More than any other sport, hockey players are required to attack the game with fire that separates them from most other professional athletes. You get paid to win and have to show that you will do the extra-ordinary to accomplish that goal. Extraordinary courage is part of every game on every night.
There’s also honour in the NHL. Players understand the unwritten code and live by it. There is a natural consent when you lace up the blades that you are putting yourself in a position where you dish out some hits or you take some hits.
Take fighting for example. It’s part of the game and a useful tool that allows the players to police themselves. It provides a sense of accountability. You run at a guy with your elbows up, or from behind, and you know you’ll have to answer the bell.
When Tom Kostopoulos took a run at Mike Van Ryn last Saturday, he knew somebody would be there to challenge him. When an opposing player gets too physical around Roberto Luongo
or Sydney Crosby, he’ll draw a crowd.
When Mike Komisarek and Milan Lucic go head-to-head for seven long games in last year’s playoffs, and then run into each other in the first regular season meeting of 2008-09, you know something is going to happen. It is part of the game. There was plenty of build-up followed by a good scrap between two willing and able combatants.
After Lucic had handled Komisarek, he went crashing into the glass and got the crowd even more wound up. He was pumped and charged with adrenaline. It was a natural reaction and one of the reasons the people in Boston love the Vancouver native. He didn’t dust off his mitts or try and embarrass his opponent.
That’s some bad blood between to sworn rivals and that’s great. That kind of fire is what makes the NHL the most exciting game in North America.
But I’ve noticed something funny creeping into the game lately. It’s almost as if the NBA’s “I love you, you love mentality” is creeping its way into hockey locker rooms. Take Thomas Pock for example.
Pock hit Ryan Shannon with a blow to the head. The NHL doled out a five-game suspension. Jarkko Ruutu does the same things and gets a two-game suspension for hit in a chippy match against Montreal. Both hits were illegal and deserved the punishment, but even then, players understand that ugly hits can happen and should be prepared.
What gets me, and what is becoming a more and more a regular occurrence, is the offending players using the media as a public relations tool to garner sympathy. Pock said he called Shannon after the hit to see how he was. Who cares? How hypocritical can you get! Do you think Shannon is willing to forgive and forget?
Ruutu would never phone and ask for forgiveness. He’s made his reputation one way and sticks by it. Do you think Mike Van Ryan wants to hear from the guy who put him out of action for two months?
I like Brad May and the way he plays the game. He has limited talent and knows his role, but even he’s guilty of this brotherly love thing. I mean, what was he doing in his last fight?
The Ducks were playing the Predators and needed a lift. May challenged Nick Tarnasky and had a good old motivational scrap. As the two players were twirling to the ice, May landed a late uppercut on a prone Tarnasky. As they separated, May waved to Tarnasky to apologizing for the late shot. Come on! It is a fight. You’re wound up, throwing punches, and you’re apologizing? You’re not running for mayor here guys.
Another thing that is creeping into the game is the tough guys tapping each other after a good scrap. Two seconds earlier you were trying to pound your fist into the guys face and then you’re immediately calmed down and congratulating for putting on a good show. What is this the WWE?
Where’s the raw, authentic emotion?
Maybe there are too many cameras. Maybe there are too many reporters. Maybe the players feel they have to sell the game. In Canada the game sells itself.