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Puckarinen Hits A Post

Son of a goon

A couple of weeks ago, I found the local hockey club’s new magazine in our mailbox. Our Sollentuna Hockey is a tiny club, with a men’s team in the fourth highest division in Sweden, but it’s also one that is proud to have Mats Sundin as an alumnus. For the first issue they had even got an interview with the man himself.

That, naturally, pulled me in, and as I read the story at the breakfast table, I mumbled that I probably should go watch their games and support the local club. And that maybe Son would like to tag along.

“No, no, I’m not interested in such a violent sport,” said Son from across the table without looking up from his comic book.

“Oh, come on, hockey’s not violent. It’s great athletes doing wonderful things in high speed, using skates and sticks, it’s not easy. It’s the fastest game on earth,” I said.

“But they fight all the time,” he said.

I was stunned.

And to add insult to injury, Son made the “go to sleep” gesture that Arron Asham made after his fight.

I’m kidding. He didn’t do that. He has no idea who Asham is, and he’s definitely oblivious to the controversy that his gestures created.

But ask him about any Harry Potter spell, or who plays R2D2 in the movies, and he won’t hesitate a second. Leave him alone with a pile of Lego bricks for 5 minutes and you can be sure there’s a complete Pirates of the Caribbean movie set when you get back.

I’m the only one in our family of four to follow hockey, and while I may do it enough for all of us, it also means that when the family votes on the remote control usage rights, my lone vote doesn’t get me very far. It only gets me back into my little office upstairs, watching hockey, and reading about it online.

A week later, we walked to our local sports bar for burgers and soft drinks, and were seated under two TV sets with Swedish Elitserien hockey on them. Son graciously let me sit facing the screens while he turned his back on them, and opened his book. When the talking head analysts came on during the intermission, Son suddenly looked up and pointed at me with his forefinger.

“Hah! He said ‘aggressive’,” he said.

“Yes, he did, but he just meant that the penalty killers didn’t give any time or space to the power play unit. He just meant that they were on them all the time,” I replied.

But he was already back in Hogwarts, or maybe sailing the seven seas with Jack Sparrow. Capt’n Jack Sparrow.

He hasn’t read about the half a dozen concussions in the Swedish Elitserien in the last few weeks, he doesn’t know that Hannes Hyvönen just got a three-game suspension for a hit to the head, and even if he did, he’d pay more attention to the fact that he shares a first name with the player. 

Somehow, though, my eight-year-old son - soon nine, he asked me to say - is under the impression that hockey is a violent sport. Once somebody is in that frame of mind, it’s hard to change.

Those of us who love the game, either love the fighting, too, or just happen to love the game so much that they can live with the fights. Next time somebody tells you that nobody ever leaves a hockey game when a fight breaks out, you can tell them that there is this Finnish guy in Stockholm who’s done it.

I don’t get the code, and I don’t understand the fascination with fighters. Whenever their supporters try to justify their roster spot, they bring up their goal production, as in, “he’s not just a fighter, he can also…” Well, why not have a better player in that slot then?

This season, the Swedish Elitserien’s main sponsors:
Svenska Spel, the state-owned betting and lottery company
Aftonbladet, Sweden’s biggest tabloid.
Sofiero, beer.
Onico, nicotine-free snuff.
Ramirent, “the leading general equipment rental company in the Nordic countries.”

The Swedish Television’s hockey broadcasts were sponsored by a bed company, a car alarm company, workwear company, and a construction company. Not the biggest companies in the country, I might add.

While those companies may reach exactly what they want, a male-dominated niche, hockey’s violent public image is limiting its growth.

It is.

All in all, the public image of hockey just happens to revolve around fighting. There’s Slapshot, “the greatest hockey movie ever”, with the lovable Hanson Bros. There’s Youngblood in which “[a] skilled young hockey prospect hoping to attract the attention of professional scouts is pressured to show that he can fight if challenged.” Even the Mighty Ducks’ nemesis was a team that physically abused them.

It’s nothing new, and not likely to change anytime soon. Not with Finnish papers cranking out headlines when Olli Määttä, 17, had a fight in his second game with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. Not when newspapers like to choose a fight photo to illustrate any game recap.

That’s unfortunate.

