Blood Money: Violence for Hire in the National Hockey League*

Richard C.K. Burdekin
Matthew Grindon Morton

Fighting in hockey is often a polarizing topic. Whereas some fans clearly relish the more violent side of the National Hockey League (NHL), others condemn the sport for its unique leniency on the issue. What frequently goes overlooked, however, is the strategy behind the fighting. Managers recognize the need to protect their most skilled players from the violence so engrained in hockey culture and utilize “enforcers” to police the game and protect their star players. These enforcers use fighting to intimidate opponents and deter them from hitting the team’s stars (either legally or illegally). With reference to Wayne Gretzky, generally regarded as the very best ice hockey player of all time, long-time NHL coach Glen Sonmor summed up the impact of the enforcer role as follows: “When I was coaching the North Stars I ... found it difficult to get my guys to even check Gretzky out there because they knew that as soon as they did they were going to have to turn around and face his bodyguards, McSorley or Semenko” (Bernstein, 2006, p. 11).