Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I wasn’t really going to bring this up because I don’t like to dwell on these sorts of incidents and I've already criticized Ovechkin's style of play, but Barry Melrose was on PTI today and was an absolute troglodyte. He made hockey fans everywhere look like a group of brain-dead, gorilla juice-heads out for blood.
Let’s begin with Matt Cooke’s head shot on Marc Savard. Melrose said that there was nothing wrong with this hit by the rules of the NHL and technically he’s correct. But doesn’t this constitute an attempt to injure? Don Cherry brought up the same point and took Matt Cooke to town better than I can do (hey, credit where it’s due). Check out last week's Coach's Corner and try to find a flaw in Cherry's argument. None! It's becoming less frequent as he ages, but Cherry still has great points from time to time. Note the point where Grapes gets totally badass and talks about how he told Cooke to his face that he’s gutless.
The other major smear on hockey was Alex Ovechkin’s hit on Brian Campbell in Sunday’s matchup aired live on NBC. Washington Capitals fans will immediately take issue with my use of the word “hit”. You’re right; Ovechkin didn’t hit Campbell from behind. But what he did was just as bad.
Where Brian Campbell was hit is the most vulnerable position on the ice for a defenceman. When you’re right against the boards being slammed with a vicious hit it isn’t as horrible as it looks, merely because the boards help absorb the force. When you’re a few feet from the boards and you get hit you feel the entire force of the hit, plus the force from the boards when you subsequently hit them. This becomes more dangerous because a jarring hit can knock you off balance and if your head hits the boards or you fly awkwardly into them you’re in big trouble. I took physics is grade 11 and did reasonably poorly. I know what I’m talking about.
Now, what’s even worse about the hit is that Campbell is skating back to retrieve the puck. His momentum is already going behind the goal line. His back is turned to Ovechkin. You don’t have to drill someone to send them flying. All it takes is a simple push. Ovechkin is 6’2 and 225 lbs. Brian Campbell is only 6’0 and 188 lbs. What do you think is going to happen in this situation? What did Ovechkin think was going to happen in this situation? What did he think was going to happen as he skated maniacally down the ice after Campbell? Barry Melrose defended Ovechkin by saying he let up. Congratulations, he didn’t skate right through Campbell and kill him. It wasn’t a charge, but it was a blatant penalty.
The hit on Campbell is clear-cut boarding. There is so much talk around the league that players shouldn’t put themselves in the position where another player can kill them. Players need to take some responsibility. Doesn’t this sound like the argument that rapists use? And in Campbell’s case, what was he supposed to do. Not retrieve the puck? Hang back and let Ovechkin take it first? There’s nothing he could have done to protect himself and at that point he was at Ovechkin’s mercy. That is the point where players need to show each other respect.
It’s being reported today that Brian Campbell will miss 7 to 8 weeks. That isn’t quite the rest of the season depending on how far the Blackhawks make it in the playoffs (which isn’t quite the same lock it was with Campbell). Ovechkin is suspended for two games and his response is dissatisfying.
“As players we must accept responsibility for our actions and I am no different but I did not intend to injure Brian and that is why I was disappointed with the NHL's decision yesterday. Every time I have the honor to play for my team, I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans.” (via TSN)
He's been taught to play hard. Clearly he does so and 99% of the time it's amazing. But has he been taught the rules of hockey. Boarding perhaps? Has he been taught respect for other players? There clearly wasn’t any respect for Campbell on the play. You can’t tell me otherwise. When a player is that far away from the boards and you hit or push him from behind you know exactly what is going to happen. He didn’t intend to injure Campbell (which is the reason he’s disappointed with the suspension), but he certainly meant to hurt him.
That’s what I find hilarious about people’s responses when they cross the line. They do mean to hurt their victim! Always! Most players that hit do so to inflict pain. They want them to feel pain on the bench. They want to induce fear in the corners. They just don’t want to inflict a serious injury. Even if their victim misses a few games then it’s just a part of the game, right? But, they don’t want a serious injury. A player like Pavel Datsyuk hits people, but does so in order to get the puck. A player like Jordin Tootoo hits people to hurt them with no regards for the puck.
I don’t want to come off as someone who advocates removing hitting from hockey. That’s the exact opposite. I think hockey is a fantastic game and I think the physicality is a big part of that. I love big hits. But I love clean hits. There is no room in the game of hockey for cheap shots. Players need to respect each other. If a player is in a vulnerable position where you can attack their head from the blindside or plough them through the boards from behind you need to let up. It seems so simple to me. How are people resisting this?
Matt Cooke already solidified his reputation as a cheap shot artist long ago. Unfortunately, Alex Ovechkin is accumulating a long list himself and doesn’t seem too concerned about it.