Having completed a significant portion of this season, it seems like a good time to take a look at how the introduction of the coach’s challenge has been unveiling so far in the NHL. As of March 18th, there have been 226 coach’s challenges. Of those 226, 169 have been upheld while 57 have been overturned. This brings the success rate of a coach’s challenge to 25.2%. Of the 57 overturned calls, 54 were goals which were then switched to no goals. There were three “no goals” which were overturned to goals after being reviewed.
Although this may seem like a low success rate, the reality is that the coach’s challenge is serving its purpose. The point of the challenge is to not get the call overturned each time, but to make sure and validate that the goal in question is in fact legitimate. We have seen the usefulness of the coach’s challenge and how effective it can be in other sports, with the most noteworthy example being football. Tennis has the player’s challenge, but the principle is still the same – to reduce the margin of error in the sport as much as possible.
There were also concerns that the implementation of the coach’s challenge would result in a lot of goals being overturned, leading to even fewer goals in a league that is already witnessing a drop in offensive productivity each year (a drop from 6.05 goals per game to 5.2 between 2005 and now). The coach’s challenge is definitely not the biggest threat to goal scoring. A lot of other other parts of the game, such as goalie equipment sizing, goal sizes and so on, should be addressed to increase scoring in the NHL instead of the coach’s challenge. Getting rid of the coach’s challenge to allow “illegal” goals to count is by no means a solution to the drop in goals in the league.
I for one have no problem with goals being disallowed if they are illegal goals. The coach’s challenge helps ensure that there is redemption for any missed calls. Hockey is an incredibly fast game with a lot going on at all times, and often times plays can be missed by referees and linesmen. They are only human, after all. The coach’s challenge helps take human error out of the equation, which only improves the validity of the game.
The coach’s challenge, in my opinion, should definitely stick around. It’s purpose and effectiveness has been clear throughout this season, and it only helps in making the game as consistent as possible. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Hockey Quebec has decided to expand its ban on body checking for the 2015-2016 season to include more players.
In a statement two weeks ago, it was announced that the rule changes will mean that there will be no body checking at the Bantam CC and Midget BB levels. Body contact will still be allowed, as it is body checking which poses the biggest threat. In the official presentation, it is clearly stated that:
“Body contact is defined as a defensive tactic to block the progression of a puck-holding opponent. The tactic involves the action of the defensive player which will restrain the movement of the puck-holder, using positioning, angling and while continuing to skate. The contact can only happen during during open play if the defending player goes for the puck first. […] Physical contact will be deemed illegal if the players have a face-to-face collision, or if the body contact takes place after a ‘dump in’.”
This means that players will still be allowed to initiate contact, but only while “angling” opponents off of the puck. This means that the defending player must be skating in the same direction as the attacking player.
The decision to expand the ban is part of an initiative to prevent concussions. Quebec has been the only province to ban body checking for peewee level players, a decision praised by some and criticized by others. According to La Presse, the new rules are not sitting well with some regional leagues, who claim that the change could decrease the number of players making it to the elite levels of hockey.
Hockey Quebec claims that recent studies on concussions had an influence on their decision.
“The security of our players have always been at the forefront of our policies. It is clear that the issue of concussions has a direct impact on our players, and the likelihood of concussions is lower in age groups and divisions where body checking is not allowed.”
Hockey Quebec also stated that the reason they chose to only ban Bantam CC and Midget BB because few players in these levels rarely make it to the elite teams. Putting their safety of all players at risk because a select few may move to higher levels is not a risk Hockey Quebec is willing to take.
For a Q&A on the new rules and how they will be implemented, Click Here
A gallery of photos from the Concordia Stingers and McGill Redmen playoff round. The Redmen took the series 2 games to 1.
It comes as no surprise to anyone living in Canada that hockey reigns supreme. Throughout the cooler seasons, arenas all over the country are filled with hockey teams for tournaments and games. Those same arenas can be found with beer league games for adults almost nightly. As soon as temperatures fall below freezing and our soccer fields become skating rinks, children fill the rinks from the minute school ends to the second dinner is ready. Even during the summer months, kids set up pick-up games on dead-end roads so that they won’t be moving the nets for cars too often. Arenas stay open year round, and throughout the summer one can find both young and old hockey players preparing for next year’s seasons. With all due respect to lacrosse, hockey is without question Canada’s game.