Last Saturday, Son and I went to the local video store to buy candy and while there, he also wanted to rent a movie. Maybe the last Harry Potter movie? Since we have a deal in place, according to which he can only see the Harry Potters which he has also read, I suggested another movie. Maybe the one with a hockey player on the cover.

“Tooth Fairy”. Interesting. I flipped it around and read the plot summary.

“Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson) is a minor league hockey player nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, for hitting opposing players so hard that he knocks out their teeth…”

I put the movie back on the shelf. After all, I need to pick my battles.

I mean, I have to be ready to score on my chances … if I get one.

Risto Pakarinen, a Finnish freelance writer, wrote this in Stockholm, Sweden, just a few blocks from where Lisbet Salander has her apartment in Stieg Larsson’s best-selling thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. You can follow him on Twitter as @puckarinen.

Filed in: | Puckarinen Hits A Post | Permalink
  Tags: fighting, hannes+hyvönen, harry+potter, jack+sparrow

Comments

Hank1974's avatar

I agree. I think the NHL has maxed out it’s fan base.
I really do believe that if the game was cleaned up, and didn’t resemble WWE on skates, the sport could be grown further.

Posted by Hank1974 on 10/17/11 at 12:33 PM ET

SK77's avatar

Very well written piece and I look forward to more of your writing.

Posted by SK77 on 10/17/11 at 12:52 PM ET

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It is a nice piece, and there’s a lot like this that’s been put out in the last few years about how kids enjoy _____ more than hockey but you know what, hockey is a violent sport.  And I’m not talking about the goonery - which although at an all time low and continuously declining (yay) - gets talked about far more than anything else, but about hard hits that can seriously injure players and spontaneous fights that do break out.  It’s a contact sport, and if a person doesn’t like contact sports they won’t like hockey.  And that’s fine. 

As far as you saying if hockey wasn’t like WWE Hank, it would be a lot more popular, I totally disagree.  Hockey will never be big in the US.  And that’s fine too.  The NHL needs to come to the realization that even in ‘hockey cities’ like Detroit, Boston etc. it will still be far behind baseball, basketball, football and whatever else americans find more enthralling.  If anything, the NFL and NBA are far more like WWE than the NHL ever will be with totally manufactured storylines and one or two guys per team getting godhood like personas to the detriment of just about everyone else on their team.

Posted by Cyclone's Ghost from Vancouver on 10/17/11 at 02:43 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Cyclone’s Ghost, I agree that the game won’t become super popular. But I do think it would grow somewhat.
Hockey will never be mentioned in the same breath as MLB, the NBA or NFL. But i do think there’s some room for growth.
Really, I think the main issue with it’s popularity is how many teams there are.
I wonder if the league only had 20 teams, and in very strong markets, would the ratings be better?
There’s a reason why MLB doesn’t have a cap and it’s to ensure sexy markets like Boston and the Yankees can make the postseason every year.

As far as the game being a physical one I agree. As long as you have weapons in your hand and are allowed to make body contact that’s going to happen.

But in amateur levels, I don’t think checking needs to happen for house-league levels.
My son is not an aggressive kid whatsoever but he enjoys hockey a lot. But he doesn’t like it enough to get his head caved in every weekend when playing Pee-wee houseleague hockey.
There’s way more kids like him, than the ones that love checking. It’s why you see registration get cut in half by the time kids hit the Pee-wee age group.
And really, I don’t think it’s fair for grown-ups to say ‘If you don’t like it, then play badminton”. (not saying that’s why you’re saying at all).
I always find it odd that some kids have to quit hockey at 11, and then wait 9 years before they’re allowed to play non-contact rec hockey.
That should be available to them throughout.
It’s why “Pond Hockey” leagues in Alberta are blowing up right now. Kids go on the ice and don’t have to worry about hitting, offsides, rules, positions, screaming parents, etc. It’s just pond hockey. And from what I’ve read, registration for this type of hockey is eclipsing regular hockey leagues in the province.
But perhaps I’m getting off topic. Apologies. wink

Posted by Hank1974 on 10/17/11 at 02:51 PM ET

Avatar

Really decent reply Hank.  As someone who doesn’t have kids (yet), I don’t think about that perspective much, but I totally agree with what you’re saying.  It should be fun, first and foremost.  And you shouldn’t have to worry about getting hit when you’re still learning the basic fundamentals of the game.  All that does is scare kids.

