November 14th, 2007

Following the Code

Last week I posted a clip of a fight (above) in a Canadian juniors game in the MJAHL between the Halifax Wolverines and the Summerside Western Capitals that Eric had unearthed earlier. (details here) You see one player chasing another into the bench, leading to a brawl. But what you don’t see is what happens before the fight. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought any more of it. That is, until I read Ross Bernstein’s The Code. In the introduction Bernstein talks about watching commentary on the Donald Brashear — Marty McSorley incident, when he first discovered “the code.”

The code was hockey’s sacred covenant, its unwritten rules of engagement that had been handed down from generation to generation. There was, as I learned, a mysterious chain of accountability that dealt with the issues of violence and fighting.

… back then, when there was a fight, I just stood and cheered. I had no idea what had led up to it or why they were even doing it. I think many casual hockey fans would concur. Now, after spending the better part of two years immersing my life in their craft, I have been enlightened. That new knowledge has opened my eyes, and the game is much, much more exciting to watch now.

While I consider myself more than a casual hockey fan, I never gave too much thought as to what led to up to fights. As a player and a fan, I’ve seen many games from both sides of the glass. As a player, you see all, especially from the bench. Every hook, elbow, or other infraction, whether it gets called or not. But from the stands or television, it’s hard to keep track of everything, because your eyes become glued to the puck. It’s can be easy to lose track of everything else that is going on out on the ice.

So when a fight breaks out, you just assume the two players were mad at each other. But Bernstein’s book brings out so much more, and has enlightened me in much the same way it did him. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t read his book before I saw the video, I wouldn’t be writing this. I would have seen it, thought, “wow, that was nuts,” and moved on. But since I read The Code, my second thought was “what happened before the fight that led to what I just saw?”

Both Josh McKinnon (fled to his bench) and Kirk Forrest (chased Josh) declined an interview, but I was able to speak with Halifax (red + white jerseys) coach Tim Boyce and player Ben Chaisson (player who leaped into the bench).

Coach Boyce filled me in on the background between the two teams.

Sunday night we had played the same team over in their arena in PEI and we were playing that game with about, I think, 14 or 15 skaters, because the night before we had a couple suspensions and injuries, so we were playing with a short bench. Over there, a few of their guys decided to take some liberties with some of our smaller guys, knowing that basically we had a short bench and weren’t in a position to get into any fights. They also knew that two of our tougher players (Forrest and Chaisson) weren’t in the lineup. And the guy there, McKinnon, basically, the game before that, he came across the ice and delivered an elbow to the face of one of our younger players, Derek Fulton … one of our better, brighter young players.

McKinnon’s hit put Fulton out of the Halifax lineup for at least a month with a concussion, and Coach Boyce told me that Fulton’s doctor has suggested that he consider giving up the game. That’s tough news for someone who skated in the Canadian Junior Prospects game last year. Also, in the next game, a 20-yr-old on the Halifax team challenged a 20-yr-old on the Summerside team, who declined. That same Summerside 20-yr-old then picked a fight with a 17-yr-old Halifax player.

So that was chapter one in this story. In the previous game, Josh McKinnon elbowed a skill player — Derek Fulton — in the face, putting him out of play for an indefinite period of time. And according to the code, McKinnon would have to answer for what he did.

Again, Bernstein:

Hockey’s rules of engagement are all about protection, intimidation, and solidarity among teammates. If a player challenges another player over an issue he deems disrespectful, that player must answer the bell or risk the humiliation of being considered a coward. Or, worse yet, if that player refuses to right what was wronged right then and there, he risks having that incident escalate to another level, involving other teammates. Before long the wheels of retaliation are in motion, and someone will have to be held accountable.

Reading that you almost feel like Bernstein knew what was going to happen here. I’ll be brief, since everything I’m explaining can be seen on the video clip. Forrest (#7, red + white) drops his gloves and skates towards McKinnon (#6, blue), who immediately flees to the safety of his bench. They begin fighting, and Ben Chaisson comes flying over the boards and into the bench. I asked Ben what he was thinking when he went into the Summerside bench like that.

Kirk starts fighting him at the bench, and all their guys start fighting him, so obviously I’m gonna go in and try to help Kirk, and I was just like, I might as well go on the bench and try to help him; I’ll take probably 5 or 6 of them off him and drag them on to me….so I skated from the red line and thought, here goes nothing.