But what about the rest of the world? Generally speaking, we know that Russia, the United States, and the Scandinavian countries have also been bitten by the hockey bug. Are there other countries that are catching on to the sport?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Frank Gonzalez, a Council Member for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the President of the Spanish Ice Sports Federations (FEDH). Gonzalez explained that although the IIHF hosts about 32 World Championships every year, it is not the sole purpose of the Federation.
“Our main objective is for ice hockey to develop all over the world. We are the only international federation that puts a lot of money into development. [We focus on] developing all of our countries, as we are a global organization. We have 75 nations as members, and we could have pretty close to 100 very soon.”
It may come as a surprise to some that there are 75 countries around the world that play hockey at any level. Europe has the biggest grouping of hockey-playing countries, but what other countries are playing?
“We have many countries in the Asian continent, and also South America that want to come into the organization, but we do have a criteria to accept members. They can be an associate member or a member with a right to vote. To be able to vote, you have to take part in the world championships, and to participate you have to meet the criteria.”
Gonzalez has been serving as the Spanish delegate to IIHF congresses since 1991, and has been on the IIHF council since 2003. Being part of the Federation for so long, he has an idea of which hockey regions are developing at high speeds.
“I think Asia is number one. Right now, we have many teams in Asia that are preparing to take the step to be able to compete in our Championship program. They are investing a lot of money, and China wants to get the Winter Olympics of 2020 as well, and I think that will be a strong step for Asia, especially China, to prepare for that event. Just like South Korea, who are ready to compete, but they really have to step up and build up their programs.”
As he is representing Spain, Gonzalez knows very well how well hockey is developing in Spain and surrounding European countries.
“On the European side, there are many countries that want to make that step, but cannot move forward because of financial issues. Take Spain, for example. We lack the culture and tradition, but we have many players who are leaving the country to study in Canada, the US, and European countries where hockey is the number one sport. This year we have about 10 players who will come back and join our National team, who are all the age of 20 and 21, so we will have a very young team.”
Spain has been bouncing back and forth from Division 2A and 2B while participating in World Championships, and Gonzalez has high hopes for the future of hockey in Spain.
“We started a development program in Spain in 2007. From 2007 to 2014, we have been scaling the world ranking from number 36 to 30, so we have been developing quite nicely. Last year we won Division 2B, and this year we will be competing in Division 2A Championship in Iceland. All of our other teams, including our Women’s team, are in Division 2B.”
In a country where soccer, basketball, European handball and water polo all reign supreme, promoting a different sport is an uphill battle, but Gonzalez feels that it is a challenge worth pursuing.
“I think we’re in the right process, because we have noticed a change over the last five years in players as young as 15. They have better skills, and they are getting faster and stronger. Our main goal is to get to Division 1 in the next two years. I think we need time, and we need the money. We are currently in an economic crisis, but we are still there. I would say a big jump will come in the next five years.”
Gonzalez’s son, Pol, left Barcelona to play hockey in Ontario, and is currently studying at Concordia University while playing on the Concordia Stingers Men’s Varsity hockey team. He will be one of 10 players studying abroad who will return to represent Spain in this year’s Division 2A World Championships. Frank is hoping that in the future, players will be able to continue developing their hockey skills without having to leave Spain.
“The goal is to make it so players don’t have to leave the country to develop. This will happen when we have the facilities, and that our tradition and culture changes a bit. We are still a nation in a warm climate that still cater to the soccer players and basketball players. I think it’s good. Our players get a feel for what hockey really is, especially in countries like Canada, Finland and Sweden.
“The seed is there, we just have to move slowly about it to make sure we don’t lose the teams we already have, as well as the arenas that we have. That’s the problem we have in Spain; they will be changed to a bowling alley.”
Hockey is a game that is still rapidly developing in regions all over the world. The IIHF’s goal is to make sure that countries interested in playing hockey have all the resources and assistance available to promote the game.
“The IIHF is a hockey family, and that includes the NHL, KHL and other organizations. Hockey is now a small world; wherever we go, as far as New Zealand or Malaysia, there is hockey being played that nobody has heard of. Even Mexico and Argentina are playing hockey.”
Although hockey is still developing in other countries, Gonzalez has no doubts about where hockey stands in Canada.
“Hockey is the game of Canada. For everything they do, how they love the game, how their culture is really embedded in their tradition. I think hockey will continue to grow in Canada, and that is the main objective for the IIHF. We are looking for continued grown, and the more youngsters that get into the game, the better it is for our game and for the character of the players.”
