I like hitting and fighting in hockey despite two of the game’s parties tugging at me.
One tells me I don’t like it enough. I contribute to the “pansification” (not a word) of the game. I WANT to make it golf on skates. I want to ruin it.
One tells me I like it too much. I am base. I am the gawking mass. The one demanding people’s brains be sacrificed for my entertainment. I AM ruining it.
I disagree with both of them. I don’t think I need to proclaim my love for the bench clearing brawls of the ’70s to prove my testosterone levels. I don’t think I’m part of a gang of miscreants who wish to turn a game on ice into a zombie extravaganza. I’m just a guy who likes hockey.
I’ve only been alive for a hair over two decades and I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t know much of anything. I’m too young and I’m too stupid, but I’d like to figure out a thing or two before it’s too late. I’ve made some observations though. A lot of them have to do with hockey. Doing a philosophy degree forces you to spend time on the important things. I do this now.
In a hair over two decades, the game has changed endlessly. Teams, colors, coaches, players, rules have all come in and out of vogue faster than Mike Gartner could get blueline to blueline. The game is constantly in flux. 82 times a year for 30-plus teams the game cycles in this league until one remains and we do it all again in four months.
Change is built into the fabric of the game. Lines change. Possessions change. Pucks change. Sticks change.
Tonight made one thing perfectly clear: something bigger needs to change.
It started a little after 7:00 when mid-conversation in-game I had to stop and say “What the hell is going on?” Ten players formed a pile of sweaters and skates. I didn’t quite get what was up. I’m glad they added replay.
Matt Carkner skated across the defensive zone, dropped his gloves and started punching Brian Boyle in the damn head.
A few minutes later Boyle stopped the game once again to deal with Chris Neil who requested they punch each other.
A little while after that Carl Hagelin stopped the game because he implanted his elbow into Daniel Alfredsson’s head.
This happened a few more times until we called it a game.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis…
A few elbows, a slew foot, a fight, a brawl, and on and on.
Later, in Phoenix…
A goalie lies sprawled behind his net while a kid is shown off.
It was tiring. It was ridiculous. It was awe-inspiring for all the wrong reasons. Yet, the more and more I tried to wrap my head around those five hours of hockey I kept coming back to the first thing I said and realized I had it right off the bat. “What the hell is going on?”
None of that was hockey. Absolutely none of it. Hockey is where you shoot pucks at a net. That part was great. The part that was the WWE masquerading as hockey was complete and utter crap.
I preferred this sport pre-lockout. I loved the grind it out pace. I loved that every single goal meant a lot. I had no problem with ties. I loved that goalies strapped mattresses to their legs and said they were “pads.” It was great. Then the game left and came back and it was different. It took a while to get used to but now I like it just fine.
I’m still fond of Don Cherry. He’s entertaining and I get a kick out of him. He’s a TV character that plays the same role in real life. I’ve met him and he’s a pleasant enough fellow. He doesn’t offend me in the least. I disagree with him on this one.
There was nothing good about the Senators “sticking up” for Erik Karlsson the way they did tonight because I’m not sure which part was sticking up for him. Was it Matt Carkner getting ejected? I could have sworn it was when Chris Neil fought him. Whatever it was, it sure worked. Boyle ONLY scored once tonight and was ONLY one of the best players for his team. It taught the Rangers too. They ONLY retaliated and took out Ottawa’s captain.
I’m sure whatever happens in San Jose and Chicago in game three will be just as useful.
I’m told it was a success because the Sens “stood tall” and got “fired up” which helped them win. That’s odd to me, because I always thought 28 minutes in penalties helps you lose. I also can’t imagine why a player would need to be more fired up for the biggest game of their life.
Gotta love those feel good Ottawa Senators, fighting their way in and everything. Now they’re sticking up for themselves against the Rangers! How awesome. These are the things that make us love the game, right? Just like I’m sure how we’d all love it if the Canucks did things this way. We’d all praise Alain Vigneault for toughening up his team. We’d praise whoever dropped the gloves for getting his team fired up (Not that the Canucks lack a drive to win in the first place). Henrik got taken out? How will they survive without their heart and soul captain?
Only, we would never say those things. Vigneault would be gutless for dressing a goon squad. That player would be another example of how the Canucks do things the wrong way. Henrik Sedin is your typical can’t hack it Swede who warrants leadership speculation from people who have never been in the dressing room.
So why are Ottawa or St. Louis or San Jose or Phoenix any different?
This is why the game needs to change. Those teams aren’t any different and these double standards make no sense. The system is broken because there are pieces that don’t fit.
The league needs to admit that there is a problem. It needs to erase the headshots. It needs to erase the vigilante justice. It needs to set a consistent precedent from here on out. They botched the Shea Weber-Henrik Zetterberg ruling and it’s because they didn’t want to have a star player sit on the sidelines. Byron Bitz can sit out because there are 400 other people who can play the role of Byron Bitz. That double standard can’t exist.
The players need to admit that there is a problem. They need to stop giving the headshots. They need to pull up when they see the numbers. I have ZERO problem with fighting, but fighting someone with his arms down doesn’t prove how tough you are, it makes you a coward. Todd Bertuzzi did it right on Friday when he gave Shea Weber the tap and they went about things the way the rules allow for. Perhaps Bert learned from his original misstep. Most people forget Steve Moore fought Matt Cooke earlier that night.
If the headshots disappear from the game tomorrow, nobody will miss them. There are plenty of people who can hit in this world without trying to remove the head from the body. Those are the ones we watch over and over, not the ones that leave a player clutching his skull in agony.
Nobody today says, “Hey remember when Paul Kariya had his career knocked off the rails by a headshot? Those were the days.”
Nobody in 14 years will say, “Hey remember when Daniel Alfredsson’s triumphant send off was game two against the Rangers? Awesome, right?”
Saturday night wasn’t hockey. It was a joke.
The game needs to change for the better, like it always does, now.