October 26, 2010
Tom Lysiak is the personification of old school hockey, playing 13 NHL seasons with the Atlanta Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks from 1973-1986. He doesn't recognize today's game; not only because they legalized the two-line pass, for which he admits his palpable jealousy, but because the anarchic moments and raucous personalities of his playing days have been sanitized for the mass audience's protection.
"We're in an environment now where politically correct is the way you have to be," said the sandpaper-voiced 57 year old, speaking from his home in Georgia. "Not only is it screwing up the country, it's screwing up sports. You're always going to step on somebody's toes."
Lysiak is most infamous for intentionally tripping a linesman in 1983, earning a 20-game suspension from referee Dave Newell, as referees were empowered to hand out suspensions at that time. (The Wheel of Discipline doesn't seem so bad in comparison, does it?)
But that wasn't why we contacted Lysiak last week.
In the wake of New York Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski's(notes) 2-game suspension for a lewd gesture earlier this season, a reader named Matt McNicoll sent us a video clip of Lysiak making an equally lewd (and hilarious) gesture on the ice during his playing days.
We wanted the story behind it and, more importantly, wanted to discover what repercussions he did or did not face in its aftermath. But mostly, we wanted to hear what a guy who used his stick that way in the 1980s thought of a player who was suspended for using his mouth that way in 2010.
Coming up and NSFW, Lysiak's YouTube Classic and its backstory.
The following clip featured Lysiak with the Chicago Blackhawks in a game against the St. Louis Blues, although he wasn't sure of the exact year. Yet despite it being well over 20 years old, it was fresh on his mind.
You see, he was hunting in Montana last week, participating in a charity event. While Lysiak was unwinding in the hospitality room with the other hunters, one of the bartenders walked up to him with a smart phone in her hand and a video ready to play.
"You remember this?" asked the barkeep, before hitting play on the following clip: (Again, sexually lewd gesture warning)
"I didn't know telephones could do all that stuff. I'm living in the Dark Ages here," he said.
"And then she went around and showed everyone else in the room. It was sort of embarrassing."
So what prompted that bit of, ahem, stick-handling from Lysiak? "It wasn't directed towards the referee," he said. "It was at a couple in the stands."
Lysiak remembered getting razzed by the gentleman in the couple, to the point at which Lysiak verbally retaliated by requesting that the gentleman escort his date home and bathe her. (Yes, this is the PG version of the events.)
So Lysiak took his stick and ... well, made that motion with it. Then he did it again. The second time, the referee caught him like Mrs. Costanza catching George with a Glamour magazine, and promptly gave him a game misconduct.
"I said to him, ‘What for?' And he said, ‘You're not allowed to make lewd gestures,'" recalled Lysiak.
So he went to the locker room, and that was that. No calls from the NHL. No meetings in New York City with the commissioner. No suspension, no anger management, no formal apologies. In other words, nothing that he would have faced in 2010.
"Honestly, I didn't think I'd get kicked out of the game for it. We stick our fingers out to other players, we said crap to them all the time," said Lysiak.
When we asked him about Wisniewski's suspension, he questioned it in disbelief, but said he wasn't aware that it had occurred. Count this old-school NHL veteran as one that doesn't much follow the game today.
"Every year it's a little less and less. I don't recognize the guys. They're all wearing helmets. I don't recognize the game," he said.
He fondly remembers those chaotic years in the NHL, when the brawlers got the best-looking groupies and the League would send memos out about pulling hair in fights rather than about concussion prevention. Sure, it was an unhealthy Thunderdome of reckless, injurious play that repulsed as many fans as it enchanted.
But darn it, it was their Thunderdome.
In today's game, Lysiak said, there isn't a place for naughty fun like Wisniewski's hand gesture and his own classic stick work.
"If you carry a good image, they feel like we're going to have more fans," he said.
"And as long as they're makin' money, that's the way it's going to be."