Opinion: MMA and the NHL
By Jesse Heitz
Last night I was watching my beloved Minnesota Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings, and win in the shootout I might add. Following the game, there was a behind the scenes special featuring young forward Jason Zucker. Watching this brief program led me to ponder something that I hadn’t often thought of despite my constant exposure to it.
The thing that has been at the forefront of my mind is the blossoming relationship between the National Hockey League and MMA. For both sports you could argue that fighting is an institution. Granted fighting is the expressed point of MMA, but the NHL has long featured fights as an integral part of the game. Once upon a time, as many hockey fans can surely remember, they were far more common. Fighting was simply the accepted way to handle on-ice disputes, an honorable means to keep the game from descending into the depths of barbarism.
While limited in frequency, many NHL players, and one would venture to guess hockey players everywhere, are taking advantage of training at some of the finest MMA gyms, with some stellar trainers and fighters, to prepare themselves should they ever need to “drop the gloves”.
The Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker isn’t known for fighting, he’s far from an enforcer. Rather, he’s a lightening quick skill player. Nevertheless, he’s convinced that learning how to stand toe-to-toe and “bang” is the way to go. Needless to say, he has recruited the help of UFC veteran Mike Pyle to help him develop his fighting skill set. Their training focuses largely on clinch work and getting used to fighting with a loose and durable sweater on.
Yet, there are some enforcers in the league who take it to another level. Former New York Islander enforcer Trevor Gillies trains diligently down at Greubel’s MMA in Georgia. Even one of the league’s most prolific enforcers, Donald Brashear, entered into actual MMA competition following his withdrawal from the NHL. For the record, he won his fight via TKO in the first round.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Dallas Stars put all of their young players through a training camp at Severyn Sports in Plano, Texas. The school is headed by former NHL enforcer Brent Severyn, who in his retirement has embraced all that is MMA. Here, recruits don’t appear to be learning to fight so much as they are engaging in the epitome of a full body workout.
Who ever thought we’d see a major sport, a member of the “Big Four” American sports no less, openly embrace MMA? Well, it’s a relief for sore eyes. Finally, there is a powerful organization that clearly praises the many facets of MMA, including its tremendous physical fitness benefits. It sure is nice to see something and scores of people from a different segment of sports society buck the trend of lumping all of MMA in with thuggery.