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The Penalty Box: Nerves rubbed raw

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com



We’re down to the nitty-gritty business now with just four teams and four weeks remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s understandable that nerves would be rubbed a little raw and tempers a little frayed. Those afflictions are certainly evident in some of the contributors to the Penalty Box. But CTN would expect nothing less from the Penalty Box community.

Read on to see the things that have the CTN readers all up in arms. And, remember, you too can join the discussion by firing off your comments to roarkeblog@nhl.com. Remember to include your name and hometown if you want to see your contribution in a future edition of the Penalty Box.

Now, on to this week’s mailbag:

***

Hey there CTN,
I have only been following your column for about two months, and I can honestly say I have never been so intrigued by someone’s insights on hockey before. I am kind of a beginner with hockey, only getting into it when I met my wife. I’ve known her for about five years, and it took her more than two to get me to a game. Since then, she can barely get me to stay away from the sport. We live in Spokane, Wash., so we have the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL to go and cheer for. I never quite realized how amazing this sport was until then.

I appreciate all of the insight you give in your column each week. The only shortcoming I see with hockey is, of course, with any sport -- the fans of a team and not of the game. It seems as though these last few Colorado fans (in last week’s Penalty Box) are just that. They are too worried about recognition, and not as excited about the unbelievably high caliber of play we are immersed in during these playoffs.

I am not sure how much you follow the Spokane Chiefs, but their rival is the Tri-City Americans. Now, I go to the game and boo when a bad call is made, or if one of the Ams takes a cheap shot, but this season has seen some of the best contests from these two clubs. Tri-City took the division, conference, and league titles in one game, when the two teams met on March 15. And even though they are my home team’s arch-rival, I was extremely impressed and happy for the Ams. In 20 years, they had never earned a banner. And as much as I wanted those banners to come to the Spokane Veteran’s Memorial Arena, I am glad that they have a few to hang from their rafters as well. By the way, the Chiefs beat the Ams in seven games, five of them went to OT, and two that went to double OT, for the Western Conference Championship of the WHL.

That took a lot to explain, and ventured away from the NHL, but my point is about the fans of a team, over fans of a game. If these Colorado fans would step away from their frustrations with your unbiased decisions about awards, they might be able to see that their beloved team is in a position to be swept by a very methodical Detroit team. I am not really in a tizzy to see who will win, although I would like to see Pittsburgh go head-to-head with Detroit in the Final. I am enjoying watching the stellar play from all the clubs in this semifinal round.

I am not against having a favorite team. My favorite is the Vancouver Canucks. I just wish people would appreciate good hockey. If your team gets scored on by a perfectly executed play, give credit where credit is due. No need to say they got lucky if a one-timer from a tape-to-tape feed went five-hole on your netminder. Not only is it somewhat immature, you never know if the player who just scored on your team will be traded to your team. All in all, I am whining as well. I am whining about people who are too worried about their team, and not enjoying the sport that I personally have found to be the best sport in the world. Thank you CTN for this magnificent column, and I look forward to read what you talk about next.

-- Dave Eschenbacher,  Spokane


Dave, welcome to the passionate hockey community, the best group of people you will find walking God’s green earth. Hopefully, you thank your wife every October for introducing you to the best game around. CTN knows plenty about the Chiefs, in fact. CTN knows that Spokane went on to beat the Ams in the WHL semifinals and has methodically dismantled Lethbridge in the first two games of WHL championship.

As for your point about the fans, you are spot-on. Because of the passion involved in hockey and its parochial nature, it is mostly a tribal experience. There aren’t many neutral fans that have no emotion invested in a game, a more common occurrence in football or baseball. Hockey is a passionate game that demands a passionate response and, sometimes, that passion overwhelms all logical thought. CTN is fine with that as passion is the lifeblood that makes hockey a spectacle that can not be ignored upon exposure to it – as you can testify to first-hand. It is only when the passion fueled lack of logic does not dissipate after the heat of the moment has passed. CTN spends a fair amount of time formulating each week’s column and labors over the content contained within. So it is disheartening to be called biased when nothing could be further from the truth and the facts are there to prove each and every point made in the column. But, such is life. CTN got a little excitable last week, but the conniption has passed. CTN does, however, appreciate your defense of the column and wishes you all the best in following the Chiefs for however much longer the Chiefs stay alive.


