hockey doesn’t exist
“If you can’t beat ’em in the
alley; you can’t beat ’em on the ice.”
Those immortal words of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner and general
manager Conn Smythe — spoken over 70 years ago — seem
to be very significant in the hockey world right now.
In the wake of the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident, the NHL
has been under the microscope and heavily criticized for the level
of violence some people believe exists in the game. The finger
pointing has also begun as critics try to find out who is responsible.
However, to use the word “violence” is not fair. There
is no “violence” in hockey — the two words do
not belong in the same sentence. It is important to consider what “violence” means.
Violence is guns, blood, hate and explosions. Wars are violent;
terrorism is violence and street crime is violence. The disputes
in the Middle East and around the world are violent. Hockey is
Open ice hits and crease crashing are not violent. Hip-checks
and scrums are not violent. Fighting is not violent. There is absolutely
nothing wrong with two guys settling a disagreement by dropping
the gloves, throwing a few punches, then cooling off for five minutes.
What Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore was terribly wrong, but
not necessarily violent. Don’t get me wrong — it was
a despicable act and he deserves every bit of the punishment he
got, but it should end there.
Bertuzzi should not be charged criminally, and in no way should
he go to jail with thieves, rapists and murderers. What happens
on the ice should stay there. All hockey players know there is
a voluntary assumption of risk that comes with putting on skates.
Of course, there is the odd bloodshed in hockey. But, seeing Ryan
Smyth getting stitched up on the bench is more inspiring than it
is violent. Hockey is a physical game that at times does result
in injuries, but cannot be compared to anything that might be considered
“Kill the other guy before he kills you.”
Former boxing champion Jack Dempsey’s motto says a lot about
the mentality of many athletes. For as long as there has been sport
there have been athletes willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Obviously, every sport is different and injuries are a reality,
and every sport has moments that hurt its reputation. It seems,
however, that hockey has more of them. Other sports have incidents
that have been black marks on the game, but the majority of those
are events that happened away from the field.
The Bertuzzi incident is another in a lengthy list of on-ice incidents
in the NHL. The other most recent was Marty McSorley’s stick-swinging
incident on Donald Brashear. Others of note were Tie Domi’s
sucker punch on Ulf Samuelsson and Dale Hunter’s cross check
on Pierre Turgeon.
The repercussions of Bertuzzi’s actions could increase and
cause a ripple effect throughout the league. One of the big question
marks now is fighting, and there are some lobbying to have it removed
from the game entirely, which would be a huge mistake.
Without fighting in the NHL, incidents similar to the Bertuzzi
case would increase. Players need to know that if they do something
wrong the enforcer on that team will get them back. However, not
in the way Bertuzzi did.
The instigator rule has forced players to think twice about picking
a fight, and instead resort to dirty hits, high sticks and cross
checks as retribution.