I think the governing bodies of most minor league associations in Canada are moving towards teaching the game the right way, unfortunately change always seems to occur at a glacial pace.  But it is moving in the right direction.  I know when I was a teenager (about 10 years ago), it was all about being both skilled and tough enough.  Talking to my younger cousins that play in the Vancouver area, and obviously you need to be strong on your skates etc, but the emphasis is far more on puck possession and skilled skating than running guys through the boards - which is the way it should be at every level.

Posted by Cyclone's Ghost from Vancouver on 10/17/11 at 05:25 PM ET

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Nice to read a debate that doesn’t end in name calling. Thanks, all.

And sure, hockey is a contact sport, that’s one thing, fights are another. I just think that too often the agenda gets set by the people representing that ultra macho side of things, which I think is a shame.

On a side note, my son now does play badminton. smile

Posted by Puckarinen on 10/17/11 at 05:30 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Cyclone’s Ghost, you’re absolutely right. I’m glad to hear that things are starting to change in that direction.
I have no problems with good clean hitting, but in today’s era, where we know a lot more about concussions, I do believe we need to teach some semblance of responsibility and moral obligation when there’s an opportunity to hit an unsuspecting opponent.

And sure, hockey is a contact sport, that’s one thing, fights are another. I just think that too often the agenda gets set by the people representing that ultra macho side of things, which I think is a shame.

The NHL is to blame for that. They go out of their way to promote some of that stuff.
I always shake my head when I hear Bill Daley or Gary Bettman say they don’t want to get rid of fighting because they fear they’ll lose their audience.
Regardless if you’re pro, or anti fighting, I think it says a lot about today’s game if a sideshow is needed to help promote and sell the sport.
Perhaps they need to look at those oversized goalies, defensive structures and horribly low goals-per-game totals first.

Posted by Hank1974 on 10/17/11 at 05:52 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Risto, get him to a live game or two anyways.

My kids had no interest in hockey until we got them to an ECHL game.  For about the first period they were bored and confused.  By the end of the game they were excited and asking to go to more, and they have not stopped asking to go to more…

So then we took the sets of grandparents, who had no interest in the sport whatsoever and had even looked down upon it.

They then have also asked to go back.

The filter of what hockey is through the media is one thing, actually BEING at a hockey game and experiencing is a completely different thing.  My mother has no interest in sports, but will sit and watch a high school hockey game between schools we have no connection to whatsoever and thoroughly enjoy it.

Over here in the States, the media likes to pump up how important and amazing NASCAR is.  The reality is it’s 3 to 4 hours of guys driving in circles and nothing happening, and is primarily an excuse for people to get reeeaallly drunk.  I’m been to two different NASCAR races and while I enjoyed them in the way of them being unique experiences, I’m not a fan and I never will be.

The product on ice will speak for itself though.  And to be honest, if he flinches that much at the idea of even just hitting, then his problem isn’t so much a hockey one as it might be a sports one…

Posted by Primis on 10/18/11 at 05:38 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

And to be honest, if he flinches that much at the idea of even just hitting, then his problem isn’t so much a hockey one as it might be a sports one…

Lots of great points in your post Primus, but I have to respectfully disagree with the one above.
My oldest son loves sports - he’ll play basketball, baseball, soccer, badminton, swim and flag football.
He’s not an overly aggressive kid at all. It’s just not in his makeup. So contact sports aren’t his bag.
While he has a pretty competitive nature in all the sports he partakes in, he doesn’t enjoy the overly physical nature of hockey. I don’t blame him as he’s built like a bread-stick.
I can see why some kids really enjoy hockey or football. Some of the kids in his class are built like tanks. I’d love contact sports too if I outweighed my peers by 40lbs as an 8-year-old.
But kids like my son just play for the love of the game. Not to get their heads caved in by some kid who has mommy-love me issues. wink

Posted by Hank1974 on 10/18/11 at 05:52 PM ET

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About Puckarinen Hits A Post

Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden.

That's right, he's deep behind the enemy lines. He's also a regular contributor to IIHF.com, NHL.com, The Hockey News, and several publications in Finland and Sweden. He's also covered four World Championships and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the IIHF.

And since he foolishly hoisted the Stanley Cup in his twenties, he wakes up every morning knowing he will never be able to win it.