Last month, the NHL released their sustainability report, the first of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America. The report showcases NHL Green, an environmental sustainability initiative made public at the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic by Commissioner Gary Bettman. NHL Green was established to promote green practices across the league, and its goals include reducing the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport, and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.
Although the NHL has been criticized heavily for being slow to “get with the times”, most recently with their failure to acknowledge the severity of brain injuries due to contact to the head, this is a clear example of the league being proactive. It’s not the first time; last year, the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to associate themselves with an anti-homophobic group by partnering with You Can Play, an organization focused on promoting acceptance in the often homophobic world of sports.
The NHL is breaking barriers by being proactive to real world events, rather than being reactive when it’s too late. The environment has been a hot button topic for the last decade, yet the NHL is the first league to announce any real plans for change. This isn’t a marketing ploy to make themselves look good for the environmentalists; there is research and plans for the future to back up what they preach.
Having joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the NHL is doing their part to change the way we go about life.
“The 2014 report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” said Hershkowitz. “The report’s focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emission is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”
The report states that the league’s carbon footprint is currently 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This includes league and team business activities and travel for over 182 game days and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season. By way of comparison, the annual emission from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.
The league hopes to use NHL Green to reduce that with measures such as sharing between clubs and venues as well as audits of individual venues to identify needs and prioritize environmentally beneficial projects. They also plan on offsetting their environmental impacts, by both reducing their emissions and by purchasing “green power” — electricity from renewable, clean energy sources.
The report also looks into the league’s water usage (over 300 million gallons per season), the amount of waste going to landfill (25.5 tons), and the average amount of air travel for each team (65,000 air miles, emitting 3,136 metric tons of CO2). All of these are numbers the league hopes to bring down significantly in the future.
Change comes slowly to professional sports. If the NHL succeeds on following through with its initiatives, it could set the example needed to bring the rest of the sports world into the 21st century. It’s long overdue.
For most hockey fans, summer is a chance to take a break from hockey and focus on other parts of life. Excluding the NHL draft and Free Agent Frenzy on July 1, the summer can seem pretty dull from a hockey fan standpoint.
For Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, this summer has been anything but dull.
“It was a very busy offseason. For [the Oilers] and other teams that don’t make the playoffs, once the season ends your focus is really on the amateur draft. For Scott Howson, Bill Scott and me, we’ll spend our time looking at eligible players. We’ll meet with our amateur scouts in early June and continue to chip away at our rankings, so we get our draft order down with all of our amateur scouts.”
Even during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams that have been eliminated begin looking towards the amateur draft and free agency, hoping to get a solid plan established come draft day.
“Early on in June, we will start to focus on what our objectives are from a pro scouting standpoint, and we will start looking at pending free agents develop a strategy on who we’re going to go after. Generally that gets us to the week before the draft.”
A crucial period of the summer for a general manager is the week before the amateur draft, held in Philadelphia this year on June 27, and free agency on July 1, when pending unrestricted free agents become available for any team to scoop up.
“It’s a really busy time coming out of the draft for all general managers, but it is may also be the most entertaining time. The season is over, you’re not beat up from the losing anymore, and your focus has turned to really building and improving your team through the amateur draft and the UFA season, and you try and develop and work a strategy.
“We really targeted three people during free agency; Nikita Nikiten, Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot. We ended up getting all three, so that was good.”
Once free agency dies down, management focuses on their development camp, which brings all of the team’s prospects together for about a week.
“We’re there for a week with all our prospects and all our staff, trying to inundate our players and trying to communicate to our prospects what we’re all about, what our expectations are from a cultural standpoint for our organization as well as the conditioning standpoint. After that it dies down again, until preparations for training camps start to ramp up in September. That gives you a little bit of a timeline as to what managers are up to during the summer.”
As for the upcoming season, MacTavish feels the off-season has been productive.
“I’m an optimist. I’m always thinking better times are around the corner. Eventually I’ll be right, but I haven’t been so far in the last few years. I think we have some elements and realistic expectations for improvement, but I’m always cautious. We also changed some of the coaching staff, so there was a lot done.”
Having won four Stanley Cups in his playing years, MacTavish knows a thing or two about what it takes to win.
“Talent wins championships, and we haven’t been in the mix. But we have developing talent, and we firmly believe that there are players there that are going to help us improve greatly. My experience tells me we need patience when developing young players, but our players are getting to a point now that they’re going start having a significant impact on the outcome of a game.”
