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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