The Lessons of Hockey

Bobby Clarke, one of hockey’s ‘great leaders,’ prepares to smash František Pospíšil in the face with the butt of his stick.


I stopped watching hockey after game six of the Summit Series between the USSR and Canada in 1972. In that series, the Canadians were being trounced by the finesse play of Russian players like Valeri Kharlamov. In game six, Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers smashed Kharlamov with his stick and broke the Russian’s ankle.

Clarke was instructed to do this by assistant coach John Ferguson, who later described the incident: “I remember that Kharlamov’s ankle was hurting pretty bad,” he said. “I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, ‘I think he needs a tap on the ankle.’ I didn’t think twice about it. It was Us versus Them. And Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it.”

You do what you have to do to win. Clarke, who is also famous for smashing a Czech player in the face with the butt of his stick, became known as “one of the game’s great leaders,” and when he retired from active play, he went on to become general manager of the Flyers and several other teams.

So I don’t watch hockey, but I think young boys should watch hockey, because it teaches a valuable lesson: There are times when a man must abandon the laws of civilized society and lash out with violence intended to cause serious harm to other human beings.

This is a lesson young men cannot learn from watching basketball or football or tennis or volleyball or rugby or soccer or tennis or jai alai or chess. It’s true that in baseball there are times when a pitcher, if he is a real man, must throw a baseball at 90 miles an hour at the head of an opposing player, but this doesn’t happen nearly enough to be instructive.

When I see peewee hockey players throw down their gloves and start punching one another in the face, I can see that they are learning this important lesson of manhood.

Because situations arise in daily life when men, if they are real men, must step outside the law and do violent harm to other human beings. Perhaps someone in a nightclub says something you don’t like. Perhaps someone makes fun of your hat. Perhaps your wife says she is leaving you because of your excessive drinking or perhaps your mother gives more love and attention to a bunch of kindergarten kids than she gives to you!

In situations like these, real men must ignore the laws of humanity and lash out with violence and cause all the harm they possibly can. This is an important lesson that young men learn by watching hockey.