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Edmonton Oilers ponder future of fighting after Zack Kassian injury

The mood in Rogers Place quickly shifted from excitement to worry late in the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night.

With just under four minutes to go, Zack Kassian squared off with Vancouver’s Zack MacEwen. As the bout ended, the pair tumbled to the ice. Kassian, whose helmet had come off if the fight, lay motionless for a few seconds after his head smacked the ice.

“You just hope he’s ok. It was good to see him up and about after the game and see him this morning. He’s one of toughest guys I’ve ever met and ever played with. He obviously has one hard skull, too,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse.

Read more: Zack Kassian hurt in fight as Edmonton Oilers win over Canucks

Kassian eventually got to his feet and skated slowly off the ice. He was at the rink Friday morning, but didn’t take part in practice.

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“Bump on his head has gone this morning a little bit. He’s feeling all right,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “I think he’ll have to go in the concussion protocols for a few days, and we’ll see where things go.”

Kassian injured his hand last February in a fight. Also last season, Jujhar Khaira was knocked out in a fight with Calgary’s Brett Ritchie.

Defenceman Darnell Nurse, who has 19 NHL fights under his belt, recognizes fighting can be dangerous. However, he also can’t imagine hockey without it.

Read more: Edmonton Oilers rally from 3-0 deficit to beat Flames

“There’s always a place for it in the game. I think that’s the unique thing about hockey is you can police yourselves with that aspect of the game,” said Nurse.

Nurse has shown a willingness to stick up for his teammates and drop the gloves over the years. He also recognizes, that as the team’s number one defenceman, he’s needed on the ice as much as possible.

“As a player, there are times I’m going to get heated and I’m going to get in fights. It can’t help be all the time. It hurts the team more to be in the box for those minutes,” Nurse explained.

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Though fighting increased a bit last year with teams only playing rivals within the division, it has been on the decline. As recently as the 2016-17 season, the Oilers had .43 fights per game. Just two years later in the 2018-19 season, they had .17.

“The culture of fighting is changing a lot,” said Tippett. “There’s still some animosity that arises during the game. Maybe somebody gets hit. Maybe two guys are trying to spur the emotion of the game. If you go back ten or 12 years ago, two guys in that role would fight each other just to make sure they do their role. That’s all out of the game.

“I would say, at some point, it’ll come to the point where fighting won’t be allowed in hockey anymore. But we’re not there yet.”

The Oilers close out the pre-season Saturday night in Vancouver. The game is on 630 CHED with the Face-off Show at 5:30 p.m. The game starts at 7 p.m.

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