Reading the newest issue of The Hockey News, a letter was published that read like a eulogy of “Old Time Hockey”. As I read it, I had to laugh at one guy’s complaint. He said, “no longer do we see bench brawls, blindside hits, or breaking sticks over backs”. He goes on to bemoan the newest trends of hockey, “visors, shootouts, and Twitter” and that the game has been “diminished to the point where players now have to consider the consequences of a hit, instead of the adulation”.
I shake my head at these people. I can’t figure out why they are sad these days are gone. Do I like a fight or two? Yeah sure, but to unnecessarily break up the flow of a game; I’ll pass on that. There’s no skill to whacking a guy with your stick, but there is finesse in today’s game. Honestly, if I want to go see staged antics and guys wailing on each other for 60 minutes, I’ll turn on WWE’s RAW on Monday nights.
Hockey is about hockey, and through the years the sport has changed: nets have become smaller, the two line pass is a thing of the past, Gordie Howe retired, goalies wear masks. As Peter pointed out in a past podcast, comparing the sport now and then is too difficult. The game isn’t played the same way; the shift has gone towards a game of skill rather than a game of brawn.
The sport has changed, but you’re still going to see brawls. Every time the Rangers face off against the Devils, the goon line starts. Within a second of the puck drop, the gloves drop too.
And what about today’s game between the Flyers and the Penguins?
15 penalties called in the final minutes of the game. It was an all out brawl with a side of verbal brawling between the coaches. The moments leading up to that fight? Filled with slashing, stick breaking, dirty hits, and hooking. You can’t tell me any of that required actual hockey skill. The culmination of poor refereeing and the fact that it was the Flyers vs Penguins lead to that.
The game is ever evolving. You’ll rarely see feuds in the press like the one between Patrick Roy and Jeremy Roenick in which Roy so famously stated, “I can’t really hear what Jeremy says because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.” Their verbal sparring is legendary and I’m sure if you put them in a room together today, they’d go at it like old times. Today you get a few one liners, but nothing as extensive and on going as they had.
Going back one year, you have the Penguin vs Islanders brawl on February 11th, 2011 which had a combine 346 PIM. That was record setting. You want to talk about the death of “old time hockey”, which I’m assuming this guy meant the death of fighting really, what about that game? There was no talent involved, it was straight up retribution for an earlier game. And at the end of the game? The NY Daily News ran a story with this:
"We're a family, and Cousin (Michael) Haley jumped right in," fourth-line tough guy Zenon Konopka said. "A lot of liberties have been taken over the course of the season, and it can only be built up so much before it comes out. I'm proud of everyone for sticking up for each other."
There’s still a sense of loyalty but you’re not sticking your neck out every game to prove this loyalty.
Besides how can you expect a true rivalry to form that would lead to those kinds of brawls, when next week there’s a chance that you could be on that team? Players go where the paycheck is more often than not. Which means everything is now a historical or fan base rivalry. You see the chirping on Twitter because once the skates come off, there’s a good chance these guys are friends from their time in college or earlier. You want to win the game, obviously, but what are the chances you’re going to want to bash in your friend’s face? Between trades and just the friendships that have formed over the years of playing, you don’t see that passionate hatred.
Stop trying to recapture the past. Moving forward isn’t terrible. There have been some questionable changes over the years, but at the end of the day, hockey is a progressive sport. Don’t mourn the loss of the insanity; embrace the fact that players like Pavel Datsyuk and Jaromir Jagrare wowing us night after night with their hockey skills.