I am lucky. I grew up loving hockey, and I've always been drawn primarily to the skill, the finesse of games. I get excited every time I see a 2-on-1 developing, watching a well-machined powerplay unit can be beautiful, and watching the amazing acrobatics and reflexes of the famous netminders is breathtaking. I'm too young to remember the true glory days of the Islanders, but I'll never forget the atmosphere in the Colloseum when Shawn Bates scored on the penalty shot in the '02 playoffs. It is for moments like that that I watch hockey.
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As a real fan, I also understand the importance of grit and determination, seeing your players stand up for themselves and their teammates and showing their will to win at all costs (All fair costs; I am in no way advocating cheap shots). I've spent my fair share of time watching the great fights on youtube. They are amusing, but to me not the main emblem of the sport.
Most of this country is not so lucky as us. All they know about hockey is "heh heh, I tried going to the fights last night, but a hockey game broke out", or they hear the name Todd Bertuzzi and have no idea that he was on one of the most dominant first lines in the league, all they know is "he is violent and hockey is a terrible violent sport". Or they see a two-second video clip of one guy's stick in another guy's face. This is hockey's real violence problem: People who only see the worst side of our favorite sport, and assume it is all the same. And this is something the league needs to continue to address, and perhaps find new solutions.
As an example, I will talk about the Simon incident. I am not trying to defend what he did, there needs to be a line and players need to be held accountable. I am going to talk about the specifics of this very unusual situation, and how (and my opinions on why) the league handled it.
The play started when Ryan Hollweg checked Simon from behind into the boards. Simon was seriously injured on this hit; he blacked out, and had such a bad concussion that, days later, he was not cleared by his doctors to travel to Toronto for his hearing with the league (the hearing was held in New York instead). The refs did not see the hit, and no penalty was called. Had nothing followed, and had this clip been the one to reach tv, maybe the league would have reviewed it, and maybe given a 1-3 game suspension, maybe. But then, Simon (who claimed to not remember this afterwards) turned around and apparently swung his stick at neck/head level towards his assailant. Hollweg played 10 minutes (above his average) the very next night. Yet this clip was the one that reached the national public, and this is the clip that outraged people who already had a negative impression and zero knowledge of the game. The league needed to do something drastic to show the world that it does not allow its players to use their sticks as weapons.
Had the situation been analyzed without the scrutiny of the anti-hockey public, perhaps the outcome would be different. I agree wholeheartedly that things of this nature cannot be allowed to happen, and cannot be let go lightly. However, in the light of his injury and the conspicuous absence of injury to Hollweg, perhaps the league would have been lenient. I could see 5 games minimum, 15 maximum, a fine, and definitely no carry-over into the next season. Also, reviewing the play, I could see the league giving Hollweg a 1-game suspension, maybe 3. After all, he did injure a player, and the whole point is to keep the players safe. The league was influenced by its need to save face, to make a show of penalizing Simon, just so that the naysayers can only say "its a violent sport" instead of "its a sport that promotes violence". So Simon missed the rest of the season, and will miss the beginning of next season, although afterwards he will return to the Islanders, where he will be welcome and play an important team role.
The league does have a problem with violence. That problem is in the perception of the sport. The league must continue to find a way to promote the "better" aspects of the sport, so when issues like this arise in the future, it can focus on resolving the situation in the best and most fair way possible, not in the way that looks least bad on tv.
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