Reading with the Roost: The Code

by Ryan

The Code is another one of those books that is deemed a “must read” for hockey fans. The hockey world is much different down on the ice, and as fans the only way to understand that world is to hear about it from others. Earlier I read The Game, which put you inside the head of Ken Dryden, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. Today we will talk about the world of hockey enforcers.


Ross Bernstein’s The Code was an interesting look at the history of fighting in hockey, its impact and importance within the game, and how economics and the lockout have effected fighting. Bernstein talked at length within the book’s 22 chapters, but he also interviewed many enforcers and journalists, letting them tell their own stories about “The Code” and the game of hockey.

The player interviews are certainly the highlight of the work. Hearing from guys like Tony Twist, Marty McSorley, and Rob Ray was about as enlightening as you could manage when talking to so called “goons”. By far the best interview Bernstein conducted was with Paul Stewart, a former hockey enforcer who retired and became an NHL official. What better view of The Code than from someone who lived by it and then had to work alongside it?

For me this was the highlight of the book. Here’s Paul Stewart talking about revenge:

“Revenge in hockey can be a b#$ch. I still owe Bob Schmautz for trying to spear me in the eye in Colorado one night. I had hit him with a beautiful elbow right in the chest, which knocked the wind out of him. I could have taken his chin off, but I didn’t. So he came back at me with his stick, and we got into a stick fight. It was ugly. I even went after him years later at a celebrity golf tournament up in Pawtucket with a putter one time. Milt Schmidt had to get between us that afternoon, and it was a good thing he was there or that could have gotten ugly, too. I said, “You haven’t got a stick now, how tough are you?” He was a gutless puke. He had no code and no honor. Hey, Schmautz-and you can put this in the book, too-anytime, anyplace. I’m ready for you.”

Some of the stories are downright hilarious, with Rob Ray telling parents how to raise their children, Stewart punching a player trying to break up a fight, and Dave Hanson pulling off Bobby Hull’s wig.

Overall I think Bernstien did a good job putting the material together. He tried to cover all aspects of the code, as well as what fighting has done to the game and the public’s perception of it. He made sure to give both sides of the pro/anti fighting argument, even if that meant E.J. Hradek was involved.

While the material was good and I would recommend any hockey fan give it a try, I was a bit disappointed in Bernstien’s writing. It was an odd mix of writing styles, and I have to admit I’m not familiar with much else of his writing, so I’m not sure if that is his style of if he was trying too hard.

At times the book read like an elongated term paper. While there were many cited sections in the appendix, there were many generalizations or points he tried to make that were just ramblings. It wasn’t bad writing, just awkward, especially when he tried to use secular terms. I think he actually tried too hard to be “ordinary” with his style, using terms such as “S.O.B.” or “mug” when referring to someone’s face. It wasn’t bad, just… clumsy, and something that tripped me up at times.

A perfect example of this was on page 209, when Bernstien was talking about violence on the junior level. One fight between two parents ended up with one man dying. Bernstein said, “One man died after being assaulted, and the other get ten years in the joint for manslaughter.” Really? Joint? For such a serious topic, the colloquial terms didn’t add anything to the material.

Again, this isn’t a criticism of the book as much as the style it was presented in. The material was excellent, the interviews were great, and the book itself brought up a number of great questions regarding fighting and violence in hockey. A simple matter of diction doesn’t matter in the face of all that.

The main point of the book was to give its readers the option: to fight or not to fighting? I have always been a proponent of fighting in hockey, and after reading I only reinforced my views on the matter. There is a reason for fighting in the game, and no matter what impression it gives to outsiders, the purpose overrides the negativity associated with it.

Reading has also given me a new view of Andrew Peters. I think looking over his actions and his role is important in determining his utility. He is a bad fighter and not a two way player, and I don’t think he follows the code. (We’ve seen him turtle before…) However, we currently don’t have a better option, and until we trade for Georges Laroque (could have signed him this summer…) we will have to keep him around.

God, that’s depressing.

Any thoughts on fighting, Peters, and Rob Ray in the comments.

17 Comments

  1. Heather B.

    Andrew Peters blow, Robert Ray rules, and I had a hard time reading this book because despite some interesting material, the writing was very stilted as you mentioned. In fact, I don’t think I ever finished it.

    I appreciate that these guys have a code, but I’m still not a huge fan of the prearranged fights between two appointed guys.

  2. dani

    Hockey would be super weird with no fighting.

  3. epp

    Are there rules for fighting between coaches? I feel like Brian Murray and Lindy should just, you know, throw them down once or twice.

  4. Ryan

    epp,

    I’m not sure if there is an exact rule, but I’m sure they would be penalized by the “leaving the bench” rule, which is a ten game suspension.