***

Hi Shawn,

So, you wanna know what excites us about the IIHF World Championships? I personally feel excited for the lucky center who will have his flanks manned by Ovechkin and Kovalchuk. Can you say tournament assist leader? What a spectacle that is going to be if the Russian coach has enough sense to try these guys out together. Think of the fear in the opposing goalies and defenders. Think of the PP possibilties. This has the potential to be something beautiful. And who can't be excited by THAT?

-- Jason Bobbitt, Leciester, UK


Jason, CTN is excited about that opportunity. In fact, CTN has the Russia-Denmark preliminary round game streaming in the background while answering this very letter. Russia is on a power play and the Russian coach threw over the boards Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin. Needless to say it wasn’t long before a beardless Ovie (CTN misses the Scooby Doo beard) fired home a one-timer. Fedorov scored a few minutes later to make it 3-0. In this game, Russia hasn’t scored as much as you might expect, but the Russians have owned the puck for huge stretches and has put on a passing clinic. The Danes, however, have been impressive in this game, especially surprising starting goalie Patrick Galbraith, who played his junior hockey in the States with the New Jersey Monarchs. He has stopped 30 of 33 shots through 40 minutes. Morten Green, a 27-year-old forward playing in Sweden, has also been a standout in CTN’s limited viewing. Russia will only become a more scary proposition for the rest of the tournament now that it has added a world-class goalie in Evgeni Nabokov.

***

Hello Mr. Roarke,

Sorry, but I will be pretty irregular in the Penalty Box until mid-June because I am currently tied up with some examinations. But I still make it a point to read CTN religiously. Your column is too good to miss even for the sake of education.

Wings swept Colorado! I never imagined that would happen. Not much bad blood there. Maybe the injury bug robbed us of a hotly contested series. Then again, Johan Franzen looks like he could decimate any opponent, regardless of what the injury bug has to say.

What really spurred me to write to you is all the hatred you have been receiving for not showing enough love to a particular team or player. I support the Wings not because it is cool to do so or because you said I should. I support the Wings for the effort they bring night in and night out. I couldn't care less if you completely forget the Wings or rip their performance apart as sheer luck. I am comfortable with my team and my identity as a Wings fan and that puts me at peace with the world.

You are doing a fine job. Don't let critics put you down. Thank you for all the great insights and wit.

Cheers,

-- Adi,  India.


Adi, thanks for the pep talk and good luck on your exams. Study hard and even skip an edition of Crashing the Net, if you must. Your education will serve you far better than any wisdom CTN can impart, trust CTN on that score. As for your other point, there are no worries about the slagging off CTN has endured over the supposed first-round snub of the Avs. It’s water under the bridge. As we all know, you should be a fan for what it means to you. That ownership, of which you speak of so eloquently, should be sturdy enough to survive the taunts or doubts of outsiders. But, CTN also understands the us-against-the-world mentality that can be such a unifying factor for fans. More power to them if that is the case, says CTN. But, CTN still has no plans to serve as a convenient – and inappropriate, I might add – target of misplaced abuse, at least without putting up a fight.

***

Hey CTN,

I thought it was really cool to see some Judas Priest being tied in with your blog this week. I check your blog as it comes out and offers killer insight around the League, much of which I would otherwise miss. But man, a nod to the metal gods is beyond cool, as I live and breathe Caps and Priest. Anyway, just thought I’d send props, I will definitely be watching my boys play in the Worlds and rocking some JP.

