Monday, March 15, 2010

It's all Fun & Games until Someone Loses an Eye

I was going to write a light-hearted cheery blog about hockey rivalries - but then this weekend happened. More specifically, Ovechkin's hit on Campbell and Downie's hit on Crosby happened.

I'm not going to lie I absolutely adore a good hockey fight. I went to the Ottawa - Vancouver game Saturday night and was thrilled to see Rypien go at it with a Senator. And as Rick skated towards the penalty box and lifted his arms asking for more cheers - I gladly gave it to him. Rick Rypien is a goon. Burrows is a pest, like the notorious Sean Avery. These players serve a purpose in the game both for entertainment value and for point scoring and more importantly penalty killing reasons. And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, a good clean dust-up can change the momentum of a game. It gets the players juices flowing and the fans’ as well. But let me make this clear - fights aren't the problem.

Fights are 2 players acutely aware of what is going on and fully engaged in the act. Hits like Ovechkin's and Downie's are blatant attacks without warning and thanks to the league, with little or no consequence.

You can see Ovechkin's hit on Campbell here:
You can see Downie's hit on Crosby here:
Ovechkin’s hit garnered a penalty, which turned instantly into a game misconduct and now a 2 game suspension. But Downie’s hit garnered (so far) nothing more than 2 freaking minutes in the box. WHY? If I had to go lean on someone it would be – and I hate to admit it – Ovechkin. He didn’t extend his arms and it seems that he didn’t intend to cause bodily harm, but just wanted to give Campbell a shove. Steve Downie intentionally and maliciously tried to physically injure a player. You can blatantly see him move his knee behind Crosby’s.

That said, I don’t think either of them should have gotten off easy. Both hits were dirty, by payers with a history of dirty moves. The only difference in these two hits was the physical results.

Campbell was taken out of the game, his season most likely ended. Miraculously, Crosby didn't suffer a devastating injury and was back skating later in the game. But if Downie doesn't get some kind of suspension for this hit then what the NHL are saying is that bodily harm is all that matters. And if that's how they want to run the league, then they can't go screaming a horrified "foul" when there's another Bertuzzi-Moore neck breaking moment. You can't complain about the results when you ignored the warning signs.

Colin Campbell is ruining the league with his arbitrary and nonsensical idea of discipline. Essentially the stand he's taken is akin to a judge in the legal system saying "Yeah, you intentionally tried to shoot your wife, but you missed so no need to punish you!"

What blows my mind more than anything is that the viewpoint seems to be widely accepted... until the unthinkable happens. The announcer (from Tampa Bay) in the Crosby clip actually says Downie was just "finishing his check". I commend Florida for their support of people with disabilities. But the other States and Provinces (who, unlike Tampa, don't hire mentally retarded people for their on-air commentary) clearly state it was a dirty hit. Still not many clearly state Downie should have been kicked out of the game.

During the Flames-Canucks game on Sunday John Shorthouse, the local Vancouver announcer and his crew, made this statement after Darcy Hordychuk was clearly tripped by a Calgary player: "If you're a sniper you get the call but if you're Darcy Hordychuk, you don't."

So because Darcy isn't a leading goal scorer and odds say he wouldn't have scored anyway, we don't need to call penalties? Pretty ridiculous rationale. But it's that mentality that leads to the Referees thinking that Crosby wasn't seriously injured so Downie can keep skating. It applied to Ovechkin too who originally went to the box for a 10-minute penalty. It wasn't until the referees conferred and realized the severity of Campbell's injuries that they then tossed Alex to the dressing room.

Since you asked - (whatever, I'm telling you anyway) here's how I would fix the NHL's disciplinary problems.

Hold the team and Refs accountable. When Ovie boards someone again (and he will) and when Downie actually succeeds in tearing someone's knee apart (which he can do in his very next game if he wants since the NHL can't be bothered to suspend him) the team should be affected by the suspension just like they are by a penalty.

If you suspend a player then the team should have to play a man short until he returns to the ice. Killing a penalty for 2 minutes might be doable but 2 games at 4 on 5... not so much.

Coaches like the Capitals’ Bruce Boudreau might not be so quick to excuse his star player's dirty tricks then. (Murray actually rolled his eyes on the bench and pitched a fit as Campbell lay reeling in pain on the ice).

Furthermore the referees should also have it marked on their file when they fail to properly discipline a player - like the monster known as Steve Downie - and when the player actually succeeds in severely or permanently injuring a player the refs who gave him 2 minutes on a slew foot instead of a game misconduct should be fined. That way they'll be less likely to turn a blind eye or let someone off easy when it happens the first time.

And the number one way to really stop malicious, intentional attacks? Fire Colin Campbell.

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