March 22, 2011

More Fighting Curbs Concussions

Fighting and concussions have been a couple of the NHLs hottest topics over the last few years. While they have been debated plenty, these two words have not been used in the same sentence as much as they should.

The concussions that have caused so much buzz have been almost uniquely a result of hits to the head. From Matt Cooke to David Steckel, players have been getting away with too much. The league’s officiating has taken most of the heat for this alarming trend, especially after Zdeno Chara’s perceived cheap shot that went unpunished outside of a game misconduct, and another Matt Cooke incident.
But some have linked the infamous instigator rule to the lack of respect players are showing. Many pacifistic members of the hockey world have scoffed at this logic. You can't fight fire with fire, right? The reasoning does seem odd at first glance, but a thorough look reveals that fighting is, in fact, the perfect combatant against concussions.

The one thing everybody can agree on is that respect is at the root of the problem. Don Cherry'll tell ya, the kids today got no respect for the head. It is certain that there were less cheap shot artists in the days of Syl Apps, and it is even more certain that those few guys were dealt with much more harshly.

Hockey is a unique sport, because it has always been governed not only by regulations, but by a code. The unwritten rules established by players, and enforced by players. The threat of violence was enough to force tough guys to control their aggression. This system has balanced rough-and-tumble with civil for over a century.

The balance was disturbed when the league limited the enforcer's role, via the instigator rule in 1992. There was nothing more to repel dirty hits. So the NHL tried to counter the effect by imposing today's "zero tolerance" officiating. But calling games more strictly has failed to put a serious dent in the dangerous plays causing brutal injuries.

Instead, this movement has only succeeded in removing physicality from the game. The role of the grinder is diminishing, and even clean hits are not as prevalent as they once were. What once was a selling point is now discouraged. Is hockey without hitting and fighting a desirable product?

Not only have these limits watered down the game, but has made it more hazardous for the players. Preventing players from starting a fight has in turn made it impossible for them to stand up for their teammates, and for themselves. Hockey needs fighting to keep the rats in check.

More fighting leads to less cheap-shots, which reduces the need for "zero tolerance" rule enforcement, creating a more physical, entertaining game, and happier fans. It is exactly what the critics say it is, fighting fire with fire. A crazy idea at first glance, but in practice, it works.

March 08, 2011

Canucks Choke-Bound

The buzz in BC is whether or not this is finally “the year” for the Canucks. Most of the media raves that this is Vancouver’s best team ever, pegging them as Stanley Cup favourites. But many fans, however, are skeptical of their home team’s chances.

Most of these pessimists (or realists, depending on who you ask) prophesize another Luongo meltdown, or preach about the lack of grit that will eventually lead to Vancouver’s doom. But we laymen often forget the most ominous omen, one that has continued to plague teams year after year.

The President’s Trophy curse.

Really? The Canucks most challenging obstacle is nothing but a bogus superstition? In a sense, it is.  Every year the team with the best regular season has an uncanny habit of busting early in the playoffs. There obviously is nothing mystical about this chunk of metal; it is how you win it that jinxes your playoff run.

Vancouver has been the best in the West for virtually all season. They lead the league by a fairly comfortable margin. The divisional race was over before it started. It has been a dominant season like no other in franchise history. Up to this point, the Canucks have beaten every obstacle that has come their way.

But the opponent that might do the most damage is Adversity. The Canucks have yet to face any sort of resistance this year. They have relatively cruised to where they are now. Never has there been a sense of desperation, or a must-win game. The trouble is, both of those scenarios will undoubtedly come up in the post-season, and the Canucks will not be ready.
This effect is not a tangible one, but it has been proven time-and-time again to “choke” powerhouse teams out of the Cup chase. San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, and let’s not forget, the San Jose Sharks. The only exception post-lockout is the Detroit Red Wings, and their roster had enough playoff experience to fill an encyclopedia or two.

It’s like the saying goes, adversity builds character. There is no doubting that the Canucks are a heavy Cup favourite. But when the situation demanding great character arises, they will be the underdogs.