The topic of headshots has again lifted its ugly head in the NHL and along with it, many players and the league executives have called for players to respect their opponents and fellow players. It is not the NHL alone where the lack of respect has been evident as I’ve read about incidents in Finland (at both the top level and junior level) as well as friends relaying ‘horror’ stories in the UK.
I understand that hockey is an adrenaline-filled contact sport and emotions often boil over. I should know about boiling over, though I have always been verbal rather than aggressive. Apart from that one Uni league game where I decided to get three penalties in the last 6 minutes of the game (I was successful by the way). We were up 23-0 and I was getting bored as it was a total gong show.
So the stories then? There’s obviously Matt Cooke in who hit Fedor Tyutin from behind to the boards. The hit has caused serious debate across the hockey world as it’s by no means the first – and wont be the last – time that Cooke has been involved in something like this. And then there is the storm in a tea cup known as the Pens v Isles and the fight fest that turned into.
In Finland there have been two stories this week from junior hockey where in the first instance an under 15s game ended in a melee between the two benches and a player was struck in the face with a stick. The other one is where a 15 year old referee was assaulted by a hockey dad after a junior game. From the Finnish elite level, the SM-League, a player from Tappara was suspended for four games for an tomahawk chop on his opponent’s hands.
In the UK the most recent one that I’ve witnessed was in a game I played on the Isle of Wight. I won’t say more about the incident as it has been well documented on Youtube and in my write up for Pro Hockey News.
According to one of my friends who plays for a rival team in the same league, it is not the first time something like this has happened in the league over and over again and in some cases, gone un-punished.
In one case has the police been involved (the Finnish U15s game). But let’s face it, what is the police going to do. I can remember the last time police were investigating an incident in hockey was the McSorley – Brashear incident. And if memory serves me right McSorley spent a night in prison and faced assault charges.
The point that I’m trying to get across is that are hockey players starting to lose respect for one another? Sure there are agitators and grinders who get under your skin, but the great thing about hockey has, and will be, that you are able to play hard against someone for 60 minutes and at the end of the game shake their hand and congratulate them on a good effort. I try to approach each game from the point of view that I will play hard and to the best of my ability and show my opponents respect. I will (try to) finish my hits and do it clean and not run around the ice trying to look for a fight or hurt an opponent.
Recently, I started something of a debate on twitter saying I wasn’t sure about Mario Lemieux’s comments about the Pens v Islanders game. What I meant was that I was surprised to see Lemieux become vocal about head shots when one of his own players was hurt, and he didn’t say much (at least in public) when Cooke hit Savard last season, the incident which many regard as the starting point for the discussion for head shots. I’m not saying that the Isles were squeaky clean in the incident either, and the issue at hand showed total lack of respect towards your opponents. Sucker punching someone from behind, charging from half ice distance, there’s no place for that in hockey. However, back to the main point: I was surprised that someone of Lemieux’s stature hadn’t spoken so vocally about headshots and so on before, in the interest of the league. I do agree with some of his points, but I wish he’d spoken out sooner.
What I find ‘strange’ in the Pens v Isles is that a few nights before that the Original-six matchup between Habs and Bruins was hailed a classic and old-time hockey as that too turned into a fight fest, but I suppose the difference is that the fight were ‘fair’ as players accepted challenges, despite the ridicilous goalie fight between Price and Thomas.
Hockey is a physical, intense sport and should remain as such, if there are fights, go by the code instead of suckering players. We all still remember the Bertuzzi incident from years ago and what the consequences of that were.
I would recommend that the NHL and other leagues take a good hard look at the latest incidents, grows a pair of balls and sets strict rules and suspension rules for dirty, ‘illegal’ hits. There’s too much inconsistency in the penalties the leagues are handing down.
However, it is a debate that has many different views and opinions. Somehow I’ve got a feeling that we are far from the end of the discussion (which is a good thing), but something has to happen soon, or we might just see someone climb into the stands and beat a fan with their shoe.