Did Hockey Go?
No matter how bad life gets, I know that hockey is there for me. It is an altar
on which I sacrifice my aggressions. It keeps me from killing the neighbor's
What I want to know is, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY GAME?
Every year hockey disintegrates into "family viewing." The NHL
issues more dictates to make the game OSHA-compliant, G-rated, PTA-approved.
I blame it on the Mighty Ducks.
Hockey is no place for Disney, and why did they come around to begin with?
Did they mistake it for the National Hokey League? Hockey is for gladiators.
We should be trying to incorporate lions into the sport.
Fights are down 50% over the past three years. That's something, like...half!
What am I to do with all this hostility?
Remember the days when Gretzky got checked? The fans would hush, the referee
would squirm, and out jumped Marty McSorely to hunt down the culprit. The
rest was Batman: Splosh! Bammo! Wham! Talk about drama.
There is nothing more exciting than a hockey fight. Sticks drop, gloves
fly, and the showdown begins. On special nights you get a line brawl, mano
a mano, goalie a goalie. And the fans exult like so many Romans.
Duck fans can't appreciate the unwritten rules that a player picks up along
the way. If you shoot the puck after a whistle, a large man thumps you on
the nose. You learn. If you knee a guy with the intent to injure, five men
thump you on the nose. And you learn.
It's like The Godfather before the senate hearings ruined the series: sometimes
it gets bloody but only out of respect for the family-er, team.
The hockey fight also has a purging effect. Like a hard rain. Or a good
vomit. Skill players get a much needed rest, entertainment included, and
the contest begins anew.
Yet the NHL meddles. Disney is meeting with the commissioner right now to
propose more Mickey Mouse calls. So it goes.
Let us count the ways we have sissified hockey:
Two referees: no more jostling behind the puck.
The instigator penalty: no dropping the gloves without consent.
Jersey straps: no more bestial, bare-chested brawls.
Automatic game misconduct: no Round Two.
Whistles any time someone falls: no more hitting.
What's next, tea and crumpets between periods? If we must add rules, how
about too many women on the ice?
Remember when referees would pocket their whistle and let the boys decide
the score for themselves? Man, was that fun. In overtime you could discharge
small weapons, providing they were licensed. There was spearing and elbowing
and washing of the face, and it made you so mad that you wanted to shout, "I
love this game!"
Now hockey is like Dallas without J.R., Nascar without accidents, Hostess
cupcakes without crème filling! Some stations even censor fights by
cutting to commercial. Who are they to decide? It's like missionaries breaking
in and stealing your girly mags.
"It's such a brutal game," say Duck moms.
Yes, but it's the only thing that makes your overinsured, lawsuit-driven,
café-mocha-sipping world tolerable.
Even checking isn't checking anymore. Players are terrified of the whistle:
charging, roughing, tripping, using the lord's name in vain. Yesterday a
guy tapped his opponent on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, sir, but
I'll be checking you momentarily. Please don't overreact."
Commissioner: stop the madness. The tenets of hockey are older than ice.
Your job is not to domesticate the game but to make sure the fans are enjoying
themselves. Hear that roar in the distance? A fight is breaking out, and
the spectators are going nuts. They may even order $10 beers.
If we maintain our present tack, hockey will go the way of basketball: "Johnson
dribbles to the key and is fouled. Smith passes to the perimeter and is fouled.
Talk has turned to mandatory face masks, stage four in the conspiracy. The
ostensible reason is to protect players' eyes, but we know the truth: enforcers
will have nothing to swing at. The best they can do is tattle on each other.
Still-sigh-there is no substitute for hockey. Even if the NHL reduces the
sport to figure skating with sticks, I'll have to keep watching...but I won't
be held responsible for what happens to the neighbor's dog.