I've heard numerous times that people watch hockey for the fights, auto race fans watch for the crashes, and that nice guys finish last. I cannot speak about the car races or nice guys, because there is no empirical evidence for them, but I do have anecdotal evidence that suggests the first statement is correct. Almost everyone I know who watches hockey enjoys the fighting. The only people I know who do not are my son and myself. Either we don't enjoy hockey in the same way as other fans, or, we are not fans. I assure you we are fans.
"I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out." Rodney Dangerfield
I am not suggesting that there is a proper way to watch or enjoy hockey. I believe that there will be an erosion of the popularity of fighting as the world of political correctness attempts to soften the violence of the sport. The player safety issue is a real one, however, and unless fighting stops, there will be an enormous amount of pressure to change the sport. Brain injuries, alcoholism and pain med abuse, and dangerous behavior outside of the sport by the enforcers both current and from the past have led to a focus upon these players as dinosaurs needing removal.
But entropy is a truth that never changes. The motion of a state goes from order to chaos. I have no doubt that if fighting is removed hockey will lose popularity. Fighting gives hockey a feeling of being unpredictable, exciting, it gives the sport an edge of a perception of imminent danger, however right or wrong that edge.
So, do I get worked up over fights as a human being if not as a fan? Still no. I watch some UFC, and boxing, but overall my view is that horrible things happen in the sport, and the allowance of fighting dirties the fluid grace that skating and speed, puck handling and shooting a small round rubber disk into a net, is. The best aspects of the sport of hockey are made less by the actions of enforcers.
"Anybody who says they don't like fighting in the NHL have to be out of their minds." Don Cherry
"The model for an NHL without fighting is right there in front of us.
The [playoffs are] the time of year that fans love best; when the best
hockey is played... [The] enforcers don't play. Even mini-enforcers...
remain on the bench. Teams and coaches can't afford anything stupid and
unpredictable... With no one to fight back for them, players go harder
into the corners, more determinedly to the front of the net. If they
want to fire up the crowd and their teammates, they have to do it
themselves. And in the playoffs, they do." Ken Dryden
"I had a few fights last year, but I need to take boxing lessons. I need to, because in the NHL it's required." Maxim Kuznetsov
As proof of the popularity of the fighting, there are hockey card sets devoted to and celebrating the enforcers. No matter how limited the role they play is, they are honored, and regarded as warriors, not as scoundrels or jerks with anger issues.