The summer from hell
September 22, 2011 9:41 PM
“Something horrible has happened to the national game,” said then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff with a tone of dismay when the subject of headshots in the NHL came up on George Strombolopolous Tonight back in March.
While Ignatieff is by no means an authority on the subject, his statement speaks volumes about the perverse trend that has permeated hockey in the past few years.
As hockey players continue to grow in size and strength, those who suffer from the rough, physical nature of the game experience longer lasting consequences. Eric Lindros stands out: he was pegged to be the next Gretzky when drafted by Quebec in the early 1990s but had his promising career completely derailed by concussion after concussion after concussion.
Another incident that stands out strongly in recent memory happened in the 2007 pre-season when Flyers rookie Steve Downie propelled himself through the air like a professional wrestler and clothes-lined Senators player Dean McAmmond into the boards, concussing him and dislocating his shoulder in the process.
For the hit, Downie was given a 20 game suspension and was shouted down and condemned by cookie-cutter talking heads on TSN and the CBC.
That should have ushered in a new era in the NHL, and such antics should have been cracked down upon with as much wrath as Colin Campbell could muster. Campbell, nicknamed “The Sheriff”, was vice president and director of hockey operations, and hockey’s chief disciplinarian.
Campbell “resigned” this spring after becoming an incredibly polarizing figure for his ludicrous inconsistency in effectively suspending and policing those who desperately required it. Instead of improving, things have gotten much worse.
Gary Bettman and the NHL brain trust (you better believe I’m being sarcastic) have always hid behind the defense that this kind of play and the warrior mentality are part of the game. They are aided by many hockey fans who enjoy this aspect of the game; Toronto radio personality Bob McCown remarked, “Canadians are the only ones who actually like fighting in the game…we just don’t have the balls to say, ‘Yeah, we like it.’”
However, after the events of last year, Bettman is rapidly losing any traction he had in the discussion. Sidney Crosby, the game’s marquee player has not played a game since January 6th due to a concussion that continues to plague him. His return is still not ensured.
When New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died in his Minneapolis apartment due to a mixture of alcohol and oxycodone, it was rightfully treated as a tragedy in the hockey community, but also as an isolated albeit unfortunate incident. Since his death, there have been two suicides by Boogaard’s fellow enforcers: former Canuck Rick Rypien on August 15th and popular former Leaf Wade Belak just 16 days later on the 31st.
All of these men had for years been the kind of players to dispense and absorb the kind of punishment that should be heavily penalized.
While their circumstances were all somewhat different, the message their deaths sent should be a unifying call to finally do something concrete about violence in hockey and do it soon.