How I learned to stop worrying and love the goonery….

Two for elbowing went through a bit of a dry spell where I wasn’t doing much posting. Part of it was because of outside factors, things that were sucking up my time and energy and not leaving me much in spare to blog with.

But to be blunt about it, I got really pissed at hockey for a while, and I just didn’t feel like spewing about it on the blog. Or talking about hockey — or watching it very much.

Now that I’m back and a hockey fan again, I think I understand the core reason why hockey has struggled to catch on in the U.S. and why, if things don’t change, hockey is going to continue to be a marginalized sport south of the border.

Hint: it’s not fighting. At least, not directly.

I was already thinking my way through this before I hit the wall — it’s been a rough year for the league in terms of injuries, and more importantly, injuries caused by non-hockey action and action that is generally detrimental to the game. I even brought up the phrase “stop the stretchers”, which I realize now was an early indication that the league was heading in a direction that I was very uncomfortable with, very quickly.

But what finally put me off hockey were two situations — the Chris Simon/Ryan Hollweg problem, and the Mike Modano/Jordan Tootoo/Stephane Robidas problem.

But probably not for the reasons you expect.

Let’s revisit the Hollweg/Simon hits. If you watch the video (and it’s easily available on Youtube), Hollweg has Simon lined up early, and is aimed straight at the numbers. He had plenty of opportunity to pull up, to avoid the hit. He never intended to, and his hit was always clearly lined up as a hit from behind. That’s illegal, it’s dangerous, and it shouldn’t ever be an acceptable hit. Simon went into the glass head first and went down, then got back up and went after Hollweg — and took his stick to him.

That is clearly ALSO never acceptable. But lost in the call for Simon’s blood is this fact: Hollweg’s hit severely concussed Simon. A number of pundits noted that the stickwork by Simon wasn’t characteristic of the player, that it wasn’t how he normally played or acted. In fact, that’s literally true — being concussed, he wasn’t thinking clearly.

Hollweg wasn’t penalized, much less suspended.

The hit by Hollweg was, in fact, very similar to the hit that Radulov put on Bernier earlier this week, with a few minor differences. One, Radulov left his feet, while Hollweg didn’t. But Hollweg is a much bigger, stronger player. Oh, and Bernier didn’t get up for a while, but both players ended up with concussions. Radulov gets one game off, where Hollweg got — nothing.

In other words, the league condoned Hollweg’s hit, both at the time by the refs, and later by league review. Simon got 25 games, despite there being strong evidence that he was significantly concussed at the time (he wasn’t allowed to fly home with the team, and Ted Nolan has come out afterwards to note that Simon was showing significant concussion effects weeks later).

In fact, the league suspension on Simon was merely for show — in reality, Hollweg’s hit put Simon out for the rest of the season, and probably ended his career, since he’ll be a free agent with a heavy suspension waiting for any team looking to pick him up.

And then, when Simon tried to contact Hollweg to apologize — Hollweg declined.

Eric @ Offwing commented on this with a quick “Can you blame the guy?’

My answer: hell yes.

Me? I call bullshit on Hollweg and the league. Hollweg is they type of player that is significantly hurting the league; he’s a low-talent player who’s primary role is creating chaos and trying to hurt people. Worse, he’s one of those players that doesn’t particularly care what the side effects of what he does is. He caused a significant injury to Simon, and when Simon went to apologize for his part in this disaster, Hollweg claimed a moral high ground.

I say, the hell with that. Hollweg should have been given a match penalty for that hit, he deserved a suspension, and he should have been apologizing to Simon for attempting to turn his head into a squashed watermelon. The league was so busy trying to look proactive about the obvious act of violence that they suspended the INJURED PLAYER, took no consideration into the injury and how it might have affected his reaction (or his ability to think through his action, for that matter), and then went off and congratulated itself on being tough on unacceptable play. The initiator — the player who effectively MUGGED Simon from behind, not only got off without even a warning, he got to stand up in the press and play martyr. And everyone buys it.