  5. talleywhackers

    Ok, what about “the code” for coaches? I would imagine standing on the boards shouting “I WILL RAPE YOU” over Rob Ray’s head is toeing the line, while having Chris Neil in your employ is most certainly crossing it.

  6. Ryan

    It’s interesting, because the code doesn’t really include coaches, even though they employ a major role in fights. They are the ones giving enforcers “the tap” to get out there, and they can tell players when and when not to fight.

    They may not be throwing punches, but they are the ones sending guys like Chris Neil out there, and the ones that make their players turtle for penalties. They break the code just as much as they use it, and they never get any blame either way.

  7. talleywhackers

    That’s true, particularly when you have coach’s regularly inciting conflict via the press. They’re as culpable as anyone – Lindy’s by no means innocent of any of those tactics, and it’s not behavior I would ever rebuke, but I wonder if any of those interviews mentioned coach behavior.

    Not having read “The Code,” did they?

  8. Ryan

    Yeah, they mentioned coaches quite a few times. Many coaches would only give enforcers one shift a game, and it was to beat the crap out of someone to send a message. Guys like Tie Domi and McSorley would get a regular shift, but many enforcers were toyed with in that sense. The pressure on those one shift a game guys was pretty intense (How would you feel if you got 30 seconds of ice and had to get you face punched in during it?), and in a way they resented their coaches for it.

    There was another story in the book about a fighter’s last game. He waited around all night and with six seconds left the coach gave him a tap. He looked at him and said he was sorry, he had already taken his skates off.

  9. talleywhackers

    Wow, that’s almost heartbreaking. Tears of a clown?

  10. Ryan

    Haha nah. He was pissed at his coach for jerking him around like that. In those days you had to touch the ice to count the game towards your pension. The coach knew it was his last game and didn’t even even care. He knew he wasn’t touching the ice.

  11. sabresfan88

    I read and enjoyed this book, but you pretty much perfectly described all that was wrong with it.

    While the interviews were great, other than that the book was pretty redundant and kind of painful to read at times for me.

  12. Anonymous

    Pretty sure If Ruff and Murray went at it, it would just be once, not twice.

    Anyways, prearranged fights between goons are a joke. What we need is to toss the instigator rule. Everyone seems to want to get rid of it, WTF are they waiting for? That might clean out some of the headhunting.

  13. Anonymous

    How does Peters not follow the code?

  14. Ryan

    Anon1,

    I agree that the instigator is pointless and has hurt the game. There are some people think that hockey is more commercially appealing if fighting is taken out, so I think that’s the main reason the rule has stayed in place.

    Anon2,

    I distinctly remember Peters turtling in a fight against Brashear last year against the Caps. It was the December 26th game, and he lured him into a fight, then didn’t drop the gloves. Brashear got an instigator penalty.

    I lost a lot of respect for him that night; the game was well in hand (6-3 final, but it was never that close) and all he had to do was “show up.” He didn’t, and I think he has lost respect throughout the league as a result. Word travels fast in the ranks of hockey enforcers, and Peters has shown on other occasions that he isn’t up to the task. It lowers his utility even more, and it’s one of the reasons I wish he had employment elsewhere.

    That whole “punching a Ranger on the bench” thing from the stretch run helped, too…

  15. Derek

    He fought Brasher, Peters dropped the gloves first. You are incorrect. And if the Sabres weren’t a bunch of pussies, he wouldn’t have thrown a punch from the bench.

  16. Ryan

    Derek,

    I’ll admit I’m wrong about the first part. Here’s the video of the fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMRri7hieEY

    You’re right, Peters does drop first. However, I do remember an incident like I described happen. I obviously placed the date wrong, so you can take my memory for what it’s worth (or not worth).

    However, the second point about the Sabres being “a bunch of pussies” doesn’t hold up in my book. You don’t put your team in that situation, no matter what the offense. Ruff’s reaction to the incident (suspending him for all but the last game of the year) shows you just how stupid a move it was. The Sabres may be a bunch of pussies, but Peters broke the code and the rules of common sense.

    I don’t hate Andrew Peters, I really don’t. In fact, reading a book like The Code proves to me that he does fill a role on the team that a guy like Kaleta can’t. However, there are times in which his utility is in serious doubt.

    Even so, if Lindy sees him as worth keeping, I trust that is the right thing to do, and what’s best for the team.

    Thanks for coming back to this post and proving me wrong. It’s nice to see someone hold me accountable for my screw ups.

  17. Derek

    No problem. And I should have done it in a more intellectual way. Problem is, when no one respects your favorite player, it seemes like I make the same points all the time.

    I just think that since no one else would have showed emotion for the hit on Hecht, he was the only one to do so. Sure, it could have ended up bad. But sometimes, when that’s your job title, emotion gets the best of you. People soon forget how many fights he won, even in 06-07.