There is no love lost most of the time in the game of hockey, especially at the professional level. That was no more apparent than when the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils dropped their gloves and had a bare-knuckled brawl at the opening puck drop of the March 19th contest. In my eyes, this is hockey at it’s finest.
Am I really suggesting that there be a 30’s style boxing match at the beginning of every game? No, but it would be interesting at least for a while.
What I am suggesting is that the fact that this can even occur makes this sport great. Is it good gamesmanship? Not really. Is it something to teach our kids, probably not. Is it vengeful? YES. Is it something that children that will eventually play this sport learn in the long run anyway? Ab-so-lute-ly.
All of this stems from an incident last December on New Jersey’s home ice. New York head coach John Tortorella started two of his “tough guys” on the first line in that game to which New Jersey head coach Pete DeBoer took exception. DeBoer got his retribution at Madison Square Garden when he started his 4th line, that consisted mainly of “fighters”. DeBoer was quoted as saying “He’s either got short-term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite”, referencing the December game, and that Tortorella was screaming and shouting profanity toward the Devils bench right before the face-off.
Hypocrite or not, the right thing to do or not, I immediately fell in love with it. Even though it was obviously premeditated, and I’ll bett (wink wink) that commissioner Gary Bettman won’t care for it one iota, it’s good for the game. Hockey can still get away with this. There is no other sport in the world where this is to a certain point “acceptable”. Rugby doesn’t count, brutality is built-in there.
If you still disagree with me, I’m fine with that. I know the crowd that witnessed the melee on the ice 3 seconds into the game are on board with me. Ok, maybe the fans were a little confused because it was New Jersey that initiated the flare up. That, or there were a whole bunch of Devils fans in the seats. OR, all fans just love a good old-fashioned hockey fight, and they got what they wanted before the time-keeper could take their finger off the button.
No matter how you feel about it you should be able to see the value in this. The inherent value here is that there is true passion in this rivalry. I’m not saying there isn’t passionate rivalry in other sports, but there is nothing like this. NHL teams line up to shake hands at the end of the game, even if someone had their teeth knocked out earlier. Where else do you get competition like that in the United States?
No where. Live on passionate, bloody-knuckled, crushed the boards, hook-tripping face-planted, hand-shaking sportsmanship… Live on.