Kukla's Korner

Petshark: Talking Stick

How to be a gracious host to the losingest team in the league

When the game is winding down and the Sharks have a power play and Vlasic is out there with Douglas Murray, John McCarthy, and Brad Winchester, something has gone awry. 

Here is where I begin a rant likely to alienate any hockey fan who bothers to read my blog.  If it makes a difference, I know how you feel: alienated.  So we have that in common. For the sake of that common experience, I apologize in advance.

I felt badly for the Blue Jackets going into the third period of last night’s game.  What a disaster they are, how depressing to be them.  That said, I wouldn’t for a second indulge their need to hit something.  I’m not that much of a softie.

I guess the Sharks felt differently.

I introduced another friend to hockey last night.  While Dan Boyle was punching the kneeling Brassard, my friend commented: “It’s not very gracious to be doing that, when the Sharks are up by so much.  It isn’t very sportsmanlike.”

Clearly she had it all wrong.  Doing that was precisely how you treat the losingest team in the league when they come to visit.  It makes them feel like they’re doing something instead of being beaten by you one-handed.

Well, maybe not punching someone while he’s down.  I believe that is frowned on even under the NHL’s sometimes confusing code of conduct.

I tried to point out that Boyle had clearly lost it, was momentarily insane.  I was also thinking how Murray may be a genius but I never thought Boyle was that dumb.  I mean the well-being of Boyle’s pinky finger—which he jeopardized there—is of greater importance than pretty much anything Brassard could have said to him. It didn’t take Boyle long to acknowledge after the game that he should not risk breaking things, even in a situation he described as “a little bit emotional.”

I’ve had hockey fights turn my stomach, make me never want to watch hockey again.  Last night I was just pissed off, disgusted, impatient and deeply disappointed. Way to ruin a blow out, guys.  The Sharks were overly charitable with the visitors.  The Blue Jackets have hit rock bottom and need to find some way to show that they still care, they want to do something other than feel shame. They can’t organize themselves enough to play a good shift or two, so they took the easy way out and started baiting and scrapping.

The Sharks let them, to no one’s ultimate benefit. Well, Winchester and Murray got some power play time they might not have had otherwise.

Ray Ratto said the Sharks controlled that game.  I agree with him, which is a very rare thing. They are completely to blame.  Evidently they felt as frantic as the Blue Jackets did.  Winning the game was not enough, apparently they had shame issues of their own.  The Sharks had to “prove” that they were “emotionally involved,” not like those guys they were before the All Star break.  Scoring six goals against a weak team wasn’t enough.  They had to hit something too.

They may have controlled the game but they didn’t do much to control themselves.

Someone on my Twitter feed once told a story about why he opted not to fight with someone after a rec hockey game.  He explained that he thought it was inappropriate to fight with the person because the person’s children were present.  While I support his ultimate conclusion- that it would have been wrong to fight the guy—I do not really understand how he got there. Unless you accept the premise that it is wrong to hit someone period, why is doing it in front of children a problem?

Is there some concern that children will not be able to grasp the complex nuances of punching someone in the face?  Children understand the concept of hitting things long before they know how to express themselves verbally.  Even before they can express the problem with words, you discourage them from beating on other kids, kicking the dog, or throwing the cat out the window.  Which makes you look like a hypocrite if you turn around and hit someone because he said something to piss you off.

“Oh, but it’s different when I do it…”  Yeah, right.  Sorry.  You’re twelve.  Did he hit you first?  Punch him in the throat and walk away.  End it, don’t just drag it out, making him feel better about himself.  He has issues and repeatedly punching him in the head is not going to help him or you.

We take kids to hockey games where they may witness people hitting each other in the face for reasons not clear to children.  They may not be completely cognizant of the subtleties leading up to the altercation. All they see is guys hitting each other and a bunch of people cheering wildly.  Unlike the children, all those thousands of grown up people know exactly what led up to the fight.

Right?

It doesn’t matter.  People like to see a fight.  It’s a perfect opportunity to throw your head back, open your mouth, stick out your tongue and shriek like a five year old: the epitome of joyful human expression.

Despite common notions about the nobility of stopping what you’re doing to punch someone in the face, fighting is fundamentally a fear response.  If you don’t believe that, you’re wrong.  Even if you fight in defense of another, it is for fear of the other’s well-being. I’ve heard about how fun it is to get the blood up and feel the adrenaline (which is a biological response to being threatened) in a fight.  Yet someone will still hesitate to hit a guy in front of kids.  There’s a disconnect there.

If you have a job to do, like win a hockey game, you go out and win the game and be prepared to win more and don’t futz around smashing your hands against someone’s head.  It is not a popular view, but I believe that a truly disciplined team is never going to get into five fights in a game they are winning 3-0, 4-0 or 6-0. They may not even do it if they are losing.  Channeling your aggression is apparently an outdated concept.

