The Problem with Hockey

The Problem with Hockey

Friday, March 19, 2010
12:32 AM

I will start this by saying that Im a huge hockey fan. Growing up in the seventies in Philadelphia, I had no choice. The Flyers won back-to-back Cups and were in the hunt for over a decade. Not to mention, they were the bad boys of hockey. Physical play ruled and the Flyers did it with an iron fist.

It was during this time I heard of hockey codes and unspoken rules. For the most part there was an honor to the fighting and rough stuff, and then there was just mayhem. I loved it either way, mostly I suppose, because it helped my team win. I do remember them being the scourge of the league, hated everywhere but their home ice. That was all right, Philadelphians could identify with that.

Then in 1976 when the Russian Red Army team came to North America for a four game tour, they were 2-0-1 in their first three games. All of Canada was aghast. They cant come here and beat all of our best teams, can they? Then came game number four against the Flyers. Well, now the pride of the NHL was resting on their performance. Kill the Ruskies!! Talk about a beat-down! The Russians did know what hit them and they were scared, enough so that they walked off the ice, only coming back after they learned that they would not get paid if they did not play. That 4-1 Flyers win is still one of my favorite games, in any sport, ever!! I learned that aggressive, hard-hitting play could make an opponent wilt. A lesson I have always remembered.

One of the things that excited me about my move to Chicago was the fact that I was moving to an Original 6 city. A hockey town! I soon learned how nave that view was, but my love for hockey never waned. But in addition to what I was experiencing here, hockey in general was suffering. Losing a national contract on a network that people watch, it was banished to something called the Versus network! Then there was the strike of 2004 and hockey was in a dire predicament indeed. Something learned on the hiatus was that the sport could not continue in its Neanderthal ways. It needed to grow and be able to present itself for what it could be: The fastest, most exciting professional sport that we have. Play was designed to move faster and hopefully allow its best players to operate less encumbered than before. It still should be physical, but thuggery, was a thing of the past. Like with everything else though, change comes slow. The game today is faster, but a lot of times it reverts back to its old self.

The way of intimidation today isnt through fighting though. It is through dirty, flashy hits. Wearing new hard equipment and helmets with visors some players feel emboldened to hide in stealth mode, waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting foe, knowing that personal harm isnt likely, and having disregard for the well-being of their opponents. This has increasingly become a problem in the league. Check out You-tube. Lately it seems that there are more occurrences of head-shots and checks from behind the back. In game that moves as fast, with players bigger than ever, this is a recipe for disaster. Now we are experiencing the effects with the Blackhawks. The Ovechkin and Wisniewski hits this week on Hawk players are an example of the cheap-shot league the NHL is becoming. The general managers held meeting last week with these shots being a main topic of discussion. So much so that the league wants to adopt rules changes by the end of this season. I say its about time. Like Ive stated before, I love the toughness of hockey, fighting included, but cheap-shots were never part of that. If they were, perpetrators should be dealt with accordingly, by players or officials. Without supervision and rules doesnt chaos ensue?

Then for me, I get to the Hawks game last Sunday against Washington. Two of the best teams in the league, a possible Stanley Cup preview, and one of my favorite players, Alexander Ovechkin on the ice. Then came the hit. Or should I say, the shove. His play against Brian Campbell was as dirty as it gets. The replay was as sickening as watching it live. Every time. And Ive watched it twenty times. Why? I wanted to figure out what the supposed experts were watching, for it seemed that everyone associated with the broadcast didnt have that much of a problem with it. What?! As it so happens, there is a national broadcast of the NHL on something called NBC every Sunday morningafternoon. Im all for that. Anything that can grow the sport is good, right? Maybe, its time to re-examine that. I love Eddie Olczyk. I listen to him every time he talks hockey, on the radio or TV. I especially like the rapport he has with my boy Pat Foley. Its a shame he cant take him with him to NBC. I think the expression is dumb-downed. Doc Emerick is a great hockey announcer, a long ago Flyers announcer, but opinionated, he isnt. He gives you the game. Fair enough. Now as far as the other two on the telecast, what was that Jim Carrey movie where he was Lloyd Christmas?

After the shove Eddie expressed that fact that it was a shove from behind, and a penalty, maybe a 5 minute one. That was it. Really? Then the show really started during the intermission with Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury. I have no idea who McGuire is, besides being Milburys caddy, and a third wheel on the game telecast, but Milbury?

Isnt he the guy who drove the Islanders into the ground, defining the Peter Principle? Isnt he the Matt Millen of the NHL? Do they use the same pictures? To say his credibility is thin might be an over-statement. Then you combine it with the fact that his TV role-model is Don Cherry, and I have to ask, Who is this clown? During their segment they lamented the fact that Ovechkin was banished from the game and that the on-ice officials had over-reacted. Furthermore, McGuire said the shove just showed how strong Ovechkin was and Milbury said the game was going soft and was turning into squash. (The on-ice officials were the only ones with any onions in this whole mess.)
What Im wondering was, where is the analysis here? Hits or shoves from behind can kill someone. As Eddie said, its hard to protect yourself. Really? How about its cowardly? Campbell had well established position and get this, its important, had gotten rid of the puck 5 feet before contact, which was initiated from behind. Realizing that he could not take Campbell into the boards, he would have gotten an obvious penalty, he was more subtle with the shove.

