Those are the exact words you hear every time it comes up to around the 8th of October. That magical time of the year when the Zambonis are serviced, the skates sharpened, the sticks flexed, and the bodies checked. Oh yes, October means only one thing: hockey is BACK.
I’ve been a fan of hockey for about 9 years now, after playing a chance demo of NHL 2001 on the PS2 (I’ve just reviewed the latest iteration, NHL 11 over on Press X Or Die if you’re interested in that). It’s a game that captivated me at the time: high-action, high-tempo, high-contact sport, miles away from football (that’s soccer), yet still required a great deal of knowledge of specific rules as to how you can and can’t hit, pass and so on. There’s always so much happening that it’s kinda hard to keep up with, but enough to keep you at the edge of your seat instead of sitting through say, 70 minutes of build-up and only 20 minutes worth of serious offense.
With the season being only a few weeks old though, I must have a bit of concern over these rules on the hitting. As much as I like the heavy-handedness of hockey, some of what I’ve witnessed this season’s been above and beyond what’s necessary. A lot of rough hits, fights and injuries, and controversy. Time to have a look at some of these bruise bringers.
First up, of the games I’ve seen, let’s go to Chicago vs Buffalo.
Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson’s hit on Jason Pomminville of the Buffalo Sabres.
Now while you might think that Pomminville may have seen Hjalmarsson coming out of the corner of his eye and maybe could have avoided it, surely the argument should be that Hjalmarsson could have avoided hitting him at all. First rule about hitting: if you can read the guy’s name and number on his back, then you shouldn’t be going for the check. Hitting from behind’s cheap and unsportsmanlike, and the victim hasn’t got the chance to brace himself for the impact, as evidenced by his head taking a violent bounce off the plexiglass, knocking him clean out and needing a stretcher to cart him off the ice. A game misconduct, 5 for boarding and an additional 2-game suspension for that seems about right. Just punishment in an effort to keep this nastiness out of the game.
In the same game, we had this crunch from Tyler Myers on Fernando Pisani:
That looked a bit rougher than what was necessary, but given that tempers were flaring in the wake of the earlier hit from Hjalmarsson, you can bet both teams weren’t exactly all buddy-buddy.
In the return game, we had this hit from Kim Johnsson:
A few days later we had the Phoenix Coyotes visiting the Honda Center in Anaheim to face the Ducks, and Shane Doan was laying the smackdown against a team he’s known to hate:
This is borderline stuff, because I think Cam Fowler may have tripped over his own feet on the way into the net, but Doan’s knee and the ever-unforgiving boards don’t exactly do you any favours. In fact, just looking back at it again, I think it was the keeper that tripped him on a poke check to try to trap the puck for himself. It looked like it couldn’t be helped, but nonetheless that’s dangerous play to board someone like that (intentionally or not) and he could have been seriously injured, as evidenced by the way his helmet popped off on impact.
That’s just within 3 games of action, imagine what I could come up with if I watched every game every week? Now I know ice hockey’s a physically demanding game, both over the space of 3 20-minute periods (+ possible overtime of 5), and multiply that by an 82-game season, factor in the playoffs and you know that you really have to give up a lot of your body to make it in the NHL. Duncan Keith, 2010 Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup winner, lost 7 teeth to a stray slapshot in the playoffs last year, and laughed it off like it was nothing. That is what winning means to these guys, that they’d give it up, broken teeth, cracked ribs, concussions, whatever. These guys are tough nuts, and they could certainly show the prima-donnas of the Premier League a thing or two when it comes with putting up with a little bit of physicality in sports.