Recently, I had the chance to speak with Adam Proteau, writer for The Hockey News and co-host of The Hockey News Radio Show with Jamie Shalley, (Fridays from 3pm-4pm on NHLHomeIce XM 92 & Sirius 207) about his new book ‘Fighting The Good Fight.’ I’ve long been a fan of Adam’s weekly column for The Hockey News and over the holidays I had the chance to read ‘Fighting The Good Fight’. It was truly an insightful read that will make you question your opinion of fighting and its related dangers. If you’re a hockey fan with a passion for the game this book is for you. A few questions with Adam below:
Orla: You played amateur hockey as a young fella. Are there any particular scenarios from your playing days that stand out to you relating to violence and or aggressiveness on the ice?
Adam: First of all, I have to stress that I was nowwhere near an elite player. I played house league, house league all-star, and only as high as ‘A’ level. But as I write about in the book, I was a bigger kid than most at the time and was the aggressor on my team. The guy who avenged his smaller teammates.
During one game, I got into a stick-swinging incident and was suspended eight games by the old Metro Toronto Hockey League, and threatened with permanent expulsion if I got into another incident. That changed the way I saw the game, although it wasn’t always in the front off my mind when I began examining the game as a journalist. I think the application of logic, regardless of your hockey background or experience, should cause you to question the direction of the game.
Orla: Was there a specific incident or moment that encouraged you to start speaking out against on-ice violence in Hockey?
Adam: No, I think in part by reading people like Ken Dryden, Serge Savard and Mike Bossy and seeing they criticized the hyper-aggression of the North American pro game because they loved it, and in part by understanding how the goon role evolved through the history of the sport, it wasn’t hard to speak honestly about the fact I thought hockey could be better.
Orla: Being a Hockey writer and having the contacts of highly respected present and former NHL players and representatives at your disposal, what challenges did you face writing this book?
Adam: There were people who didn’t want to speak on the record or at length because they feared for their jobs within the industry. Hockey has an authoritarian culture that doesn’t tolerate dissent very well, so I understand their feelings. But people were also very good about directing me to useful information.
The biggest challenge was time. Turning a book around in a little more than three months, while also working at The Hockey News, was not something I’d do again unless there was a lot of money involved. A lot.
Orla: How long did it take you to gather facts and information to help support your opinion on fighting and on-ice violence?
Adam: I was writing, researching and interviewing throughout the three-and-a-half months I put it together. It was a bit of a scramble, as I wrote some chapters out of the order I had originally laid out. But I had consistently big deadlines to hit that kept me focused.
Orla: In your book chapter 2 is boldly titled ‘We Sell Hate’. Do you feel those are fitting words for today’s NHL?
Adam: Sure, although sometimes for the wrong reasons. You look at something like the current Bruins/Canucks feud – that’s a clear case of two teams that hate each other, with a lot of interest and excitement being generated.
The problem is, sometimes the hate is directed at the league. By which, I mean the loathing people have for an NHL justice system that hands out punishments very selectively. Most leagues take care of their supplemental discipline issues properly so the focus stays on the on-field product, but for a variety of reasons, the NHL is satisfied giving out these baffling, mostly inconsequential fines and suspensions. I’ll never think that’s a good thing.
Orla: Chapter 9 titled ‘The Enlightened’ you ask former players, coaches, agents and others within the industry various questions on their thoughts & ideas on how to make the NHL care for it’s participants. Was there anyone in particular who stood out to you the most? Why?
Adam: David Perron, the young Blues star who missed more than a calendar year recovering from a concussion, was a very smart and brave guy for speaking out as boldly as he did in the book. I think future generations will recognize him as a force for good in the game.
Orla: Do you believe it’s sufficient to educate players, coaches and managers solely on the repercussions of concussions?
Adam: No, I think actions won’t change until harsher suspensions and fines are levied routinely. As long as you allow the culture to flourish financially, there’s no reason for players to change.
Orla: In what ways do you believe fan reaction and the public’s opinions can encourage a positive change on fighting and on-ice violence in todays game?
Adam: I think we’re already seeing the effect of changing public opinion. The outcry in Montreal after the Max Pacioretty/Zdeno Chara incident was so pronounced, even corporate partners of the NHL began publicly rebuking the league for the direction of its product. And when owners like Geoff Molson, Eugene Melnyk and Mario Lemieux argue passionately against that direction, that’s an indication of the way the issue is headed.
You can follow Adam on twitter @Proteautype.