Where the National Hockey League has lost me, and risks losing others…

I’m a huge hockey fan.  I have loved hockey for as long as I can remember.  I played outside with friends from dawn until it was too dark to see, as a youngster and in the parking lot of York University with friends until joining a league and playing the last 22 years there.  I bought jerseys, have tens of thousands of hockey cards, watched triple overtime games and listened to games on the radio when I was too young to stay up and watch it on TV.  Geez, I even taped the entry draft.  I get geared up for the trade deadline and this year watched the draft lottery. 

I think, no I know, this fanaticism ends in my family with me.  The game has changed.  I don’t like where it’s going and the playoffs are highlighting exactly where.  I cannot watch the playoffs.  I cannot stand to see another head shot, scrum after the whistle or hit from behind.  The hockey is great, but the other stuff… I hate that.  I find I’m watching and holding my breath that someone doesn’t get killed during each play.  It’s become the wild west out there and I am not happy about it.

As I said earlier, I have played organized ball-hockey in a league for 22 years.  I’ve played in the lowest possible competative level, tier 4, and I’ve played in a higher competitive tier, tier 3/  I have even played against tier 2 teams.  22 years.  No fights.  No attempts to injure anyone, and very few hard feelings after the game ended and hands were shaken – except for the punk who sucked me with an elbow to my mouth which caused my front two teeth to split my mouth open just below the bottom lip for 8 stitches.  That one hurt and still pisses me off to this day for not cracking him over the head with my stick after I got off the floor covered in blood and realized if I lifted my bottom lip that I could see right through to my bottom teeth.  UGH.

The point… I, unlike many others I have played against and with, at all levels play for the fun of the game.  I play for the exercise, for my teammates and if you think I’m playing for fun you could not be more mistaken.  I hate to lose WAY more than I like to win.  I am uber-competitive and expect everyone to give 100% each shift as I try to do.  I’m a lunchpail kind of player.  I give it my all, work hard and play with respect for the game, my teammates and for others.   

So when I see violence in NHL hockey that goes unpunished I wonder if the NHL is that clueless to see the trickle down effect their actions have on the rest of the hockey playing community.

Finishing your check.  Win at all costs.  Hitting from behind.  Stand up for your teammates… All this bullshit bravado is NHL created.  Before this stuff came up if someone whacked you with a stick you either took it or you whacked them back and paid the price.  When I’ve had wackos on my teams that I ran for 16 of those years I pulled them aside and told them to cut out the crap or find another team.  As a result, I have cut many guys and even some of them have tried to run me when we play against them.  It’s their issue.  not mine.

Now…. 

“It was a hockey play.  I was just trying to finish my hit out there. The last thing I’m going to say his I hope he’s all right.”

That was Phoenix Coyotes player Raffi Torres after he stepped well outside the rules of a NHL game by leaving his feet, at full speed, well after the play to take out one of NHL’s star players, Chicago Black Hawks player Marian Hossa with a shoulder to the head.  The puck was so far away from the play that Hossa couldn’t have been expecting the hit, even with his head carelessly down.

Torres… Not going to ask if he’s okay.

Torres… Sent Hossa to the hospital after leaving the ice on a stretcher with a neck brace on.

Torres… He’s the kind of guy who suckers another player in the mouth and splits open his face and doesn’t make sure he’s okay.

Torres is what is wrong with the NHL.  The message he sent with that comment will ressonate through all leagues to every child who plays the sport.  It’s disgusting to say the least.

What else does the NHL have a problem with?  Aaron Ashem, Terry Carkner, Zenon Kenopka, Andrew Shaw and any other player, Chris Simon or Sean Avery who has so little respect for their opponent that they think it’s okay to pummel them – with little regard for the impact these actions have on the league, the fan base and kids who watch this sport.

Carkner, cold cocked and then beat the tar out of New York Rangers Brian Boyle because Boyle, at 6 foot 7 was picking on 5 foot 10 Erik Karlsson of the Senators – a very skilled rookie who will probably win Rookie of the Year this year.  I loved that a message was snet to Boyle because the NHL sure didn’t tell him to leave the skilled players alone.  The NHL needs players like Carkner to police the game because they have failed so miserably.  His actions were horrifying, but the NHL put him in that position.

If Nashville Predators (how appropriate) defenseman Shea Weber can not be suspended for ramming Detroit’s Henrik Zetterbergs head into the glass like he was in Wrestlemania, what kind of message does that tell the rest of the league?  It tells them it’s game on.  Win at all costs.

If the NHL wanted to get serious about this crap and remove the black eye from the game – both figuratively and literally, they would cut the benches down from 4 lines to 3 lines from now on.  Not only would 3 lines mean the players would be a little more tired but it would mean possibly reducing predatory attacks or staged fighting by removing a 4th line of fringe players whose main goal it is to run guys into the boards, fight and bastardize the beautiful game I came to love as a boy.