It is said that fighting is about sending a message.  If one fight doesn’t get the message across, if two fights don’t do it, will three fights?  Four?  Did five?

When was the last time a fight actually deterred another team from doing anything?  All you hear these days is that the fight “woke the team up.”  Half the time it wakes the other team up and backfires.  So much for the “fighting is how hockey players police themselves” argument. 

How is fighting different from other violent aspects of the game?  Last I checked, a fight never determined who had possession of the puck.  A fight is a stoppage of play, a caesura if you will.  You can make room for it in your game, but you don’t have to.  Contact in the course of play is about proving you can still play under pressure.  Stopping to fight is not.

At the end of a game like last night’s, Boyle said, “you’re playing for your goalie.”  That’s hard to do from the dressing room, isn’t it?  Makes all that super fun fighting sound a little self-indulgent, doesn’t it?  Four different Sharks left the game in the second half of the third period.  I’m sure each one had a reason why he felt doing so was more important than hanging around to preserve the shut-out, staying in the game until the very end.

Maybe they just wanted to make the Blue Jackets feel like they were still in some sort of competition?

If they didn’t have some good reason to bail on the end of the game, I have to think they lost control and acted without thinking, which is the definition of undisciplined.

McLellan mentioned that the early elbow to Thornton’s head woke the team up:  “As a coach you’re always worried about whether the guys will be sleepy and what will trigger the game…”

He said “sleepy.”  Aww.  What could be cuter than a sleepy hockey player?

McLellan did acknowledge that it was not ideal to have Thornton elbowed in the head. I agree, but I would add that the team needs to find a way to wake the players up on cue instead of waiting for a dumb or dangerous penalty to trigger it.  If they need hitting to wake up, wouldn’t it be safer to give them a good hard slap in the face on their way to the ice?  Not enough?  They make low voltage shock devices that wake you up without causing broken bones, pulled tendons, torn muscles or sprained fingers.  Too high-tech?  There’s the old fall-back: smelling salts.

Sound silly?  Sillier than waiting for one of your teammates to be hurt or insulted?  People everywhere find ways to wake up daily.  There’s a whole industry built around it.

Of fights being a common part of a blowout, McLellan said: “Sometimes it happens like that, sometimes it doesn’t.  It doesn’t have to happen like that.”  Well it’s good to hear someone say it.  But that team “unity” McLellan praised, as displayed by Burns’ heroic backcheck to help preserve the shutout… that took a hit since the game wound down to lines determined by attrition.

Got adrenaline?  Save it for the next game when you might actually have to beat someone. Is the audience bored, have they started doing the wave because a big fat lead isn’t amusing enough?  Too bad.  Get ready for the next game.

You don’t have to be a bunch of diving whiners to let the other team beat themselves while you keep your cool. A team that is really serious about playoff success isn’t going to waste injury time on a game against the losingest team in the league, not even a fingernail of injury time.

I am fairly certain my friend won’t go to another hockey game, and really completely certain she won’t introduce her kid to it as she said she might when the game started.  That doesn’t matter to any of those screaming fans last night.  That may not matter to anyone else in hockey. Just because fighting is the number one reason people state for not watching the game, who cares about that?  More tickets for the rest of us.

I am really glad this crap is a dying element of the game. It will go away, mercifully, no matter how loudly fight fans cheer.

Filed in: , San Jose Sharks, | Petshark: Talking Stick | Permalink
  Tags: columbus+blue+jackets, dan+boyle, hockey+fights, todd+mclellan

Comments

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Well written. 

Fighting is especially unacceptable for the winning team in blowout games.  The winning team doesn’t need to ‘prove’ themselves by causing a fight or encouraging one.  The winning team is winning- they’re not a better team because they’ve proved themselves in fighting, they’re a better team because they play better.  Don’t add to the trouble by embarassing yourselves and creating a potentially dangerous situation.  Stay out of that situation if at all possible.

As a Canucks fan who gets a little annoyed when people cite lack of toughness for why the Nucks lost the cup last year, this was refreshing.

Posted by Abby from Vancouver, Canada on 02/01/12 at 10:38 PM ET

petshark's avatar

Thanks for the comment. Fwiw, I’m pretty sure all the Sharks who fought would say CBJ started it. So I guess I was hoping they’d walk away. I guess that is too much to ask of most hockey players.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 02/01/12 at 10:53 PM ET

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Yeah, I guess it is too much to ask, sadly.  Most players don’t have the self control to just leave it be.

Posted by Abby from Vancouver, Canada on 02/01/12 at 11:01 PM ET

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Agree, classless of the Sharks. and embarrassing, don’t want to turn in to the Canucks. Of course there are those out there who love it, and think it’s cool, hockey’s Neanderthals

Posted by tourney on 02/02/12 at 12:29 AM ET

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net