“Hopefully it’s all moves that will make a positive impact, but you just don’t know until the puck drops in October. It’s all a calculated gamble and calculated risks, and hopefully we made some moves. I think everybody feels they’re improving their team. This time of year, everybody is optimistic, and some are going to be wrong come October 8.”
The term ‘hockey specific training’ gets thrown around a lot in the hockey world, and parents are all too eager to sign their kids up for summer camps and weekly hockey lessons to help shape their budding child into the best player they can be. Is making kids play exclusively hockey, and spend hours on the rink per week the right method to develop an athlete?
A lot of professionals don’t think so.
It’s been made very public that National Hockey League coaches and scouts can tell when a prospect played multiple sports as a kid, and a prospect who only played hockey. Players who only play hockey while growing up tend not to develop properly as a hockey player, and although the skill is there, the athleticism and core strength is below average. On the other hand, prospects who played football, basketball or other sports while growing up develop into all-around better athletes, which in turn makes becoming an elite athlete easier.
Where is the balance between simply playing sports and focusing on hockey, and when should young athletes focus specifically on a single sport?
I spoke with Adam Nugent-Hopkins, a strength and conditioning coach for elite athletes in British Columbia. Adam has started his own company, ANH Strength Performance, and he is recognized as one of the top young sports performance coaches for hockey Canada. He studied Execise Sciences at Concordia University last year, and he played for the Varsity team, the Concordia Stingers. His brother is also Edmonton Oilers superstar center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Adam believes that parents and kids are being sucked in to the fad known as hockey specific training.
“The term hockey specific is thrown around very loosely these days for more reasons than one, but I find the biggest reason is that it’s a good market tool to sucker and lure kids and parents into spending money and taking part in the services offered.”
Adam does not deny that practicing hockey is important to developing skill, but it isn’t the only aspect which needs to be focused on.
“Being someone who does only off-ice training, I do believe that there are things we can do to transfer over to hockey specifically, but my philosophy is more about improving overall athletics.”
Hockey is a sport that requires a lot of skill, be it skating, stickhandling, checking or shooting. However, Adam truly believes that training the body and mind into one of an athlete is the building blocks for success in any sports.
“I do believe that kids need to develop hockey specific skills, but not at the rate they do today. I’ve heard of some kids being on the ice for 10-15 hours per week. That’s ridiculous, and what’s not being understood is how to train the athlete’s central nervous system, and allow for essential growth and development.”
If you need living proof, look no further than his brother Ryan, who is already leaving a mark in the National Hockey League as a super star.
“Both Ryan and I spend time away from the rinks for much of the summer, playing other sports such as basketball, track & field and the casual game of football. Ryan didn’t even play his second year of Peewee hockey. He spent time in the weight room and skated maybe once a week.”
He said parents who want their children’s dreams of becoming a hockey star to come true must realize that playing one sport is not the way to develop an athlete. Focus on becoming an elite athlete before deciding what sport to play. Just playing hockey day-in and day-out won’t turn someone into an elite athlete.
“Everyone wants their kid to play in the NHL, but there’s a lot of trends out there that just won’t be effective in the long run.”
If you want your kid to develop into the best athlete that they can, make sure they don’t play one single sport. Play summer sports in the summer, winter sports in the winter, and develop into an all-around athlete. Playing hockey year round may make them the best player on the local rink, but in the long run it will hinder their chances of developing into elite athletes.
When the Bruins visited the Canadiens on December 4th 2013, a friend of mine was attacked on the subway. He was on his way home from the game when he was confronted by two clearly inebriated Habs “fans” wearing Canadiens jerseys. They began verbally assaulting him before pushing, shoving, and eventually punching him. Thankfully, a bystander came to his defense and threw the two instigators out of the subway cart. He went home with a couple of bumps and bruises, the worst being a swollen left eye.
The reason for the attack? My friend was wearing a Bruins jersey.
There are far too many stories of fans attacking one another, based only on the colours on their backs (although alcohol consumption may be a contributing factor). This by no means isolated to hockey; both baseball and football have had recent incidents which will forever leave marks on the sport. The most extreme cases, such as soccer in Europe, unfortunately lead to many people getting injured or even killed, all because people support different teams.
Since when does being a fan of sports involve violence? Is it not enough to respect each other’s allegiances with sports teams, or is it now the duty of fans to belittle opponents with violence and intimidation? I find it extremely alarming that the lifestyle of some fans now resemble that of street gangs when it comes to rivalries. I know you cannot compare the violence between the Bloods and the Crips in L.A. to the violence between sports fans, but the hostility is still there. It’s sad that one person can end up hating another over the knowledge that the other person supports a rival team.
