Bird's Eye View: Win-at-all-costs culture poisons hockey
Published Monday, March 21, 2011 6:54PM EDT
MONTREAL - If you're feeling helpless and angry about hockey violence, you're underestimating your own potential influence and wasting energy that could be expended towards reversing the violent trend.
It's easy to play the blame game against NHL decision-makers, but if we're serious about curbing hockey violence, how about starting by cleaning up the culture at the local arena? It's not as if guys make it to the NHL and then lose respect for their opponents. The win-at-all-costs, take-no-prisoners mentality has been ingrained in them from all but the lowest level of amateur hockey, and especially among players in the hyper-competitive elite leagues, from pee-wee through junior. The average NHL player's fundamental approach to the game has been at least 10 years in the making by the time he turns professional, and it's not an approach rooted in sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.
Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier provided a telling glimpse into their hockey roots last week, when they went to war at the Bell Centre in an ugly battle that resulted in a two minute slashing minor for Subban and a five minute major and game misconduct for Lecavalier. There could easily have been crosschecking, roughing, interference, elbowing and butt-ending penalties assessed on the same series. Even if you're convinced that Zdeno Chara meant to slam Max Pacioretty's head into the stanchion eight days earlier, the nature of that play was such that there's a grey area regarding intent. There was no grey area with Subban and Lecavalier. They were clearly trying to hurt each other, and their brutal and deliberate exchange was at least as symptomatic of what ails the sport as the Chara-Pacioretty incident.
The devolution of hockey as a reputable game between tough but honorable opponents happened over a period of decades, and the game's integrity won't be restored overnight, nor is it incumbent on the NHL alone to provide a solution. Every one of us - whether we're a player, a coach or a hockey parent - can and must make a grassroots contribution to cleaning up the game by emphasizing mutual respect and exercising zero tolerance on excessive violence at every level.