That’s bullshit. It was a cheap shot from a marginal player who knew what he was doing was dirty and dangerous, and plain old didn’t care. And the league stood up and told the world that was okay.

Then there’s the Tootoo hit on Robidas.

Tootoo, who like Hollweg is a marginal talent player who’s primary role is creating chaos and hitting people, put a hit on Mike Modano. Unlike the Hollweg hit on Simon, the Tootoo hit on Modano was clean and legal.

Unfortunately, it’s not good enough to be clean and legal any more — Stephane Robidas took exception to the hit, pulled himself out of the action as the game continued, and skated over to Tootoo to, well, given he’s not a big fighter, I’m not sure what he intended to do against someone like Tootoo, but he clearly intended to enact some frontier justice of some sort.

Jordin Tootoo saw someone coming at him, and defended himself. He caught Robidas on the chin, putting him down like a sack of flour. Modano, who was not hurt by the hit, then got up and among other things, whacked Tootoo with a two-handed stick. Other stars players, hockey forgotten, converged on Tootoo, including Marty Turco, who had to be restrained by the refs.

Tootoo got five games. Modano was later called “a saint” (quote unquote) by Bill Clement (of XM and Versus, on XM Home Ice) and wasn’t penalized for that stick, or any of the stickwork he gave to Tootoo earlier in the game. Robidas got his bell rung because he was stupid enough to lead with his chin.

Once again, I call bullshit on the league. Tootoo’s hit was legal. It actually wasn’t all that hard, things considered. he put Modano down to the ice, but that was about it. The referees correctly made no call and let the play continue.

That was unacceptable to Robidas. He tried to take justice into his own hands — and he got clocked for it. And the result: the league, and many fans decided to rip Tootoo a new orifice. Why? Because he defended himself, and did so more successfully than they liked.

Lots of folks have said that Tootoo shouldn’t have gone for the rabbit punch. There seems to be an implied belief that he should have just taken the punishment. Others claim he should have dropped the gloves and “done the manly thing”. Nobody seems to have bothered to think that he was defending himself from an unprovoked attack, and that Robidas, the aggressor, had no intention of dropping gloves or “doing the manly thing”, but that’s evidently okay.

Complicating this is the reality that Tootoo has a less than stellar reputation in the league. He’s one of those guys who gets in people’s faces, and isn’t always clean about it. Just like Hollweg. He is, in some ways, a mini-Marchment, and we all know that Marchment rarely caught a break from a ref, the league, the fans, and players on any team other than his own. And, to put it bluntly — didn’t deserve to catch one most nights.

But in this case, Tootoo was innocent of anything but defending himself. Most of the criticisms of him are biased and unfair; no, he didn’t drop his gloves and “follow the code” (whatever that is) — but neither did Robidas. Yes, he rabbit punched Robidas, but Robidas had every intention of, basically, mugging Tootoo. He wasn’t planning on tapping the kid on the shoulder and saying “let’s go”, he was attempting to jump him from behind. The expectations that Tootoo should have caught movement of someone coming up behind him and figured out some way to avoid being mugged, while not doing anything “unmanly” — is ludicrous.

Robidas actually left an active play to chase down and attack Tootoo and Tootoo defended himself (and Robidas lost, big time). This has somehow been spun into the idea that Tootoo did something bad. What about the bad things Robidas did? Oh, he was defending his teammate, that’s different (and okay). The fact that was Tootoo did was clean and legal is irrelevant.

This is bullshit. Once again, the league condones a number of actions that are illegal — and severely penalizes the REACTION, which might have been aggressive, but it was a person defending himself. The instigator, who, among other things, showed up the refs by acting on his own to judge to his own tastes a perfectly legal play, who came up behind a player with intent to wreak havoc, who didn’t, and had no intention to, “do the manly thing” of dropping his gloves and challenging Tootoo, but instead catch him from behind and mug him, and who was stupid enough to not stop to think that Tootoo might just decide not to stand there and take it (which seems to be the REAL reason behind most of the Tootoo criticism; there seems to be a strong belief that what Robidas was doing was somehow the right thing, and that Tootoo should have allowed it to happen. bah). Modano had spent the evening being pested by Tootoo, and responded more than once with stickwork; later on, he tried to lumberjack Tootoo — and not only wasn’t penalized for this (although a number of media types at least talked about whether he should have been…. ), guys like Clement declare him to be a saint?