I don’t consider people who disrespect opponent’s supporters as fans. It goes completely against what sports is supposed to represent, which to bring people together and enjoy a display of skill and entertainment. There is no need to include violence or abuse for any reason. The fact that some cities have developed reputations for being some of the most hostile venues for visiting fans is a cause for concern. Buffalo and Philadelphia, from what I’ve heard in the news and through word of mouth, are two of the scariest places to be as a visiting fan. A friend of mine went to a Buffalo Bills game to watch them play against his team, the Miami Dolphins. He was told by his friend not to wear his Dolphins jersey, or even cheer when Miami makes a good play or scores a touchdown. That’s sad. Something is terribly wrong with the fan mentality if one fan can’t wear his team’s jersey without fearing a backlash from the opposition’s fans.
What is encouraging is that it is a very small minority of people who use fandom as an excuse to be violent. Many professional sports teams and leagues try denounce and discourage all forms of fan abuse, whether it be verbal or physical. I recall a few years back during a Canadiens-Bruins playoff series when a surprisingly large group of Canadiens fans booed the American National anthem (video HERE). The following game, the announcer introduced the Anthem singer and named all the Canadiens players that were American. That incident is more an example of mob mentality than anything else, but the team’s response demonstrates an effort to try and eliminate the lack of respect among sports fans.
Fans should not have to live in fear when they support their team. Everyone has the right to be a fan, and people need to learn that. Even though the Habs and Bruins have been fierce rivals for decades, there is no reason a Bruins fan and a Habs fan can’t sit on the same bus, in the same restaurant or in the same arena without throwing slurs or punches. Hockey is about respect, and it’s about time fans started showing some to one another.
If you haven’t read Part 1 of my experiences as a minor hockey assistant coach, you can find it HERE.
Up until this point of my young coaching career, things had gone fairly smoothly. Even if the team wasn’t winning every game, we were at least playing to win. We weren’t losing because we weren’t skating hard enough or not giving 100%, but because of breakdowns or forgivable mistakes. The kids were still having a lot of fun, which in the end is all that matters.
I was finally able to coach both goalies at the same time in practice! Given the large amount of teams in the region, the demand for ice time is incredibly high. A team is supposed to have two ice sessions per week at the Midget B level, which is often 1 game and 1 practice. If you have 2 games in one week, it’s rare you get a practice scheduled. You can of course purchase ice time, but it’s expensive. At the Midget B level, the kids are just there to have fun. They, or rather their parents, are not willing to pay huge sums of money for more practice time, in the hopes that it will somehow make their child a superstar. So we are lucky to get one practice a week, but I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be for the association to try and schedule practices for all the teams. It’s done mostly by volunteers, and it must be difficult having to schedule around games or other scheduled events. I don’t envy those administrators!
I’m very fortunate to be coaching two young goalies who want to be coached, and who want to get better. They both have different strengths and weaknesses, but both are very eager to learn. That week, we focused on repositioning after a save, emphasizing the need to be quick, aggressive, and to be square to the puck. It went really well.
I will now get to the interesting part of this story. That same weekend, we were facing a team from a town that has a certain…reputation, when it comes to the parents of minor hockey players. They are considered some of the most vocal, intense, and aggressive parents in the region. Although I had never faced a team from this town, even when I was playing, I was still very aware of their reputation.
The game started out smoothly enough. It was a fast game, and both teams were playing hard for the first goal. Obviously there was a bit of pushing and shoving here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Then on of their players “snowed” our goalie, stopping just inches away from her and showering her in snow.
This led to a big scrum behind the net, with players shoving their gloves into each other’s cages and putting one another in headlocks. One of our players was ejected from the game (with another one soon after), and the player who snowed our goalie got a 2 minute penalty for unsportmanlike conduct. Personally, I thought he should have been ejected with our player, as he was just as rough (not to mention he started the whole thing).
Things could have ended there. However, the parents of the other team decided to take the hostility to an entirely unnecessary level. They started yelling at the ref, our players, our coaches, and they would not let up. The vulgarity coming out of these parent’s mouths was disgraceful. When one of our ejected players finished getting changed and returned to the stands, some parents from the other team were waiting for him. Our team had scored since then, and the parents started chirping the 15 year old, saying “Your team’s a lot better when you’re not playing, eh loser?”, and other completely unnecessary comments. One of the parents came to our side of the rink and stood there, yelling obsenities at our coaches and players for the rest of the game. As much as you try to tune it out and carry one playing the game, it’s not easy.