-- Mick


Green
Mick, thanks for the note. Judas Priest was one of the first bands of influence in CTN’s musical odyssey. Billy Squier and Nazareth was the first show CTN ever saw, as a wee 16-year-old at the Providence Civic Center. The Priest, with Ronnie James Dio opening, was the second show and it had a far deeper impact on my musical development, to say the least. Judas Priest is back on tour this summer and actually play very close to CTN’s home in early August. CTN hopes to check it out and see how much the music and its power to influence has changed in the past 25 years. CTN imagines not much. As for the Caps at the World Championships, what a show you are going to enjoy! The Caps have eight players at the Worlds. We already talked about the Russian contingent, but there is so much more on display. Defenseman Mike Green scored the goal of the tournament’s first week, a sweet rush through traffic against Latvia that showed the full depth of Green’s skills. Nicklas Backstrom is playing for Sweden, Tomas Fleischmann for the Czech Republic, Cristobal Huet for France and Sami Lepisto for Finland. All those players, except for Huet, should have a shot at playing in the medal round. Enjoy all the action.

***

Shawn,

A friend of mine turned me on to your column a while back and I have been an avid reader since. Love the way you say it as it is. A very nice break from the fluff we seem to get elsewhere. With that said, I wanted to talk about the Penalty Box. Seems that in this second round of a glorious playoff hockey season, the officials seem to be abusing said penalty box. Could they possibly have a quota imposed by the league to fill the box up “X” amount of times per game? Or maybe they are using the players as part of a test group to see how well the new hinges in various penalty boxes around the league hold up to constant abuse. Either way the officiating has been down right horrid!! I’m a HOCKEY fan first, and Flyers fan second. Now I admit the Flyers have been on the receiving end of some, well to be honest, bad calls, but I’m also smart enough to realize there is no major conspiracy around! The calls in other series for tripping, hooking, slashing seem to be just as bad. Then we have the mother of all calls…THE DIVE!! I love to watch guys like Sid the Kid, or Alexander the Great bull their way into the center of the ice muscling their way past the defense fighting and scrapping the whole way and blasting off a shot on net. Then two seconds later, they get bumped and look as if they were shot from the grassy knoll. It’s bad, it’s horrible and it’s happening a lot in the second round! What is going on? Since the lockout, the on-ice zebras are affecting games and series way more than they should be allowed to!  What’s your take on it? It just seems to be sooooo inconsistent all over the League right now!

-- Tom Strowhouer, Philadelphia


Tom, CTN appreciates that you appreciate the fact that CTN tells it like it is, because CTN is going to tell it like it is right now. CTN remains surprised by the vitriol reserved for the refs at this time of year. CTN will give you two examples of how over-the-top this can be.

During Game 5 of the Rangers-Penguins series, Chris Drury was hit with a high stick which at first appeared like he was hit with a shot puck.
In Game 5 of the Rangers-Penguins series, Chris Drury was hit with a high stick, yet in real time the Rangers radio announcer surmised that he had been hit with a shot puck. Only after a few slow-mo replays did the fact that Drury was clipped by a stick become obvious, yet the referee was demonized for missing the infraction, the same infraction that went unnoticed by the announcers in real time.

In Game 6 of the Sharks-Stars series, a number of people have complained vociferously about the penalty on the Sharks that led to Morrow’s series-winning goal in the fourth OT. But Sharks coach Ron Wilson was not one of them, admitting his player had committed a foul – as simple as that.

Have there been missed or wrong calls? CTN is sure there have been, but is that shocking? Humans make errors and referees, last time CTN, checked are human. But CTN will tell you this much, the NHL referees assigned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs miss far less than any other officials anywhere in the world. The idea that the officials are influencing series with their calls is utter malarkey. The players are influencing the series through their actions and their responses to the circumstances generated throughout a series. Using the referees as scapegoats is sheer defeatism in CTN’s opinion.

Teams lose because they weren’t good enough, not because the referees are against them. In the last two weeks, CTN has received e-mails from fans of all four teams in the conference finals that have argued the referees and the NHL are against their team. If that is so, what happens now? It is awful easy to blame the referees, who, by their very job description, make convenient villains (just like the cop issuing a speeding ticket). But easy does not mean that it is right, my friend.






 
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