This was a needless, reckless act. It had nothing to do with the play and nothing to do with a clean, fair finish of a check. And, most of all, why wasnt it mentioned ONCE during the telecast that Ovechkin has a history of these types of plays, in fact has been suspended before for a questionable hit? I think it would have been a fair assessment to say that Ovechkin is an exciting player, but his physical style sometimes crosses the line. The clown is doing his sorry impression of Canadas sartorially challenged favorite son and not worried about what the facts are. That Eddie did not challenge the intermission shenanigans when the game resumed was a disappointment. I know that he wants to be fair on a national telecast, and not appear to be a homer. But, fair is fair. Im sure if he was doing the game with Pat, they would have called it what it was, a dirty play by a player that has a history of such questionable acts.(And again, I am a fan of Ovechkin, but maybe he needs to be reigned in a little.)

The problem here is that hockey has a major issue with these hits. It has actually garnered national media attention. Besides the Olympics, that doesnt happen to the sport often. What the examination is asking is whether this is the same old, regionalized sport, being played by thugs? Or is it a fast exciting game that can be enjoyed by the masses? Its time for the powers to be to step up and say this type of play isnt acceptable by anyone. All of us that follow hockey had hoped that the sport could capitalize on the great exposure it got from the Vancouver Games, which had one of the most watched games ever, a game that was a great testament to the sport. Then the season resumed, and the national games on NBC went back to not being watched. Thank goodness for that, I guess. For what hockey needs to do is what the other sports have learned, protect your players, your stars especially, they are your greatest asset. Dont talk about it, do it! And for the love of god, if you have a national broadcast of your games, make sure that those on it represent it in the best way. No big deal though, its only your entire future that depends on it.

(Bartenders note: Upon finishing this blog late Thursday night, I learned of Wisniewski getting an 8 game suspension for his hit on Brent Seabrook. Im thinking: Ovechkin only got 2? Got to start somewhere I guess. More to come...)

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk will miss about a month with an upper-body injury he sustained in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to Columbus on Friday night.

Van Riemsdyk was injured late in the second period when he slid into the net, his right arm/shoulder colliding with the post. Coach Joel Quenneville said van Riemsdyk’s injury, as of now, doesn’t require surgery. Quenneville wasn’t sure if van Riemsdyk would be put on injured reserve. The defenseman played all 82 games for the Blackhawks last season but had injury problems prior to that.

In good news, Marian Hossa is now “likely” to play Saturday night, Quenneville said. Hossa has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury he sustained on Tuesday night.

Scott Darling will get the start vs. the Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks have had an up-and-down start to the season. Once again, their penalty kill hasn’t helped. It allowed two more goals to the Blue Jackets and has now allowed 11 through the first five games.

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“We can’t say much about our PK right now. It’s definitely a sore spot and it’s almost like let’s look at it as a fresh beginning and look at trying to get through one kill, and the first 20 seconds get through that rotation,” Quenneville said. “Let’s take baby steps in our approach, whether it’s a four-man pressure, denying entries or up-ice pressure, in the shooting lanes, make sure we’re clearing, all the things that go into it. It’s been tough right now and certainly we have to repair it and fix it tonight.”

Meanwhile, there’s nothing new to report on Andrew Desjardins, who suffered a lower-body injury in the Blackhawks’ preseason finale in St. Louis. Quenneville said it’ll still be a few weeks until Desjardins skates.


Time: 6 p.m.


Radio: WGN

Projected lineups


Tyler Motte-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Marian Hossa

Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Brian Campbell

Scott Darling

Injuries: Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body), Andrew Desjardins (lower body)

Toronto Maple Leafs

William Nylander-Auston Matthews-Zach Hyman

James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitchell Marner

Milan Michalek-Nazem Kadri-Leo Komarov

Matt Martin-Peter Holland-Connor Brown

Morgan Rielly-Connor Carrick

Jake Gardiner-Roman Polak

Matt Hunwick-Nikita Zaitsev

Frederik Andersen

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn’t create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.
Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven’t ruled anything in or out – and still need to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers one more time this weekend – but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.
Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a devastating outfield collision during the first week of the regular season. Schwarber immediately phoned president of baseball operations Theo Epstein after the six-month checkup.   
“I wasn’t expecting the call,” Epstein said. “We got news that was beyond better than we could have expected by any reasonable standard. 
“He asked for a chance to do this. And with as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him – and potentially to us – we wanted to give him that opportunity.”

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Schwarber flew from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he hit in the cage at Dodger Stadium that night. As the Cubs continued with what has been a classic NL Championship Series, Schwarber hit again on Tuesday and then left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.
Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the playoffs. 

The Cubs still have to deal with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6, and judge whether or not a this layoff is too long, even for one of their best young hitters, especially against what would be a dynamic Cleveland Indians pitching staff.
But the Cubs would also never bet against Schwarber.

“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.”