There are many more-pacifistic people out there who don’t support the biblical “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” belief, but I assure you that in professional sports, hockey in particular, those folks are few and far between. Sometimes you’re in a vulnerable position and you’re banking on your opponent to recognize that and be human. Usually, people are – peace, love and happiness, bro. When they’re not…
When they’re not you tend to get a little upset. You can forgive some accidents, and you can excuse guys playing hard, but you can’t excuse a guy recognizing you’re exposed and still trying to hurt you, legal play or not. This even applies to rec hockey, because for lack of a better way of putting it, “f*** that guy.” Nobody needs to get unnecessarily hurt. Even if it’s legal you don’t really want to establish yourself as someone who takes abuse well, so you may feel the need to get back at him. It’s not fun getting smoked in any situation, and when you get hurt in the process, double-f*** that guy. Hockey can be pretty, but it can also be pretty ugly if you don’t stand up for yourself occasionally.
Along a similar vein, a small digression: Steven Stamkos is back walking. Without crutches, without a boot, two weeks later, just…walking. It’s pretty incredible. He gave a press conference about it today, and said something fairly innocuous: “It was kind of a routine play, just a backcheck, I knew I had to catch a guy who was skating pretty fast, and…I think it was Hamilton in front of the net there, and…I think there probably wasn’t any intentional contact, but there was a little contact there, and I lost my footing, and those are the areas that as soon as you go down it’s an “uh-oh” moment.”
Now, I have no freaking clue if Stamkos remotely holds Hamilton responsible for his injury. None, and honestly, he probably doesn’t. The way he phrased it, it certainly didn’t make Hamilton out to be the bad guy – “I think it was Hamilton” certainly implies he hasn’t been stressing over the name and feeling like a victim. Yet still, I couldn’t help but wonder if the next chance Stamkos gets to hit Hamilton if he wouldn’t put a little extra stank on it, just cause f*** that guy, I’m hurt and he was semi-involved. (Again: he probably doesn’t blame Hamilton, you got that in English, right? If you read this article and focus on that particular play, please refrain from commenting.)
In those cases where you do feel like you’ve been wronged, you’re told to “take a number.” It’s very rarely the right time to take some retaliatory penalty, and the culture of hockey is built around the concept of putting the team first. It’s sort of a sport where, unlike basketball, having five six good players working together isn’t going to be enough. One bad apple’s bonehead play can kill the whole group, so everyone to a man is supposed to prioritize. OH, you got slashed behind the play so you took a penalty in a close game that killed us? Do you think your calf will ever heal? Enjoy the pressbox tomorrow.
But, the season is long indeed, and you do play guys multiple times, and occasionally you’ll even find your team up or down three-plus goals at a later date. Once you realize that the game is out of reach, it’s probably time to go remind someone of that thing they did that you didn’t appreciate. It’s rarely a matter of flipping the switch and saying “Okay, it’s time to go murder that guy.” Murder is wrong, you guys. You’re just looking for a chance to light him up every time you see that number, just usually in a clean way. It’s once the game is truly out of reach that the standards for “chance to light him up” drop precipitously. Eh, this might be a penalty, but seems like as good a time as any. *BOOM*
And so it goes – suddenly you’re straying from your role as F2 in the neutral zone looking for your chance. Exacting revenge between the whistles (we’re not all fighters, but nobody wants to be messed with) works a lot like cheating and flying the zone looking for breakaway passes. You step out of position hoping things unfold just perfectly to take your shot.
It kind of reminds me of Claude Giroux on Sidney Crosby in the playoffs a couple years ago:
That’s one of my favourite plays in recent hockey history, and I’m a big Sid-pporter. It’s not like Claude Giroux is running out of position here, but he’s definitely got one thing in mind when heading into this play, and it ain’t the puck. There’s also no doubt these two were after one another for the entirety of that series, and like a player leaving the zone early for a breakaway, Giroux was going in for the kill and the play developed accordingly. (Incidentally, this is why I think a lot of skill guys could play the role of “grinders” if they were so inclined, because they have a good sense of anticipation for how plays develop.)
It takes patience for things to unfold for the vendetta hunter, but patience, as always, is a virtue. Whether you’re in a duck blind, a deer stand or skates, it takes some time and discipline to get your prey.
And hey, you don’t always get your guy (because life isn’t a movie) but you can sure as hell try. And actually, in the machismo-fueled world of pro hockey, it’s almost best that you do. The game isn’t for the passive.