OT: A hockey rant

Note: There’s a video at the end of this post.It’s pretty disturbing. I’ve placed it at the end so you can decide whether or not you want to watch it once you’ve read the post. It’s not graphic or anything but watching it upset me a fair bit so I want to give you the opportunity to opt out of it. For what it’s worth, early reports are that Vokoun has some lacerations around the ear but he’s alert in hospital.

Yea, I know, this is primarily a blog about communications. And now that I’m a social media consultant, I should probably find a way to link everything to social media somehow – that’s what the gurus do. But hey, it’s my name in the address bar up there. So I get to call the shots (pun at least partially intended).

As many of you know, one of the best experiences of my life has been volunteering to coach kids’ hockey. I’m taking this year off since my wife and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks but for five of the past six years I’ve spent most of my winter weekends in various frozen rinks around the city.

It’s an awesome gig and it’s great to watch nine and ten year olds try to replicate what they see their heroes do on Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL on TSN. For the most part, hockey players make good role models. I remember my Dad telling me about a conversation he had with an associate in Tampa, Florida (I think). The guy was saying he loved taking his kids to hockey games because, as a general rule, the players make better role models than, say NFLers.

But there’s a downside.

Now, I promise this isn’t going to be a rant against hockey violence and the monkey-see, money-do phenomenon that has many adults not involved in the minor game convinced that every pee-wee game must be plagued by fights and vicious two-handers. Frankly, I don’t think people give kids enough credit. They understand that nasty slashes and reckless hits are dangerous and stupid. Yes, they want to imitate their heroes but they understand the difference between right and wrong.

Where I’m concerned, though, is with the carelessness that’s creeping into the game. At every level.

Tonight there have been two particularly high-profile acts of carelessness at the NHL level – one involving a bizarre and scary incident of ice-rage gone bad and one that is high profile primarily because it involved one of the league’s most marketable superstars.

We’ll start with the latter. Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin and Carolina Hurricanes’ plugger Tim Gleason were both taken off the ice with scary-looking knee injuries after the Russian super-sniper stuck his leg out and the players went knee-on-knee. Ovi was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct though the latter is likely moot given that he wasn’t putting any weight on his leg as he left the ice (the second game misconduct in four games would normally be grounds for a suspension but the NHL has shown an uncanny ability to overlook the misdeeds of its stars, but that’s a rant for another day).

Knee-on-knee hits have been happening with disturbing regularity this season, it seems, and they are totally preventable. They happen when players get careless. A player should never, ever lead with their knee when throwing a check. It’s a fundamental skill. But players get careless and players get hurt.

As a minor hockey coach, though, the risk of such actions being emulated is comparatively mild, especially at the level I coach at. Players in Atom house league don’t check at all, so any collisions are rare, and they aren’t moving at the same speed or hitting with the same force when paths do cross.

It’s the other thing that’s more frightening as a coach.

One need only look at the video below to see that it was, without question, a terrible accident. Florida defenceman Keith Ballard was frustrated with the goal against his team and, like so many players do, he opted to take out that frustration on the goal post. In his rage, he didn’t see his own goalie, Tomas Vokoun, getting up off the ice, directly in the path of his swing.

But that’s what makes it so unnerving.

Players taking a swing at a goal post or crossbar is commonplace – at every level. Ten-year-olds who would never dare to swing their sticks at an opponent will gladly lumberjack the post, even during a meaningless regular-season house-league game. They’re frustrated and taking a swipe at the crossbar is acceptable practice. Nobody gets hurt right?

Don Cherry, for all his inanity, is right when he talks about a decline in respect in hockey in recent years. Whether it’s a by-product of increased protection or something else entirely, players at all levels have become a little too careless with their sticks. I’ve stopped kids from poking each other in the cage with the buttends of their sticks during practice. They seem completely unconcerned that they’re coming within inches of poking each other’s eyes out; they’ve got masks on, right? Players (myself included, as ball hockey teammates will attest) routinely take baseball swings at posts, crossbars and boards.

Will this incident be enough to wake people up to the importance of controlling one’s stick. Or will it be chalked up as a freak accident with players at all levels maintaining the status quo?

I can tell you one thing; Ballard will think long and hard about swinging his stick next time he’s on the ice for a bad goal.

1 comment

  1. Joe,
    I think your carelessness (and perhaps lack of respect) comments are right on the mark.

    Funny thing, when I was surfing around the TV last night the “oldie TSN” (or whatever it is) station had a Toronto/Montreal playoff game from 1979 on. I watched a bit of the third period and it was stunning to see how the game had changed. Not the least was not a single penalty (I really am fed up with 90% of todays games being decided on power plays it seems).

    The players today are bigger and faster. The equipment changes also jumped out too.

    I’m not sure how to get the respect and attention to detail back into the game, but I sure hope that we figure out how to do it.

    cheers, Andrew

    PS. PVR’d the game, so can watch what happened in OT later.

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