Well, every year, as usual, my favorite sport takes
another beating. I mean Ice Hockey. Yeah, that's right,
I'm proud of the sport. I respect it's heritage. I
admire the players. Probably because it's the one I could
play the best when I was a kid. No surprise.
If you didn't, your opinion is likely based on a
combination of what you've seen and what others have
said. Chances are, you're part of the chorus echoing
hockey's most popular incrimination-
'Hockey sucks because fighting is legal and violence
What's really wrong, I feel, is the misrepresentation of the game.
Yes, GAME! It's a game. With rules. Among those rules are penalties.
PENALTIES! Penalties are BAD. You get them for doing
things that are AGAINST THE RULES! It's punishment!
Your team has to play without you and that is supposed
to be a BAD THING!!! Ideally, you wouldn't get any because
you're 'following the rules'. Along with that, the NHL has
particular guidelines for players who lose their tempers.
First, you must accept the concept that the players
are there to PLAY, and the team will suffer with anyone
in the penalty box, even for 2 minutes. Most of the
things that you'd do to make a guy lose his temper are
illegal- 2 minutes in the box and your team plays short
one guy. Hurting someone at all- 4 minutes or more
(maybe the game). Fighting- minimum 5 minutes. (Not
to mention the 10-minute misconduct for being a jerk.)
With fighting though, the rules get much trickier.
Sure, just fighting is 5 in the box. Big deal, you say.
Well, that's the first time. If they do it again, they're
out of the game. If a third guy joins in, he's
automatically ejected- immediately. Remember, a major
(5 minute) penalty is supposed to be BAD because it
hurts the team!!!
So why the problem? Simple. Ticket sales. I must
have heard hundreds of folks bitching after a game
because there was no fight. For me, those are the best
games. I can't stand these cafeteria-style brawls- they
ruin the flow of the game. I do, however, know why
they did it. It's quite simple.
Hockey was just imitating Wall Street.
That's right. Wall Street- where the most common
strategy is to destroy and acquire through subtle rule
bending and well-placed abuse. Take out the important
people and the company (or team) goes down easy. The
hockey version was the 'Goon Strategy'. You have a guy,
or an entire line, whose job it is to keep the other
team's stars tied up. Sounds innocent and logical
enough, but the job description calls for risking a
penalty in the process- considered a worthy sacrifice to
prevent a goal- but more commonly now, just to get a
star player off the ice for awhile. The idea here is to do
something really snotty when the referee isn't looking,
hoping your victim retaliates and gets a penalty. If you
provoke a fight, that star can end up in the showers.
Meanwhile, the crowds stand up and scream like
banshees while Tommy beats up Eddy for writing on his
locker. This is not sport-fighting- this is pandering to
the lowest common denominator, and believe me,
hockey is difficult enough without it. It is no accident
that the greatest player in the history of the game
is also a multiple winner of the NHL's Sportsmanship
Award, The Lady Byng Trophy. (Yup- Gretzky.)
Hockey, like football, is a contact sport- dangerous
by nature. Remember, these are entertainers, and like a
band playing the songs you cheer loudest for, the players
play the style that fans react strongest to. Selling tickets
and winning games is the bottom line here, so if 'Goon
hockey' does both- right on! Right??
I don't agree. I miss the smooth skating and
passing days of the Original Six. Sure, fights happened
back then, but even when Gordie Howe got into one, It
wasn't so big because it was a fight, but because some
poor schmuck was about to learn not to mess with #9.
But has the violence itself gotten out of hand?
Yes. Why? Because along with all the other
baggage we mentioned above, technology has bit us on
the butt. As was insightfully stated by hockey's 'Dalai
LLama', Don Cherry, the equipment nowadays is so
strong and sturdy that hitting hard doesn't hurt the
hitter. You can give someone a concussion without
feeling the least bit shook up. In the old days, with light,
mostly cloth padding, you would have broken your
shoulder hitting a guy hard enough to knock him out.
Nowadays, it doesn't hurt at all, and the other guy is
totalled. But we cheer. The goon has done his
job and the players go for broke with every hit. And the
What can be done? Well, the NHL, despite what
you may have heard, is trying. They review every fight,
every major penalty and every injury even if no penalty
is given. (Especially stick incidents.) They suspend, they
fine and they discipline. They are trying.
Now it's up to us. We have to change the way the
public sees hockey, because, well, WE ARE THE
PUBLIC!!!! If not us, who? We must stop spreading the
myth that fighting is legal. (Remember that penalty
thing?) And we must cheer louder for the goals, saves
and legal hits than anything else. It's up to the fans.
After all, you wouldn't go to a baseball game and
yell "Errors! More errors!!'
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