwork and chippy play that seems to mar many of the games today? God, I hope so.

Let's give the sport back to those who play it and rely less on those in pinstripes to legislate morality. This is a glorious, brutal and amazing game rich in history and founded on notions like honor and respect. Let the players play.

Thanks for reading...

Filed Under:   instigator rule   respect   honor   The Code   fighting   SYF  
January 8, 2008 11:16 AM ET | Delete
I agree that what Downie did was aaginst the "code". And I don't like the fact that a flyer went after a non-fighter, but Blake did say that Downie shouldn't be allowed to play in the NHL ever again because of the McAmmond hit and I'm sure that Blake was talking smack during the scrum. So Downie hit him, it may not have been right but it happened and the overall incident isn't that big of a deal. It is being made out to be a major sin. It wasn't it's happened time and again throught the 87 years of NHL hockey and will happen again with other players and it won't be a big deal then either.
January 8, 2008 11:19 AM ET | Delete
I'm surprised there isn't a Leaf or Canuck troll on here.
January 8, 2008 12:05 PM ET | Delete
Fantastic blog! Great job SYF!
January 8, 2008 12:06 PM ET | Delete
Well said, my good man. The current incarnation of the NHL has gone to a worse place than one that wants the men in stripes to legislate things... It has become a place where men in SUITS are attempting to control what happens on the ice. And your point on the disrespect being shown to the history of the game is spot on; as much now as when the generic division and conference names were born.
January 8, 2008 12:18 PM ET | Delete
exactly...i think blake also broke a code by speaking out of context and saying downie should be kicked out of the league. and like was said, im sure he was running his mouth.
January 8, 2008 12:36 PM ET | Delete
I could feel the scene from "A Few Good Men" being played out...Capt. Ross: Corporal Barnes, I hold here the Marine Corps Outline for Recruit Training. You're familiar with this book?Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.Capt. Ross: You've read it?Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.Capt. Ross: Good. Would you open it up to the chapter that deals with code reds, please?Cpl. Barnes: Sir?Capt. Ross: Just flip open to the page of the book that talks about code reds.Cpl. Barnes: Well, sir code red is a term that we use, I mean, just down at Gitmo, I really don't think that...Capt. Ross: Ah, we're in luck then. Standard Operating Procedures, Rifle Security Company, Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Now I assume we'll find the term code red and its definition in that book. Am I right?Cpl. Barnes: No sir.Capt. Ross: Coporal Barnes, I'm a Marine. Is there no book. No pamphlet or manual, no regulation or set of written orders or instructions that lets me know that, as a Marine, one of my duties is to perform code reds?Cpl. Barnes: No sir. No book, sir.Capt. Ross: No further questions.[as Ross walks back to his table Kaffey takes the book out of his hand]Kaffee: Corporal would you open this book up to the part that says that where the mess hall is.Cpl. Barnes: Well, Lt Kaffey, that's not in the book either, sir.Kaffee: You mean to say the entire time you've been at Gitmo you've never had a meal?Cpl. Barnes: No, sir. Three squares a day, sir.Kaffee: Well, I don't understand. How did you know where the mess hall was if it wasn't in this book?Cpl. Barnes: I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.Kaffee: Thanks. No more questions.
January 8, 2008 12:42 PM ET | Delete
Great job SYF. You've written a logical and in-depth article on a situation that cries for change. I compare it somewhat to the sad state of affairs where the rights of criminals often trump those of their victims. Unfortunately, the league has painted itself into a corner by mis-directing the angst of the "alleged" public perception of fighting in hockey by creating the instigator bogeyman. It's going to take someone at or near the top with both courage and finesse to straighten out the Rule 56 mess. It can and will be rectified. (I hope.)
January 8, 2008 12:49 PM ET | Delete
When are you going to get your own column? Great job as always SYF.
January 8, 2008 2:21 PM ET | Delete
Nice blog -- always like hearing your tasty treats!!! But I have to disagree to a point. Maybe Downie was sticking up for his Goalie and Teamates, that blake had been whacking at all game. Is that not part of this "code" to Defend your teammates? blake was seen with his stick in Kooks, groin, he kept wacking at nitty after the whistle and instigated the scrum. I am not defending downies actions, (all though I like his feistiness (sp)) but it does take 2 to tango -- and evryone ripps Downie, while no one considers blakes actions.
January 8, 2008 3:17 PM ET | Delete
Here's the thing. Downie opinion aside, you shouldn't EVER hit someone who cannot defend themselves. THAT alone is cowardly... Think back to school with that one bully that would always swarm you with his friends, who would hold you and then let his fists fly knowing you cannot do a thing. That's my issue with Downie. Blake was CLEARLY tied up with the refs and left defenseless. If Downie was that mad, lay a bone-crushing, CLEAN and legal hit on him or challenge him, although I'm sure Blake wouldn't drop the gloves. That's all I'm trying to point out. Downie is feisty and plays with a grit and intensity, and that's good; however, he needs to use his freakin' head! If he could stop playing like a stereotypical hockey-goon dumbass, then the spotlight would inevitably move on to say, Avery or Ruutu...
January 8, 2008 6:54 PM ET | Delete
"Downie is feisty and plays with a grit and intensity, and that's good; however, he needs to use his freakin' head! If he could stop playing like a stereotypical hockey-goon dumbass, then the spotlight would inevitably move on to say, Avery or Ruutu..."Although it was nice to see Ruutu lay a beating down on Tucker... GREAT BLOG!!
January 9, 2008 8:03 AM ET | Delete
Good points! You phrased it well. It is hard to explain the code.
January 10, 2008 1:30 AM ET | Delete
The code can be described in so many ways I am not even sure the players know the code aymore, players won't police it that half the problem great blog syf one of the best I have read.
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October 11, 2019 6:46 AM ET | Delete
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