May 19, 2010
My junior coach used to say "f&%#, fight or hold the light". As in, just do something.
Which, at the time, was why I loved the video of Joe Thornton trying to fight Ryan Getzlaf in the '08-09 playoffs. In Game 6, just two seconds off the opening faceoff, boom, dangly Joe had the mitts off.
At the time, I figured he realized he wasn't producing offensively, and wanted to show people that yes, look, I do care. That fight encapsulated the whole point my coach was trying to make. He was being a good (then) captain and trying to motivate his team by showing how fired up he was to win, and nothing gets the boys goin' like a non-fighter fighting. It was my favorite moment of the year.
After his slash across the wrist of Dave Bolland(notes) on Tuesday, I had to re-think my stance on the fight. Was Joe just a guy who gets frustrated and snaps? A guy who has no control of his (rarely there) emotions?
If that were the case — and it suddenly seems like it is — that would tell me two things:
One, Joe actually is a guy who cares, which is a topic I flip-flop on almost daily. Since I started playing rec-league hockey, I discovered that you can't get too fired up if you don't care, and that's twice now we've seen Thornton so frustrated he acts on it.
Two, Joe is a guy who doesn't have the discipline to harness his frustration and use it positively.
Sidney Crosby(notes) is the prime example of someone who can. Whether you think he's a whining diver or the best player ever, you can't argue the fact that the more he gets hacked and whacked, the more he gets fired up, and the more dangerous he becomes. He's electric, and his singular focus never wavers — just win.
But Joe isn't to be persecuted for not having the mental game of Crosby; few people do. Not putting up offensive numbers when you're supposed to be is the most frustrating, squeeze-your-toothpaste-till-it-explodes-at-night feeling I've ever experienced, and from what I can tell, is pretty much the exact walk Joe Thornton(notes) has been taking against the Blackhawks in the playoffs thus far.
The simple facts are: They can't win without him creating more, and he knows that.
The raw emotion he demonstrated with the slash wasn't spontaneous. It builds while noticing that you haven't scored in a couple games, so you start to lay the foundation on which to build your rage-fortress.
I have to get 'er goin' here, I'm due.
If your grinders are dumping the puck in, finishing their checks, and executing their jobs to a "T", maybe you start to hear it on the bench a little bit about not executing your own role.
C'mon Joey, we need you out there, man!
It gets compounded by an opportunity missed, or a long stretch without an opportunity. Whether those things happen because of the quality play of your opponent, or your own failings, your blood pressure is on the steady climb.
If you're especially lucky, here comes coach with his grand suggestions.
Hey, next time you're coming down the wall, you've got Patty going to the net every time, just fire it off the goalie's far pad he'll kick it right to him.
Oh hey, look, a linemate too...
Hey, next time you're coming down the wall, just fire one up high. He drops every time you flinch, so just chuck one up around his ears.
Really, a between-periods interview?
Your line hasn't been able to solve this guy, what do you have to do to finally get one out there?
And in your mind while you're talking, all you're doing is using the mic cord to strangle the closest person.
As Joe knows, when it's not going in, you've got to try something different. Find something you can do to contribute. And what's the obvious option? Physical play. Hell, maybe one will go in off your pants while you're jostling with someone by the net. Either way, your adrenaline starts rockin', and you start chewing on your mouth guard.
Unfortunately, Thornton seems unable to harness his pent-up energy for good, instead, he's resigned to single acts of cathartic action.
Until he can find a positive way to relieve his building pressure — a goal, a direct assist, or maybe an extremely high-quality massage — it's only gonna get worse for Big Joe. The needle on the pressure gauge is off the charts, and the guy's about to explode.