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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Personal Fandom Takes a Body-Blow

Being an American hockey fan means that there are more than a few things working against you these days. You don't have consistent televised coverage of games, especially if you live outside of the northeast U.S. or Canada. You also don't have much to work with as far as having fun or competent columnists to write to you about the game and about their feelings on the sport.

I've taken the media on the whole to task for failing in their role as gatekeepers - in keeping fans and casual curious outsiders apprised of what's going on with the game for better or for worse. There are a small handful of folks who I appreciate seeing what they've got to say and what their take is on the game. Others, I appreciate their passion for the game and their "love it at all costs" demeanor...when it's within reason - blind fandom is never a good thing because you'll miss everything else going on around you.

That is why I am so disheartened and disappointed with this piece by ESPN (the Network!)'s lone on-air true hockey soldier, John Buccigross.

I know, it's not really the best of reading given that it's basically a game blog going over what he sees in the game and what's going on. This time, he tackled the recent Stanley Cup Final rematch between Ottawa and Anaheim played in California.

Having not seen the game, you'd read that and would likely think, "Man, Ottawa is in big trouble and the Ducks are going to run away and hide come playoff time destroying everyone along the way."

Not so fast...

Missing from this game outline are a few facts:

Three Ottawa players had to leave the ice due to injury: Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros and captain Daniel Alfredsson. Bad breaks and bad luck you're figuring, correct?

Wrong. Volchenkov and Meszaros both left the game after egregious hits from behind and Alfredsson left after being on the bad end of a cross-check.

Buccigross does make mention of Senators coach Bryan Murray getting tossed out of the game - an extreme rarity in hockey. What were the circumstances though? Why would he get thrown out of a game where, according to the box score, saw hardly any penalties called at all? Seems pedestrian for an NHL game, doesn't it?

Ahh there's the rub I was looking for - this game was called in perfect preparation for the coming playoffs where officials don't want to be the ones to decide the game and make the back-breaking call that leads to the deciding goal of the game. No ref wants to be bigger than the game itself, save for Bill McCreary and Kerry Fraser.

However the referees on this night were Wes McCauley and Kelly Sutherland and they did, in fact, make themselves part of the game by letting most everything go...well, except for Teemu Selanne pulling a full gainer on an apparent trip and drawing the penalty (missing the obvious diving call in the process).

They also managed to botch up back-to-back too many men on the ice calls. The first being a no-call on the Ducks as they had guys going around all willie-nillie as they were lazily making a line change. These calls, while they can be confusing are easy to make - it's not hard to see a team screw up their line change so badly that you can see six or even seven skaters on the ice. The second call was one that was, at first, going to be made against Ottawa and to the officials credit they did count six Senators skaters on the ice. The problem was that goaltender Martin Gerber was already on the bench after being pulled for the, yes the term is right, extra skater.

How do you miss the goaltender not being on the ice?!

All of these things ultimately lead to Bryan Murray getting so fed up with everything that he pulled a trick out of the baseball manager's playbook and complained loudly and often enough to be thrown out of the game.

For the life of me, I can't remember the last time I saw an NHL head coach actually get kicked out of the game, but I can remember the last time any coach was tossed from a game and that was back in 2002 in Division III in the ECAC East Finals between the Norwich University Cadets and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Mohawks.

Murray, to his discredit/yellow-belliedness, put the blame upon himself for earning his team another penalty and getting thrown out.

“I talked to the referees during the game and I took a bad penalty,” Murray
said. “I apologized to them (his players). I put them in a bad spot. It was a
2-1 game and we had a chance to win.

“I took a second penalty and cost them the game. I should never do that and
it won’t happen again.”

Murray blew a golden opportunity here to put the league offices on notice that there are heap-big shenanigans going on during Ducks games and that having a couple of referees with marginal experience. McCauley has been an NHL ref since 2001, Sutherland since 1999 with a combined 22 playoff games worked between them (18 for Sutherland, 4 for McCauley). These guys ought to know better, but they're obviously inexperienced in handling a game that would likely have a lot of heat to it.

I would've given you a link to the website for NHL officials, but apparently even linking to their site is forbidden by the NHLofficials and their dot.com page because it's copyrighted. Thankfully, yours truly is a skilled wordsmith and you can piece it together nicely. Whoever said the NHL wasn't fan friendly?

Buccigross also fails in respect to what happens to Alfredsson - mentioning only what Alfredsson did during the Finals last year, firing the puck at one of his man-crushes Niedermayer in an inappropriate manner. Apparently failing to mention that Alfredsson was crushed by a cross-check illegally is OK.

The other side of this coin are the Ducks who were playing the role, again, of the out of control goon squad allowed to do whatever the hell they want to on the ice under the guise of teamwork. Yes, Booch mentions all throughout his piece that the Ducks are playing great and they're clicking and all that other silly sport-speak. What goes untalked about is the disgusting manner of play employed by Anaheim - a style of play that would've fit in perfectly with the Devils and Stars alike during the NHL Offensive Dark Ages but shouldn't be flying with anyone nowadays.

But yet, here we are. Amazing isn't it?

Here we are in a season with a player preparing to do something that no one has done since Mario Lemieux was in his peak and other offensive stars are doing their damnedest to take the headlines - but which team is getting picked out by many to run away and hide againd during the playoffs? The Ducks.

Brian Burke's band of cheats and goons are the fashionable pick by the experts to win it all again, but at what cost? I stressed this when I started this forum and I'll stress it now - we're going back to the beginning again and the gatekeepers are playing dumb all in the name of portraying the NHL in the bright and glowing light they want to put it in.

All's not sunshine and roses though and when even the staunchest of hockey fans turn away in disgust when every whistle turns into a scrum and questionable and dirty hits dictate the play once again - what will the response be from the league?

It'll be the same as it always is - Gary Bettman commending the finalists and handing the Cup over to the gang of thugs who played the dirtiest to get it. Hooray hockey!

1 comment:

Matt P. said...

To wipe out an entire season for nothing only for this style of hockey to emerge? Priceless.

I guess Anaheim winning another cup will give Bettman another opporunity to say how well loved hockey is in California.

The man couldn't make a good decision to save his life. Play another outdoor game. Better yet, play five and ruin that too Gary.