I’ve written previously about parents and their unnacceptable conduct when it comes to hockey (link HERE). I think parents forget that these are kids playing hockey for fun. Those are two key words in that sentence: KIDS, and FUN. Obviously it’s natural for parents to be engaged in the game, and showing passion in a positive way is always encouraged. But this was, in no way, positive. It was ruthless. I know the kids on our team didn’t have a lot of fun that game, and I’m willing to bet money that the other team didn’t have the greatest of times either. It was hostile for everyone, and you could feel the tension in the stands. It was more aggressive in the stands with the parents than it was with the kids on the ice. The kids just wanted to play hockey.
The problem is that the unruly parents get away with it. No one wants to approach a fellow parent who is acting unreasonably and tell them off like a small child, thus inviting their wrath of anger onto you. But besides having league-appointed ushers at each game to keep parents in order, there is no other way to discipline parents besides self-policing. It’s up to fellow parents and the coaches to make sure all the parents act in a civil and respectable manner. Often coaches set out clear rules for parents at a parent meeting at the beginning of the season, as our head coach did. I’m not saying this is in any way an easy task, but it’s necessary. No one benefits from verbal abuse, and the ones who really suffer are the kids. Being yelled at by an adult is extremely intimidating for kids, and there’s no excuse for doing it, ever.
We ended up losing that game. The parents on the other side were thrilled, and made it very clear how they flet about us “losers”. Their hostility was contagious for the other team, and they didn’t even line up to do the customary handshake after the game. I would bet money that if the parents had been respectful and calm all game, the teams would have shook hands after the game. It’s the parents that caused it to escalate to the extent that it did.
After a 2 week hiatus for Christmas and New Years, we were back at it the day before school started. We got a convincing 7-0 win against a very good team, so for the time being the team is flying high. As the coach that works with the goalies in practices, getting a shutout is always a good feeling!
We have no practices this week, but we do have a game on Saturday. We haven’t had a practice in over a month, due to bad weather, unfortunate scheduling, and the winter break. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a practice in next week! I’ll keep you all posted.
What happened in Pittsburgh last Saturday has left yet another black mark on the great game of hockey. Both Shawn Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik and James Neal’s knee to Brad Marchand’s head were dirty plays which crossed the clear lines of respect all hockey players are supposed to follow, the “unwritten code” we all so often speaks of. (In case you haven’t seen it, click HERE for a video including both incidents)
It is very easy for the anti-fighting fans of hockey to twist Saturday night’s Thornton-Oprik incident into another example of fighting not having a place in the NHL. The problem is that the incident was not a fight: it was an assault. It is unrealistic to imply that this would not have happened if fighting was banned in the NHL. You can ban fights, but you can’t ban the thirst for revenge . Thornton was on a mission to avenge the concussed Loui Eriksson after he was hit by Orpik in the opening minute of the game. One could counter-argue that if Orpik had fought Thornton when he first challenged him, the incident could have just as easily been avoided. But the reality is that Orpik had no obligation to fight, and that’s where it should have ended. Thornton’s actions of slew-footing and punching a defenseless Orpik were unnecessary and uncalled for, and it’s very likely that the NHL department of player safety throws the book at him. He crossed a moral line, and there is no room for that in hockey. However, this should not be come a hill for anti-fighting groups to plant their flag. This was more about a player crossing the line than fighting.
What is being lost in all of this, most likely due to the images of Orpik being stretched off the ice, is the incredibly vicious knee to Marchand’s head, only second’s before Thornton’s attack. Neal, who has been under fire for dirty hits a few times in recent memory (such as these two incidents in the same game), had more than enough time to get out of the way and avoid hitting Marchand. No such attempt was made, and it’s clear in the replay that he angled his leg ever so slightly towards Marchand. The more I look at the video, the harder it is for me to come up with any defense for his heinous acts. A 5-game suspension for such an act I feel is getting off easy. For Neal to have such a lack of respect for a fellow player is far more disturbing than and fight I’ve seen this year.
We hope that what happened in that game will never happen again, but this won’t be aided simply by banning fighting in the NHL. Both of these incidents relate more to a lack of respect between players, something that rules simply can’t change. In a season that has been plagued by blatant head shots and other incidents which involved an intent to injure, it is the culture of the NHL players that needs to change, not the rule book. Respect for one another is the key to improving the poisoned and tainted culture of the NHL.