Hockey is the only one of the four major professional sports in the United States in which fighting is an accepted and integral part. Proponents of fighting in hockey often claim that it can prevent more frequent occurrences of dangerous plays, such as high-sticking and spearing. It could help teams protect their stars and build cohesiveness and team unity.

Hockey player getting hitBut do hockey players consciously and strategically choose to fight? Or do they impulsively react to circumstances during games?

A soon-to-be published study in the journal Sports Health looked at fights in the National Hockey League during the 2010–2011 season. Nadav Goldschmied, PhD and Samantha Espindola, BA analyzed the timing of the 646 fights during that season, monitoring both the times during individual games and over the course of the season. The findings are pretty clear.

A large number of the fights occurred early in the games and dropped dramatically as the games went on. No fights occurred during overtime periods.
Far more fights occurred in the preseason than later in the season or in the playoffs.

This data suggests that players don’t fight due to impulse behavior but rather due to calculated decisions. When the games approached the finish, or when the games mattered more toward the end of the season, the number of fights plummeted.

In fact, data regarding fights during the Stanley Cup Finals illustrates this notion well. While fights occurred at an average of just less than one every other game over the course of the 2011–2012 season, fights in the Stanley Cup Finals occurred at an average of one in every eight games over the last 10 years.

Does this data surprise you? Hockey fans, do you think the NHL needs to do more to discourage fighting? Share your thoughts with everyone!


Goldschmied N, Espindola S. “I Went to a Fight the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out”: Is Professional Hockey Fighting Calculated or Impulsive? Sports Health. Published online before print June 10, 2013.