The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL
By Ross Bernstein
Forewords by: Marty McSorley & Tony Twist
Pages: 245 (Hardcover)
About The Book
Hockey is, and always has been, a sport steeped in a culture of violence. Players have learned, however, to navigate through its mazes and labyrinths of physical contact by adhering to an honor code of conduct known simply as the "Code." As mysterious as it is sacred, the Code is an unwritten set of rules, the bible of hockey sportsmanship if you will, that has been handed down from generation to generation. The Code picks up where the rulebook leaves off and fills in the gaps, all in an effort to govern the game and its players - allowing them to compete in a manner deemed fair and respectful.
To fully understand the significance and history behind the Code, Ross Bernstein, interviewed more than 50 current and former NHL players, coaches and media personalities. Their insight tells the story of why fighting is allowed in the National Hockey League and how the Code allows the players to police themselves both on and off the ice.
While the Code has been around since the early days of hockey, it remains a very taboo subject shrouded in mystery. In fact, many players are simply unwilling to talk about it publicly. It is a system of rules which was learned by most players as kids playing minor and junior hockey in Canada. Then, as teenagers, the players were shown what was acceptable and what wasn't by trial and error and plain ol' baptism by fire. Everything from bench clearing brawls to settling old scores is covered in the Code. It's all in there, but you won't read about it anywhere. Nope, there is no manual or rule book to refer to, just a way of life for hockey's elite who are lucky enough to find themselves initiated into one of professional sports' greatest fraternities.
Hockey's rules of engagement come down to players protecting one another, factors of intimidation, and good old fashioned camaraderie. If a player challenges another player, that player must answer the bell - or risk the humiliation of being considered dirty, or even a coward. Worse yet, if that player refuses to right what was wronged right then and there, he risks having that incident escalate to another level, involving additional teammates. The Code keeps players of all levels honest and forces them to keep their heads on a swivel. It makes them think twice about carrying their sticks high, running a player from behind or checking the wrong guy at the wrong time. It is intimidation based on the theory that a good offense can be established by having a good defense.
The Code is much, much bigger than any one individual or team. Simply put, you don't break the rules of the Code, because if you do, then there will be hell to pay - period. There is a chain of accountability in pro hockey and it's been that way for more than 100 years. It is about keeping a sense of equality when it comes to big players competing against little players. It is about keeping the game on an equal playing field with regards to everything from cheap shots, to high sticks, to slashing, to fighting. That is what the Code is all about - respect, accountability, pride and honor.