Posts Tagged ‘hitting’


Jarkko Ruutu, a man who has probably caused more controversies during his career than he has scored goals. Fact is Ruutu is loved for his antics (I’m a big fan of his style. When it’s within the rules of the game). He is a player who has been typecast as a dirty player, sure there are incidents which I agree that have been dirty, but Ruutu is a clever player and knows how to get under your skin and even make you feel uncomfortable playing against him.

 

What I also like about Ruutu is his back story and his journey to the NHL, which wasn’t easy and required a lot of hard work and sacrifices. One could say his journey to the big leagues was inspirational. 

So why blog about Ruutu, who has not been in the NHL since 2011-2012 season after he left the Ducks. Ruutu has caused an uproar in Finland after his hit on KalPa’s Artturi Lehkonen. The Sm-Liiga disciplinary board has assessed a three game suspension for Ruutu for hitting a player without a puck. Even in the disciplinary notes, the leagues disciplinarian says, “The contact itself is clean but comes in late.” The suspension has of course sparked mass debate within the Finnish hockey populous on Twitter. There are some who say that Ruutu is a menace to society and those that feel three games was too much and there should have been no suspension at all. I think, where the hit was clean, it was late and it is always unfortunate to see a player sidelined with a concussion.

 

I’m not going to start wading into the whole hit and the suspension, but rather on the comments that have since ensued. This morning Kalpa’s director Kimmo Kapanen was quoted saying “Ruutu told Lehkonen at the start of the game that it would be lights out for him.”

 

OK, so Ruutu’s comment might come across as intentional that he did actually knock out Lehkonen, but who in our playing careers has not shouted something at the opposition. Hockey is such an intense sport where you try to get the upper hand from your opponents by any means necessary, be it skill, contact or psychological. It’s letting your opponent know that they better keep their head up at all times. I mean look at Esa Tikkanen, he was one of the motor mouths of the league when he played, or if you read the Theo Fleury autobiography, it looks like it’s common practice in hockey to give eye surgeries with a stick or to kill someone. Yet, we’ve not seen intentionally anyone carve out ones eye or actually kill someone on the ice after a threat has been made. Yes, there have been some damn right dirty plays in the NHL and in hockey in general, I accept that and I would like to think that every hockey fan is willing to put their hands up and say “hey our sport isn’t clean at times.”

 

It’s pointless for me to argue whether Ruutu said such comments to intentionally hunt Lehkonen as I have only seen the incident above and did not see the entire game. But seriously, you would have to be pretty demented as a hockey player if you are out there intentionally trying to injure your opposition. Where I do think that the hit was late, I think Lehkonen’s concussion was a result of his head making contact with the ice. Never the less if he had been in a position to receive the check and had he been in control of the puck and been aware of Ruutu, he would probably have skated away unscathed.

 

The other two problems I have from this incident relate to the wider problem in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Since the Ville Peltonen – Semir Ben Amor incident, the games this season have been relatively non-physical. I will put my hand up and say that I have seen less games this season than last (Thanks to  a poor internet connection). There is less and less in terms of big (clean) hits and physical play and it went all the way to 2013 till the league saw its first fight. What is lacking in the Ruutu – Lehkonen incident is the response from Kalpa players. If you look at Ruutu, while he is skating towards centre ice, he is prepared to drop the gloves and pay for his hit (as he would do anywhere else), but alas, the Kalpa players make no attempts to respond to it. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen in the league and I’d argue that in 90% of incidents SM-Liiga players do not respond as you would see, say O’Reilley responding to the hit that took out Gabriel Landesgok. Take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txYJ6ez52Hg Your teammate is laying on the ice, injured and yet there is no response apart from a few push and shove attempts. 

 

Since I went back to playing proper hockey, as in not recreational hockey, one of the first things our coach drilled into us was that if anyone runs our goalie or a teammate was that we had to stick up for them and to make the opposition know that we weren’t going to take any s**t. I’ve stepped up once or twice and I’m not a fighter type of player but to me, a response is a natural reaction. Is that an old-school way of thinking? Or have I just been turned into a candy ass hockey fan who expects such a thing from watching too much NHL hockey?