I do not like to see the 4th lines of teams on the ice because that means garbage goals, a lot of cycling of the puck and very little finesse and flair which you get with a teams first and second lines.  Do I stand up when there is a fight?  Yes.  Do I slow down on the highway if there is an accident?  No.  But what gets me going and gives me something to talk about are beautiful goals, sweet passes, bullet-like shots from the point and good sportsmanship.  40 years ago players didn’t wear helmets.  60 years ago goalies didn’t wear masks.  No other professional sports leage allows players to fight – let alone staged fighting – and continue to play after.

But the kicker to me is that after coaching ice hockey for 8 years of kids from age 6 up to age 14-15, I have no desire for my two boys to play ice hockey, or even ball-hockey for that matter.  I worry for them.  The game has gotten dangerous and if the NHL doesn’t care to clean up the rules why should any league not named the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) care to do that. My kids get concerned when someone gets hurt.  It bothers them.  They don’t like watching it on TV and they sure as heck don’t want to wear the jersey proudly, or learn the rules.  It’s too violent for them.

I recall coaching a very dirty 8-year-old boy who had one of those fathers who taught the kid to be a giant shit on the ice.  He used to hold, trip, slash and stick anyone who took the puck from him and was very frustrating to coach.  All he wanted to do was get revenge.  Then one game while going for the puck he purposefully ran right over another player and while the boy was on the ground they exchanged words and my player kicked the other player in the shoulder.

Kicked!

The second he got up and came near the bench I reached over the boards and hauled this kid right off the ice by his chest protector and sat him on the end of the bench.  His Dad flew out of the stands like he was going to hit me.  I asked the convenor to immediately suspecd this player from the league and I asked the Dad and the kid if they think kicking is okay as it is NOT allowed by the rules.

“But I got away with it.  I made sure the referee didn’t see” was what the boy said. 

“Too bad I did” was my response.

So for the rest of my houseleague season I played short one boy and we made it to the finals.  It was fun, and I think the kids knew they were expected to play within the rules or they were not welcome on my team.

Now I do want, and expect my daughter to play hockey.  The woman’s game is all about skill, hard work and respect for others and that kind of hockey I really dig.  No macho bullshit.  If someone does something to you in the woman’s game your recourse is to wait until they have the puck and take it from them and score.  I like that.

It’s not too late NHL.  It’s too late if you are the Toronto Maple Leafs – they’ve lost a generation of fans by icing incompetence for 40 years – my boys prefer the Bruins, Penguins, Rangers and Sabres to the Leafs. 

Fix it, and fix it now and fix it properly.

To summarize the actual rules already in place which are being ignored or rules that should be added;

Fighting should come with an automatic game ejection and probably repeat offenders a suspension. 

No more finishing your check – watching guys chasing other guys around the ice after they have passed the puck to hit him looks dumb.  No wonder Americans think the game is a joke.  The guy finishing the check is completely out of the play – so not hockey-related, while the other guy gets his stick up to defend himself.

Drop the 4th line.  Ice 3 lines of the best, most skilled players you can find.

Ban all hitting up against the boards.  In the NHL rulebook that is considered boarding and is a penalty.

Intentional hits to the head – elbows, shoulders, etc. are automatic 10 game suspensions, more if the player that got hit is inured and required to miss games.  

Intent to injure – that’s your season, hello Aaron Asham.  A cross-check to the face was intent.

Bring the skill back to hockey and get rid of this crap.  Then someone can tell Randy Carlyle that the Leafs need to score more, not fight more to be successful..  The Teams’s with the most wins, which usually means the most goals make the playoffs.  Teams are not given points for fighting majors. 

If the player does not have the puck, he cannot be hit.  That according to the rule book is interference.  The 3 second rule is crap.  No puck, no hit.

It’s all just so aggravating and I know I am not the only person thinking this way when I wrote this early Wednesday morning and the FAN’s Bob Mccown was talking about just this on his Prime Time sports show on the afternoon drive and then again this morning, Rick Tocchet was on the Brady and Lang show and talking about it too. 

What is the NHL waiting for.

Make the change already or the league will find itself back behind skeet shooting in popularity in the US.

4 responses

  1. I agree completely. I teach at a Hockey Academy school (Edge) and I see this all the time – justifying violence as “part of the game” and it drives me nuts. I’m starting to feel like an old guy because I keep spouting off about how hockey used to be better when I was a kid but it’s true.

  2. I feel EXACTLY the same way you do. I feel like I’m 40 now and all of a sudden I have realized how crappy the game is but it has not always been like this.

    I actually went back to change part of this post because I forgot my coaching story about one boy kicking another one. You jogged my memory with your comment.

    How Gary Bettman keeps his job puzzles me to no end.

    You and I can run the league. First step, another team in Quevec, a real team, or 2, in Toronto or surrounding area, ome on the East coast and one in Saskatchewan.

    NHL will not stand for No Hitting League, but No Hurting League.

  3. Great ideas! I think the NHL would benefit greatly from our leadership. A SK NHL team has been my dream since I was a child.

  4. [...] Where the National Hockey League has lost me, and risks losing others… (urbandaddy.wordpress.com) [...]

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