The dust still has not settled on the recent events in Toledo which has sparked quite the conversation in recent days. It was an unsettling scene, and unfortunately, one that we’ve seen all too often in the recent years throughout minor league hockey. Egregious acts leading to outrage, calls for bans on players and non-stop quarreling among opposing fan bases.
Fingers get pointed, coaches and organizations get publicly shamed, and the league takes another black eye. The most recent occurrence of violence in hockey has lit the fuse on the ongoing discussion of violence in the sport, and rightfully so. All too often when these things happen, there is an enduring search for who is right and who is wrong, who is the winner of the debate or issue at hand, and who is the loser. This instance is no different.
It is easy to sit back and review this in a vacuum. The video is out there, and we’ve even posted it on this site. There’s no getting away from it. Watching Mavericks forward Garrett Klotz repeatedly cross check Toledo’s A.J. Jenks while he lies on the ice before all hell breaks loose is something that is not easy to watch. Whether you’re a fan of “old time” hockey or someone that is more attracted to the new wave of play, there is no doubt that Klotz crossed the line and deserves whatever punishment comes his way. This game has always prided itself on the players policing the game themselves, and Toledo did their best to do that on the ice that night. The league will step in and deliver supplemental discipline. Neither side will be happy with the outcome. That’s usually how this works.
However, it is important to take a step back, outside of the vacuum, and view this situation as a whole. There were many events that led up to this melee. The two teams have met a total of six times in the last month, with each encounter becoming more intense. There have been many liberties taken. Some were caught on camera, others were not. Some occurred on the ice, others did not. There have been slashes, spears, cross checks to the head, punches thrown well after a fight concluded through the officials, and much more. This was a build up of weeks of intense, violent contests that resulted in an eventual, and inevitable explosion.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, and minor league hockey as a whole, the explosion was horrendous and inexcusable. Don’t misconstrue that previous paragraph as an excuse or justification of Klotz’s actions because it is anything but. However, after reading some comments on social media following the viral outbreak of the video, the Mavericks have been dubbed as an organization of goons, turning to thuggery in times of defeat. That’s far from the truth. However, it is on them to own this one. They made the decision to sign Klotz, knowing full well that he was a ticking time bomb that would eventually detonate. No one ever thought that the detonation would be on a nuclear level, but that’s exactly what went down. I didn’t agree with the Klotz signing, much like many of the Mavericks fans, but I know full well they didn’t bring him in to do what he did in Toledo. He committed the act though, and now the organization has to own it, take their lump, and move on.
One major aspect of the events that unfolded and the aftermath is something that has been overlooked or ignored by everyone. There is hypocrisy galore in all of this, from both sides. People want to condemn a player’s actions, then turn around and threaten violence against them in future meetings. They stand and scream when two players drop the gloves at center ice, bang on the glass during an altercation after a major hit, or lift their children up high to see the line brawl, yet turn around and throw stones from their glass houses when they see fit. Teams want to publicly call out other teams, then turn around and share videos of other violent encounters on their social media outlets. Teams want to sign players like Klotz, knowing his history, and then are surprised when he does something cringe-worthy. Players want to call out opposing coaches and organizations in the heat of the moment while bragging about one-punching someone in a fight just a few breaths later. Fans want to romanticize about Colt King shattering the jaw of Garrett Clarke years ago, but call the organization a disgrace for signing a player like Klotz. It doesn’t work both ways. Outside of the heinous actions of Klotz and the surrounding discussion on player safety, that’s the biggest issue here. Fans, players, and teams want to talk about player safety, then they turn around and promote the most violent aspects of the game. This perpetual fence-sitting isn’t getting us anywhere, and in fact, it’s probably more detrimental than anything.
So if you’re looking for a winner or loser in this situation, you can stop. There are no winners.
The fact of the matter is that minor league hockey needs a certain level of violence to survive, but no one wants to admit that. Now, when I say violence, I’m not talking about the likes of what Klotz did in Toledo, not at all. I am talking about the fights, the booming hits (whether legal or not), and the line brawls. Let’s be honest, that puts a lot of butts in seats. That’s why you see it constantly replayed on television and social media. That’s why teams have awards for the “Fight of the Year.” That is what brings the casual fans out on a cold winter’s night. The diehards will come no matter what, but there are only so many of those in minor pro markets. The casual fans that come to a handful of games per season come to see goals scored and gloves dropped, and for a lot of them, they’d prefer to see the latter over the former.
So, we’ll continue to go round and round in circles. Steps have been taken to improve player safety and the discussion will be ongoing. Players have always been allowed to police the game themselves, and I am a strong believer in that. The league plays its part with supplemental discipline, but it should be on the players to determine what needs to be addressed and what doesn’t.
The actions of Klotz are regrettable at best, but any team that inks him to a deal knows the possibilities of what can happen if someone sets him off. If you don’t want players doing what Klotz did in Toledo, stop signing guys that have a history of such actions. Maybe the Mavericks regret bringing him in, maybe they don’t. However, the actions of one player in one situation do not reflect on the character of the coach or the organization. John-Scott Dickson has been well-respected throughout minor league hockey for the last decade, both as a player and a coach. The Mavericks organization has accomplished tremendous things on the ice, and even more so in the community. This may be a black eye for the Mavericks, but it doesn’t define who they are to the core.
Enforcers, physicality, big hits, and fights have their place within the game of hockey. Violence and hypocrisy do not. We all need to get off the fence and pick a side. That’s the only way we can move forward with the discussion surrounding violence in hockey. Until then, we’ll just sit back and wait for the next Klotz-like incident, and all act surprised and appalled when it happens.