Bob Clarke: Hockey Without Fighting Is Like Vodka Without Alcohol

Bob Clarke, seen here with Bruins legend Bobby Orr at the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

Flyer legend Bob Clarke was in attendance at DC's Verizon Center on Sunday as the Flyers took on the Capitals, and Sovetsky Sport correspondents Natalia Bragilevskaya and Pavel Lysenkov were able to sit down with him and get his take on Ovechkin and fighting in the NHL.

The fellas over at Japers' Rink commonly translate Capitals-related interviews from that publication, and they were nice enough to pass along this mostly Flyers-centric interview with the former general manager, former captain, and forever Hall of Famer.

For a look at Clarkie's thoughts on the Capitals and what playing with Alex Ovechkin would have been like, head over to Japers' Rink. To read his thoughts on the current style of play in the NHL, the current Flyers team, and what the sports would be like without fighting, take the jump.

Every team has their own style and philosophy. What is Philadelphia’s?

"We always tried to play aggressive hockey. But in today’s reality it doesn’t work too well. Now the NHL wants to accentuate high speed and high scores. Aggressive play often leads to penalties and losses."

Your new head coach Peter Laviolette is not known as a devotee of fighting, but the Flyers still drop the gloves in almost every game.

"The players themselves make the decision to fight or not. If a player decides to raise his fists and respond to those who trespass against him, he’ll do it no matter the philosophy of his coach. But you can’t go overboard with the fighting now because of the penalties."

So Philadelphia is turning into a European style team, something that your fans wouldn’t put up with even five years ago?

"It seems that way. A lot of changes have taken place in the last few years, and if you stay in the past you’ve lost. The new rules in the NHL, doing away with the red line, all this has led to a faster and higher scoring game. It would be suicide to try and continue to play gritty power hockey."

Do you miss the good old days?

"I always liked fighting. I think that the league reacted too harshly to this aspect of the game. But now I’m just a fan, following the game, and nothing more."

Did you hear about the bench-clearing brawl that recently happened in Chekhov? It was even widely reported in North America. Vityaz and Avangard accumulated a total of 707 PIMs.

"I am very surprised! I could never believe that something like that would ever happen in your hockey. It’s difficult to imagine it happening in any league. Even the NHL has never had that many penalties assessed in a game. It seems like the Russians have gone mad!" smiled Clarke.

You mean Philadelphia never had any massive fights in the 70s?

"We never were a bunch of goody two-shoes.  A couple of times I even saw players in full gear and skates go up into the stands to deal with some fans. They had to call the cops. After all, you could have easily cut some bystander with a skate.

Several Philadelphia players were taken to court for fighting with fans. I remember that one player for St. Louis even went to jail for fighting. Yeah, those were the days! But those days are behind us now."

The General Manager for Vityaz, which is the most fighting team in Russia, is Alexei Zhamnov, who once played for Philadelphia.

"Alex wasn’t like that when he played in the NHL" smiled Clarke.

The Vityaz fans expect fights from their team; much like several years ago when some advertisements for the Flyers farm-team guaranteed "delicious fights". What makes a Philadelphia fan happier, fights or goals?

"We love fights, but we won’t turn down some goals. In the 1970’s we weren’t able to fill the stadium. When we started fighting, the fans started showing up. It seems like Zhamnov is using the exact same tactic and is hoping for success. Has Vityaz seen an increase in attendance?"

The ratings are indeed increasing. Could you ever imagine hockey without fights?

"Could you imagine vodka without alcohol? Hockey without fighting would be even more dangerous. No matter what, players are going to take out their aggressions; it will just be in a different manner. They’ll hit each other with sticks, break bones, play knee-on-knee. It may seem paradoxical, but fist fights help avoid violence on the rink. I can’t see any reason to take fighting out of hockey."

But goons are becoming extinct like the wooly mammoth. Maybe the league should enact some legislation to protect and preserve them?

"Don’t put them on the endangered species list just yet.  Every team still has some. I came into the NHL in 1969.We had fighters 40 years ago, there still are fighters, and there will be fighters 40 years in the future. The players still want their team to have one or two heavyweights. And the fans like it."

But it’s not enough just to be a tough-guy now. You also have to be able to play hockey.

"For sure. Very few know how to fight anymore. Now you have to play on the third or fourth line. That wasn’t required in the past. But I still stand by my opinion, every team should absolutely have a tough-guy."

Again, thanks to J.P., tuvanhillbilly and the gang at Japers' Rink for their hospitality.

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