Being raised as a fan of the Bullies, it was revealed to me earlier in my fan-hood by my father that I would likely have a varying view of some of the facets of pro-hockey. The explanation ran that, at our peak, we had been the roughest, toughest team around. We kicked, we punched, we elbowed, we slashed and chopped our way to the top. Ohh sure, he instilled in me the respect for Bobby Clarke's offense ability, the hard work ethic and utter determination that sealed the deal, but it was no secret that blood was spilled on the way to glory.
I never questioned this, but I never truly understood it either until I got older and asked better questions. Why were all these comments about the team in past tense? What separates the "then" from the "now"? Was the NHL an entirely different beast? Apparently, it was and now I'm afraid that just as I'm getting myself back into the swing of things, it's only going to get worse.
I'm a young enough fan, despite my old-man attitude and crankiness, that I didn't grow up on the Bullies. I grew up on Hextall going loco at the drop of a hat. Of he or someone like Garth Snow going barreling down the ice. Watching, and I curse my youth that I forget who, some Flyer getting elbowed into the ice so badly they had to stop the game to clear up the blood and then the offending opposition player getting his ass absolutely kicked in response when he tried to clear the sin-bin.
So, the ridiculousness I see in the article above absolutely drives me insane. In case you didn't read it, Colin Campbell, He of the Wheel of Justice, is upset about pre-game banter. It's apparently a standing issue to discuss with the GM's about policing pre-game match-ups and removing the inherent exchanges filled foul language and the occasional bump-and-shove. This includes the possibility of automatic suspensions, I repeat, immediate and automatic suspensions, for any pre-game physical contact.
An example given by Wysh over at Puck Daddy is a verbal exchange between Sean Avery of the Blueshirts and our own Danny Carcillo. Fan as I am of Danny-boy, I can't imagine an exchange between Avery and Carbomb was the equivalent of a Noble Peace Prize dinner. There was unlikely anything more than a few syllables and most around four letters. Few, if any, compliments on fine tradition and history of sportsmanship in the leauge. Mellifluous was right out.
Is this something that should be reviewed? Are all players required at all times to use Oxford English only and act as if there's a PG rating assigned? Heck, Derek Boogard, all 6'7" x 6'7" of him came over and gave Carbomb an elbow. Did I jump up and proclaim that the villain should immediately be tared, feathered and removed from the league post haste due to his wretched physical contact before the game started against one of our own players? No, I laughed and thought "Ohhh, this is gonna be good." It added to the game experience because of the rivalry. The eventual sizable victory in that game meant more because the Flyers and Rags don't get along.
What bothers me the most, I think, is this qoute from the article (in turn sourced from Darren Dreger of TSN):
Confrontation in pre-game warmups is an issue that NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell loathes, and this topic will once again be tabled for discussion as the league considers options of how to better police the matter.
The emphasis is mine. There is no justification that has ever been offered for the constant fooling around with these types of issues. Though we may all be frustrated with the inconsistency of the recent Blind-side hit to the head rule enforcement, but the catalyst for it is clear. Players are taking damage and there has to be a point of contention. Go ahead and hit the guy, but keep clear of the noggin, it's unnecessary.
The changes suggested here are only "issues" to Colin Campbell and maybe some of the fans who are by the ice for pre-game matchups and offended by this sort of thing. But, if that's the case, these are the same "fans" I see on TV wearing a suit and tie, as if they couldn't afford a team jersey/shirt/jacket, cheering in lackluster fashion while their significant other spends more time on their Blackberry than paying attention to the game. They may buy the expensive seats, but they're not real fans and if they stop coming tomorrow, you can bet some of us will scrimp, save and split costs to pick up those seats.
They're people like the woman in the pink outfit behind Hextall in the below video (No offense to the lady-fans we have, this is just the best example video I have):
Look at her face. She's horrified at the violence. Let's assume she's a Hab-fan. Angry at the mauling? I loved it but I completely back the opposing side being angry. Worried about Chelios being hurt at first? Also completely understandable. But if you continue to watch the ensuing violence, her body language makes it clear that she finds what she sees a terrible thing.
And if it's the opinions of fans, male or female, with that mentality that is encouraging these rule changes? People who think they should bring their kids to the ice level and not have to hear any naughty language, or expect fine-dining conversation when they go? The people who disdain the build up of rivalry and emotion because it's not part of the "pure" game? If they're the focus of these changes, the NHL is shooting itself in the foot with this junk. It's going to suffer the same problems the NFL is facing now with it's overbearing oversight and the MLB's problem with utterly inconsistent playcalling and discipline: Fans are going to start dropping off. Not short term, but long term.
My father who raised me to bleed Orange and Black also raised me as an Eagles fan, but I never watch anymore because I can't get behind the constant crying, whining and moaning of the NFL. I was raised a Phillies fan, and still support the team, but I would be lying by omission if I didn't confess that I could barely stomach watching a lot of baseball this year, even when I had it on TV in HD, because the play calling is so horribly inconsistent. Don't even get me started on soccer and people who have spent significant time trying to convince me of it's merits. Those guys wouldn't last 2 minutes on skates.
As someone who got out of sports for a few years since I didn't have TV access 99.9% of the time, I've had the experience of re-learning the sports. Hockey is the only sport that resonated because it still had the heart and grit. It still had an edge to it. Players genuinely hated some of the rivalry teams. There is real anger, dislike and a thousand other emotions when the Pens visit the WFC. When the Red Wings and Hawks go at it, it's like watching a nuke go off in slow motion. Watching the stands for the Senators versus the Leafs is almost as much fun as the games themselves. Don't believe that's the case? Go read Lighthouse Hockey and their view on our last two games, then some of our comments here. These two teams get entire fanbases giving each other the stink-eye, if not worse, for the days leading up to and after we've played.
But we're in danger of losing all this if the current suits running this sport don't knock off their personal infatuation with reshaping the game and just let the formula of nasty-hitting, fast-skating and hardshooting that's made the NHL a regular success for decades now. It may not have the dollar figures that the NFL and MLB have, but the fanbase is dug-in, going nowhere, and raising the next generation of crazy-ass puckheads. But that only continues if we, as fans, make it known that some of these "unsportsmanlike" sections of the game are what gets our blood flowing and that it shouldn't be meddled with.