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Posted: October 5, 2013

NHL sinks to new low as possibility of death haunts hockey

GerryWarner1-150x150Perceptions by Gerry Warner


It’s an ugly word but it takes ugly words to describe the sordid state to which NHL hockey has sunk that many now feel the only thing that will end the mayhem on ice is for a player to die after yet another senseless display of malicious machismo on the ice.

No, they don’t use the word “homicide,” but they use the equally unappealing word ‘death’ to describe what they believe is the only way to end the pugilistic anarchy that marred the opening game of the NHL season in Toronto Tuesday when two goofs engaged in concussive combat and one crashed chin-first into the unforgiving ice and was hauled out on a stretcher bloody and unconscious.

And yes, as the two gladiators tried to scramble each other’s grey matter, the crowd of Mr. and Mrs. Canadians were on their feet in the stands braying for more until a deathly silence fell over the Bell Centre for 30 seconds as George Parros left the arena on his back – his brain somewhere in la, la land – and it wasn’t his first visit to la, la land either.

Was Don Cherry watching the game? I don’t know. But if he was I wouldn’t be surprised if  ‘Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Don’ was grinning from ear to ear. After all, he makes a small fortune from pedaling this cowardly crap. And CBC gives him a podium from coast to coast to coast to pedal it. It makes me sick, but then so does the Canadian hockey culture. But before you send the NHL goons after me let me explain.

I love hockey. I’ve been a fan as far back as 1955 listening to Foster Hewitt on my favorite radio network, the CBC. Indeed, my earliest memory is of the ‘Richard Riot’ in Montreal when my beloved Rocket was suspended for the rest of the season and the playoffs after swinging his stick at a referee triggering the famous riot that is said to have changed the political culture of Quebec forever.

In my teens, I was fortunate enough to have grown up near Trail, home of the iconic Trail Smoke Eaters, the only team in Canada to have won the World Amateur Hockey Championship twice. In 1967, I won money betting on the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. In other words, I know hockey. It’s in my genes and my bones like it is in so many Canadians.

That’s why it hurts so much to see what hockey has degenerated into today, our National Game has become our ‘National Shame’ with three veteran sports columnists in the Globe and Mail mentioning after Tuesday’s game the possibility of death in a future NHL brawl. Fighting is so ingrained in Canadian hockey culture – players, fans, coaches and team owners alike – that nothing short of a ghoulish hockey fight death on TV will shake the national consciousness enough for the public to demand that a homicide charge be laid the same as would happen if someone beat somebody to death outside the rink.

To date, no homicide charges have been laid from hockey fight deaths that have occurred below the NHL level because Canadian law holds that hockey players give ‘implied consent’ to a certain level of violence by simply playing hockey. However, you have to wonder if such a flimsy defense would stand up if a NHL player was killed live on TV complete with video re-runs and endless analysis.

One thing is for certain is no one in the league is going to raise a bruised fist to stop fighting now.

Fighters are glorified as ‘character players’ or ‘enforcers’ whose job is to enforce the ‘Players’ Code’ that supposedly limits fighting to the goons themselves and gives the skilled players like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin room to skate. Of course Crosby, who unlike Wayne Gretzky eschews having a ‘protector’ and fights for himself, has been severely concussed twice already and one more concussion could end his injury-riddled career.

But what does that matter when league President Gary Bettman said to Peter Mansbridge in a CBC TV interview last week that fighting is what makes NHL hockey ‘vibrant.’

Vibrant? Sick, sick, sick!

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and Cranbrook City Councillor. His opinions are his ownos opinions are his own.

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