And we all see where things go from there. And when it was all said and done 14 people were suspended, including 5 Summerside skaters and 4 Halifax skaters. For Summerside, Bradley Collicutt (#33), Jon Cameron (#21), Dan Whalen (#5), and Tim MacPhee (#00) can be seen fighting in their bench. Goalie Stefan Dumaresque (#60) fought on the ice. Trainer B. Gallant is seen striking the linesman. Joel Dyment (#22) can’t be seen in the video. For Halifax, Ben Chaisson and Kirk Forrest went into the bench and fought. Jeff Marchand (#14) tries to go in and help, and is seen slamming a stick on the ice. T. J. Keeping (#33) is the other goalie in the on-ice fight.

Summerside Western Capitals:

Player Number Name Consequence

5 Dan Whalen 1 game suspension
21 Jon Cameron 2 game suspension
60 Stefan Dumaresque 2 game suspension
22 Joel Dyment 3 game suspension
33 Bradley Collicutt 2 game suspension
00 Tim MacPhee 1 game suspension
Trainer B. Gallant 5 game suspension
Head Coach Scott Bridges * 3 game suspension

* Note: Failure to control players.

Halifax Wolverines:

Player Number Name Consequence

7 Kirk Forrest 20 game suspension
8 Ben Chaisson 20 game suspension
14 Jeff Marchand 2 game suspension
33 T. J. Keeping 2 game suspension
Head Coach Tim Boyce ** 3 game suspension
GM Jack Finlay 20 game suspension
GM Jack Finlay $2000 fine

** Note: Player leaving the penalty box.

Then again, the whole mess on the video could have been avoided. All Josh McKinnon had to do was step up to Kirk Forrest, and their fight would have ended things right then and there. Said Ben; “What should have happened … is he should have fought Kirk, so what, you’re gonna take a punch off the face, it’s not gonna kill you. But instead, he … ran from the situation.”

As for Coach Boyce:

As far as I’m concerned, none of it would have started, if those guys hadn’t had taken liberties with our players on Sunday, and if Mr. McKinnon had just stood up and fought Kirk. He’s able to play tough on Sunday … when Kirk wasn’t in the lineup. As soon as Kirk gets back, he turns around and runs. That’s not the way you play the game. If you’re a tough guy, you act tough, you play tough all the time, you don’t do it when certain guys are in the lineup or not in the lineup … if he’s gonna play the role of the tough guy, you don’t do it when you feel like it, you do it all the time, and he clearly didn’t do that on Tuesday.

The fight between the Halifax Wolverines and the Summerside Western Capitals is a textbook example of what can happen when the rules of the code aren’t followed. While the Halifax team more or less instigated the fight, it’s hard to look past the fact that Josh McKinnon failed to follow “the code” by standing up and facing the consequences of his actions.

The Halifax players felt that McKinnon’s actions against their skill player, Derek Fulton, was unacceptable, and he must pay for what he did. His fleeing to his own bench drew Kirk Forrest with him, which started the fight, and consequently drew in more Halifax players, most dramatically Ben Chaisson.

While I don’t condone what Forrest and Chaisson did, I see where they are coming from. Neither played in the game before, when the whole conflict started. They couldn’t do anything in return for what happened to Derek right away. And as the de facto protectors of their teammates they knew that something had to be done at the start of the game they played in. Kirk Forrest should have chased McKinnon to the bench, and let him dive to safety like the coward he was shown to be. But I’m sure emotions were running high, and both Kirk and Ben got caught up in them and went too far. And they were punished with their suspensions. So I guess you could say both Josh and Kirk were responsible for what happened. Josh should have stepped up and faced what was coming to him. When he didn’t, Kirk should have waited for another chance, instead of fighting the Summerside bench, which led to the brawl. But when you break it down, Kirk took The Code too far, while Josh didn’t follow it at all. So I still believe that Josh was the primary cause of the brawl, while Kirk and Ben follow closely behind.

And by the way, Summerside won in overtime. And Josh McKinnon got the win in net.

One Response to “Following the Code”

  1. PB says:

    Hi Joe -

    I know you wrote this a few days ago, and it’s taken me three days to catch up, but I wanted to share what you wrote was brilliant.

    At first glance, watching the clip was showing me the darker side of junior hockey. Now, with the information you shared, I can understand where the Halifax guys were coming from and the reasons (albeit misappropriated somewhat) for their actions.

    I would agree, letting the coward skate to the bench and the Halifax player letting it go, would have been more prudent, but the fracas started and could have been avoided.

    I’ve been putting off reading “The Code” for awhile, but it’s now on my next book to read.

    Again, nicely done.

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