You want a more perfect example of the screwed up priorities of the league and the double standard on enforcement that exists between “our favorite players” (like Modano) and the rest of the spearcarriers?

this is bullshit. Robidas attempted to circumvent league rules and initiate some frontier justice — and got his clock cleaned. Because of this, Tootoo gets suspended.

And what finally pissed me off beyond my limit and made me walk away from hockey for a while was that nobody in the league hierarchy seemed to see just how screwed up this all is. The league condones players that show up and disrespect the referees and the rules, they don’t protect players from serious, injury causing, illegal hits — but suspend players for hits that make the ESPN highlight role where idiots with an attitude expound on how chump hockey is.

the core problems with hockey are not only accepted — but lauded — and the victims of those dangerous and illegal acts, if they happen to be of the “our league can live without this guy” type, get the book thrown at them so the can claim they’re doing something about the violence in the game.

This is bullshit, adn it’s bullshit that goes to the core values of the game, which means it won’t change until something really serious and nasty happens, just like the league didn’t get serious about stick fights until AFTER Wayne Maki attempted to remove a significant part of Ted Green’s skull. Will someone have to die before the league gets serious about this?

It sure seems so. And that’s why I stopped being a hockey fan for a while, because I have great problems supporting a league that is so unwilling to address some key, core problems in how the game is being played. Worse, it’s a league were significant people not only condone it, they applaud it as the way the game OUGHT to be played.

We can start with Don Cherry on Coaches Corner, one of the most influential people in the game, coming onto the TV during a playoff game this year, and one of the first things he says, in that patented voice that’s a combination coaching baritone and 5 year old whiny bleat, “Common, refs, let the boys play!”

And that concept is why this league is so screwed up. it is also a core value among the elite that run and comment on the league, to the point that I don’t think they see how much it’s f–king up this league, and why this attitude, and the attitudes that spread out from it, are the core reason this league isn’t taken more seriously here in the united states.

It’s not — because it doesn’t deserve to.

I’m not the only person who seems to understand that things are spinning out of control:

Moose droppings: Fightin’ words – Featured Writer – Bellowing Moose – NBCSports.com:

Things have changed in the NHL, but not that much. Last year, Edmonton’s Raffi Torres unloaded a brutal elbow on San Jose’s Milan Michalek, knocking him out of two games.

Incredibly, Torres was not suspended.

There is a genuine fear among players that with the stakes so high, the risk of severe injury has never been greater. And the only way to curb it is to make sure that the players understand that serious offences will carry serious consequences.

The players have the guts to do what it takes in the playoffs.

Does the NHL?

My answer is, unfortunately, no. And that likely won’t change until someone dies on the ice from one of these hits, or ends up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after his spine gets snapped. And by then, it’ll be too late.

As to why “let the boys play” is the core of the league’s problems, I’ll leave that for another post and another time.

And while I’ve gotten over the worst of my “I don’t want to be here any more”, I still have issues with the game and how it’s played, and I’m not sure I want to be around if, and when that player finally dies and everyone stands around wondering how we got to this point. “I told you so” won’t bring him back to life…

And we’re much closer to that point than people want to admit, and that really, really bothers me. Just look at the serious injuries that have already happened in the playoffs this year — two for the Sharks, another for the Senators today, and I’m sure I’m missing one in one of the series I’m not watching quite as closely… This is what we love the game for?

God, I hope not.

This entry was posted in Sports - Hockey.
  • http://www.vicster.net vicster

    ah, just as I was thinking that I’m starting to miss hockey, you’ve reminded me of the primary reason I had to stop watching it in the first place.
    Lemme know if the NHL ever gets their act together on this one, eh? ;-)