By now, most hockey fans are familiar with George Parros and the battle he has been having with head injuries this season.
It all began with the season opener that had everyone from Ken Dryden to Steve Yzerman call for a ban on fighting. Parros, a well-known enforcer around the league, lay motionless after he hit his chin on the ice following a fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr. Although it was what most would call a freak accident, the fighting debate around the NHL heated up and Parros was used as the poster boy for the anti-fighting campaign.
Parros was not pleased when he found out that this incident was being used to support a fighting ban in the NHL. He is obviously a supporter of dropping the gloves as this is how he makes a living to support himself and his family.
His own case for keeping the enforcer role in the NHL has not been a strong one as he suffered his second concussion of the season following a fight with the New York Islanders’ Eric Boulton on Saturday night. This one was actually caused by repeated blows to Parros’s head and one particular hit to the chin that left Parros slowly getting to his feet. The officials, like everyone else in the hockey world, were well aware of George’s previous concussion that season and not wanting to risk another injury, Parros was sent to the locker room to get checked out. He is now being evaluated on a day-to-day basis with a concussion.
Before the October 1st fight against Colton Orr, Parros had gone through 161 career NHL fights concussion-free. The only concussion he ever had before this one was caused by a collision with the crossbar when he was in juniors.
But now Parros is dealing with his second concussion in three months and can be facing the harsh reality that his career as an NHL enforcer may be over.
Fighting is what has brought players like George Parros success and the ability to make it on an NHL roster. Realizing that they won’t be significant goal scorers and are bigger than most players around them, they master the art of the hockey fight and hope that some team is looking for someone who can protect its star players.
This role is not something a player is forced into, but one he chooses to take on. Parros knew that the only way he could make a living off the game he loves to play would be if he learned to fight. He is well aware of the dangers that come with fighting, just like any other player is aware of the dangers that come with being placed in a rink with bodies, pucks, and sharp blades traveling at high speeds.
Although there are many ugly sides to fighting, these players follow an unwritten code that comes with a fight and the respect and pride that fighting brings to the game.
With the exception of staged fights, these players fight with a purpose-it gives them a way to protect their teammates or bring energy to the bench and change the pace of the game. It’s a way to enforce their authority and let the other team know that no cheap shots will be let go without a consequence.
For the fighting supporters, fights are viewed as an essential part of hockey that ironically makes the game safer. A good example of this is taken from the recent altercation between Boston’s Shawn Thornton and Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, which left Orpik unconscious after Thornton punched him while he was down on the ice.
This all started when Orpik made a questionable hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson. Thornton, being one of his team’s main enforcers, went after Orpik for a fight and let him know that it’s not okay to hit his teammates like that without some sort of punishment. Orpik refused to fight and defend himself, but that didn’t stop Thornton.
If Orpik had stepped up and fought Thornton, the altercation would not have come this far and would have ended as soon as the fight was over.
Supporters of keeping fighting in hockey will argue that since the league and officials are not consistent enough with their calls and punishments, teams need a fighter that will enforce these rules through physical action. Their role is to scare the other team into not making cheap, dangerous plays that can hurt their teammates and star players.
But how many times can you drop the gloves before it starts affecting the rest of your life?
As far as Parros goes, his future is unclear at this point. Some people say he should retire while others say that he’ll be fine and can manage to go through another few seasons. Whatever route he takes, Parros knows that it is up to only him to decide whether this is a role he wants to keep playing.
The soon-to-be 34-year old has options if he were to choose retirement from hockey. Unlike many NHLers, Parros completed a college education and has options for his life after hockey. With an economics degree from Princeton University, Parros has been described many times as an extremely smart guy to go along with his likable personality.
George Parros has to think about what’s best for his health and his family. The fighting debate will ensue no matter what happens with Parros and enforcers around the league will start to reflect on what their futures can look like.