January 20, 2011
The sport of hockey and its culture are wonderful in a lot a different ways -- I'm on the "greatest game out there" bandwagon with both feet. That said, I've never really enjoyed that there's pressure to fight when your team is getting shellacked.
Think of the speech we heard yelled at the Washington Capitals by Dean Evason during HBO's "24/7", who was bitter Ovechkin ("The greatest player in the world") fought and not ... anyone else: "When is one of you guys gonna grab your [bleeping] sack and do something about it?"
That's a step away from "If you can't show me you've got some heart by winning, you better find another way." (Hint hint, brother truckers.)
Ovy is one of the select few guys on his team that isn't expected to "man up" in those situations. Everyone else? What's your excuse?
The New York Rangers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs seven-spit yesterday, allowing Marian Gaborik(notes) to shoot the hockey puck into their hockey net four times. (NHL.com's Dave Lozo dubbed the feat of scoring four goals "pants magic," given that "hat trick" is already taken and "hat trick-plus one" is a pretty pathetic title for such an exceptional athletic feat).
The game only saw two fights, but both of those came after the contest was long out of hand, which is to say they came after both teams took to the ice to start the game.
I can't confirm nor deny that those fights wouldn't have happened in a close game, but they would certainly be less likely.
When you get back to the lifeless vacuum that is your bench after another listless shift, it's awkward in a way that can only be described as the immediate moments after a high school breakup. Someone should say something, but ... what?
And coach fumes. Oh, he fumes. The plumes of steam billowing from his ears while the sound of a boiling pot of tea plays in the background are less than subtle.
Still, he generally remains silent, but everyone knows: Somebody has to show they give a damn, and soon, or next practice isn't gonna be a whole lot of fun. And "next practice" is probably presumptuous, as there's a small possibility the entire team will be traded by then.
And that's what it comes down to -- proving to your coach, teammates and anyone watching that you're not going to take being embarrassed like this lightly, and you really do care. Often, it's tough to tell if anyone actually does during the type of beatdown the Leafs took last night.
The tough part is, you're probably getting killed because your team has no legs or energy in the first place, so to muster it up to prove you're angry and that you care can take some serious effort.
When I think about this situation, I think of my first weekend with the Utah Grizzlies, playing a three game series in Phoenix against the now-defunct Roadrunners.
It was infuriating -- you want to get your season off to a good start, you want to prove to coach you're worthy of powerplay time, and the game is over before it starts.
After a blowout loss in Game 1 (minuses for everyone!), we had a surprising player healthy scratched (a guy on an AHL deal), the type that made you realize it could happen to anyone. But that didn't stop us from getting obliterated for a second straight game.
When we fell behind that night and nothing was going right, I knew I had to find someone to fight to prove that I cared. (This was in the wake of coach's comments after a guy fought: "At least one [flippin'] guy on this team gives a crap."). I really wanted to stay in the lineup the next night.
The problem is, I spent a number of shifts trying to find a dancing partner and not thinking about hockey. I was nervous on the bench between shifts because frankly, I'm a complete Sally, and getting punched in the facial region isn't exactly an awesome time. And, I found myself annoyed it had come to this.
Seventeen PIMS and a bloody nose later, I did my part to help the game devolve into a gonger. It was stupid, it was unnecessary, but at least I got to play the next night.
That's precisely why it sucks, and why games occasionally get out of hand - there's the assumption that if you don't scrap when you're losing badly, you don't care. Then suddenly you drop the mitts and you do again. It's like a reset button.
I'm not so sure that attitude is worth as much as it used to be in professional hockey, as fights seem less relevant all the time, but just remember: you'd be a lot cooler if you did.
The culture of hockey is almost always a fun one, but like most sports, it can deteriorate into some Neanderthal-esque hijinx from time to time.
I'm assuming that part of the game isn't going away anytime soon, so until it does, I'll just lean back like most people, kick my feet up and say it:
That's hockey, man.
... I guess.