 

I’m not saying that you turn the league to a total gongshow, but players need to be responsible for their actions on the ice. That is why there is the ‘code’ that has been often talked about. A couple of non-Finns that I’ve spoken to about the SM-Liiga say that the league is boring. Yes, it is compared to the NHL and the first comments always is, there’s hardly any hits or that you see bigger hits in a bush-league game. The product has definitely suffered as a result of the lacklustre disciplinary action that has taken away the players’ right to respond to dirty plays and the lack of physicality will only hinder the Finnish prospect production.

 

The couple of rookies I’ve had my eye on this year (Mikael Granlund and Sami Vatanen) are helplessly behind on physical play and physical development compared to some of their rookie class mates of this season, mainly from North America. The emphasis in Finland is more on flow and creativity where the NA school of hockey seems to pay more emphasis to speed and size and let’s face it; if these kids are being primed for the NHL, which is fast and hard physically, it is the right thing to do. Disclaimer: I know the North American school of hockey focuses on other areas as well, but that is just an example. The Finnish prospects are nearly not as NHL ready in their draft year as their counterparts.

 

All in all, hockey is a contact sport and highly entertaining when played as such. I doubt no-one in their right mind would like to see the NHL or the SM-Liiga for that matter to turn into a league where there’s no hitting, no one says a word, not even to call for a pass and the opponents just blow kisses to one another. But one thing is for sure. Hockey on all levels needs to get rid of cheap shots and head shots.

 

As this is a long rambling post, I’d be keen to have people share their views in the comments section. Let’s start a discussion around these issues. 

 

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The legendary goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, suggested to allhockey.ru that the NHL moves to larger rinks, such as the ones played on in Europe. According to Tretiak, this would reduce the number of concussions in the sport as the playing surface is bigger and there would be not as much chance of high speed/forceful contacts.

 

Tretiak says that concussions are not a daily concern or an epidemic in the KHL or in Russian hockey as they are in the NHL. I would agree that in any European league the issue of concussion isn’t as big as it is in the KHL. However, it is not to say that they do not happen in the European sized rinks. We’ve seen a few nasty hits that have lead to a concussion in the Swedish leagues.

 

I have a few issues with Tretiak’s statement and a few things I would like to see before I could back the decision. The KHL hasn’t made a big play of the injuries that players suffer. In-fact the only time I find out about an injured player is if it is a Finnish player and it has been reported in the Finnish media. The KHL is pretty well covered in Finland in that it has games shown with Finnish commentary on the TV, but beyond the Scandinavia, does anyone actually care about the KHL or follow the league with same intensity as they would do their native leagues or the NHL? There are people who do, don’t get me wrong, but I think reporting of injuries and finding out about the types of injuries is pretty difficult due to the language barrier in place and the navigation of some of the team websites is, well, tricky at the best of times.

 

Then there is the issue of the game itself. The NHL has always prided itself on being the toughest league in the world and it is THE league any hockey playing kid wants to play in. Even if you are just playing street hockey with your friends, the chances are you are playing the dying seconds of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. I haven’t yet met a hockey player who says that the dream for their career would be to hoist the KHL winners’ trophy. And I don’t mean that in the sense that players in the KHL wouldn’t want to win, but that the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize of hockey.

 

The few games of KHL hockey I’ve seen and in fact European hockey, the lack of hitting is noticeable. Not saying there isn’t any hits, but the number of hits is not as high as in the NHL. Sure there is more space to create plays and play skilful hockey, but I think European hockey, for the most parts lacks in the physicality. I tweeted about an experience in a Finnish league game saying that there was hardly any hitting.

 

Whether I have gotten so used to the physicality of the NHL games and I genuinely enjoy watching that, or that the European brand of hockey is more based on skills and creativity rather than the brute physical strength. A case and point of this would be the U-20 world championships. When Finland played against Canada the Finns were unable to meet the Canadians in physicality and rather sprayed snow on the opponent rather than hit them. I don’t mean that as ‘euro players are soft’ but kids playing in European leagues need to learn to finish their hits if they want to play in North America where the physicality is one of the key aspects of the game.

 

I doubt any fans of the NHL would like to see the league move towards larger rinks. Not only would it change the game and alienate fans, but it would also come at a huge cost to teams and rinks as they would need some serious renovation to accommodate the bigger space, which would ultimately lead to lesser seats in arenas. Where I think Tretiak’s idea in general is good and has the right idea, I don’t see it happening. If anything, I’d personally like to see the European leagues move to a smaller ice size to make the games just slightly more physical.