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Columnist
Nothing like a good, old hockey fight
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 7/7/2010 12:00 AM

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Bob Probert's death Monday was a reminder of what fighting means to the NHL.

Probert was eulogized fondly, but not for his 163 goals and 221 assists over a 16-year career.

Certainly it wasn't for the substance abuse that troubled his 45-year life.

No, Probert was revered for the 3,300 penalty minutes that placed him fifth on the NHL's all-time list.

If ever there was a more feared fighter in league history, somebody will have to point him out to me.

Guys like Probert became every bit the hockey legends as the best goalies and goal scorers became.

Maybe players don't get into the Hall of Fame by dropping their gloves and raising their fists, but many have become folk heroes by doing so.

There's a nobility about them for not letting bullies bully their teammates.

Over the decades three types of players made up an exciting hockey team: An impenetrable goalie, a high-scoring forward and an enforcer who will force an opponent to mail his teeth to the dentist.

Sorry if that offends pacifists, but this isn't chess, Chester. The NHL is a man's man's league played by men's men like Bob Probert.

One of my first favorite players was Blackhawks brawler Reggie Fleming. One of my first favorite villains was New York Rangers brawler Lou Fontinato.

That was back in the day when I used to watch Friday night boxing with my father. I don't like boxing much anymore and can't bear to watch ultimate fighting -

But I still like a good old-fashioned hockey fight.

The difference - I'm only guessing at my own mind-set here - is that hockey is more like cartoon fighting.

Anyway, the problem lately is that society's namby-pamby element has been campaigning to eliminate fighting from the NHL.

If I wanted to exaggerate, I'd say that's like trying to eliminate tackling from football or the hard slide from baseball.

It isn't quite that but fighting is as much a part of hockey as the slap shot. For my money it's as compelling as a perfect pass to set up a scoring chance.

Seriously, a good fight got fans up from their seats in the old Chicago Stadium as quickly as a Hawks goal did.

As far as I can tell, not much has changed in the United Center.

One of the arguments against enforcers like Probert is that the Stanley Cup playoffs and Olympic hockey are just fine without fights.

Yes, they are. But the stakes are so high in those competitions that they could eliminate skating and still sell out arenas.

Where the fighting Flemings, Fontinatos and Proberts are useful is in January when the Hawks are playing, say, the freakin' Blue freakin' Jackets.

Take the occasional brawl out of one of those games and you have figure skating or soccer, no offense intended.

A debate has raged around the Hawks for a couple of years over whether they need an enforcer to protect Patrick Kane like Probert protected Steve Yzerman and Marty McSorley protected Wayne Gretzky.

Obviously the Hawks don't because they won the Stanley Cup without a player like that.

Regardless, it would be nice if the Hawks had a heavyweight fighter just for entertainment purposes.

mimrem@dailyherald.com