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THE FIRST RULE of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is that you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
Yes, those were Brad Pitt's unforgettable rules from "Fight Club," the 1999 cult classic about an underground club where newcomers would join to pound the snot out of each other. Fighting in the NHL isn't much different, as players don't often divulge the details from their on-ice brawls.
Fighting in hockey, believe it or not, is a science. It's not just for the physically gifted or the intimidating. If so, the toughest knuckles from your local watering hole would be drafted. And NHL teams would save a whole lot of money on the salary cap with a neighborhood goon.
This season, there will be close to 700 fights in the NHL. More than 40 percent of games will have at least one fight. Some say fighting - illegal in every other professional sport except boxing and mixed martial arts - makes the NHL savage.
But to carve out a career as an enforcer in today's NHL, you have to not only win, but you need to know when, how, and with whom to dance. Like "Fight Club," and dueling, there are rules of engagement.
Flyers forward Jody Shelley has dropped the gloves 184 times in less than 10 years of service in the NHL, most of it spent with Columbus and San Jose. He signed a 3-year, $3.3 million contract with the Flyers in the offseason. Shelley, one of the most respected players in the league, opened up about the NHL's unwritten and unspoken "man code" in a recent interview.
Here are Shelley's 5 rules for fighting:
1 HAVE RESPECT
"You've just got to be a man about it," Shelley said. "There's a code - and it's respect. You treat each other like men and when the battle is over, say it's over. Have respect before, during and after the fight."
Surprisingly, Shelley said there isn't always a lot of trash talk before a fight. Not that trash talking doesn't happen, but Shelley said it's often a more sophisticated and businesslike approach. And if you pull a cheap move, Shelley said word spreads among players to not fight you.
"If you're going to fight someone, you're not going to kick them in the groin," Shelley said. "It has to be a straight-up fight, not just to see who's tougher, but it's just going to be a fight. I'll know when I've [beaten] you. You know when you've gotten me. It's just little things, like when you have a guy down, you don't punch."
2 PROTECT TEAMMATES
For those who think fighting is savage, in hockey, it's a way for players to police themselves and keep the game safe without the use of a referee. It's not a wise move to attack a finesse player who doesn't fight. And players know they'll have to answer to Shelley for a questionable hit.
"When he comes out of the lineup, other teams at times feel like maybe they can take some liberties," coach Peter Laviolette said. "With him in the lineup, maybe not so much."
Shelley gives his teammates peace of mind.
"I almost compare it to a basketball team, when you're going into a gym and you know someone is going to push you around and they're going to take advantage of your small and skilled players. That's a bad feeling," Shelley said. "But it's a nice feeling for a team to have a guy that you know is going to settle all of those guys down and make sure that no one gets taken advantage of. It's nice to be on a team like that where everyone has your back.
"Sometimes a fight is just a fight to prove you're tough, or to show where you're at, or you needed a fight just to stay sharp. But when it's a reaction fight, say when Claude [Giroux] got run over [against Ottawa on Jan. 20], you want to send a message.
"You want to say, 'What you did is wrong. You expect me to come and I'm coming.' That's a different mentality. That's a big part of your job. You just want your teammates to know that certain players aren't going to [try to hurt them]. There will be a reaction. That's how it works."
3 KNOW WHEN
Shelley said keeping an eye on the scoreboard and your team's energy level are a big part of fighting. Fighters want to spark their teammates, but Shelley also knows momentum can swing the other way if you allow yourself to fight - and lose - when your team is ahead.
"That's something you should learn, especially now with each point being so valuable," Shelley said. "It's not just to go out and fight whenever you want. There's a momentum thing. You have to know when and when not to go. If you're on the road, and your team scores two or three quick goals, if a guy just goes after you, you need to brush him off. You don't engage him just to get the crowd going.
"But if we start a game at home and we're down a goal, you try to get it going with momentum."
Some have criticized Shelley's role on the Flyers, but they've been ahead in so many games this season that he hasn't needed to mix it up too often. Shelley and Dan Carcillo are tied for the team lead with nine fighting majors apiece.
4 USE RESTRAINT
Just because it appears that the Rangers' Sean Avery suckered an unwilling Flyer isn't a green light for Shelley to fight him. Just as it is in the real world, it isn't exactly ethical for a heavyweight to drop the gloves with a lightweight. Or an inexperienced rookie. Or an injured player.
"When a guy is injured or hurt, or his face is looking mangled, maybe you don't pursue him as hard as when he is healthy and ready to go," Shelley said. "It's just little things like that."
Shelley has twice been suspended for punching too early in a fight.
"But after you get suspended two times in a row, it's not as hard. It's not the slap on the wallet so much, it's about perception, too. You don't want to be marked as a total goon of a personality type, as someone who is a waste of space. You know you're on probation."
5TAKE YOUR LUMPS
Going toe-to-toe against some of the toughest players a couple hundred times, you're going to lose a few fights. Shelley has fought George Parros eight times, Derek Boogaard and Georges Laraque each six times, Bob Probert four times, and even Riley Cote (twice) and Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube (three times) in his career. He has had more stitches, broken noses, broken fingers and blood loss than most could count.
"You're not going to win every fight," Shelley said. "Sometimes you just have to live to fight another day."
Having lost in front of 20,000 screaming fans sometimes leaves you with a bruised ego. And considering he plays just 6 minutes per game and 60 percent of games go without a fight, he has a lot of time to think about the losses - and the wins. But he wouldn't trade his job for anything.
"It's such a fast game, it's a high-impact game where there's a lot of frustration," Shelley said. "There's a lot going on that fans see, that the players see, that the TV cameras don't always pick up on. It's just situations that come up that sometimes just have to be addressed."