Thursday, March 11, 2004

THIS BERTUZZI THING: I'm not really a hockey fan--nobody is anymore, except Eric McErlain. It's somewhere down around the Arena Football League (and possibly below college hockey, at this point; wouldn't you rather see BC-BU or Michigan-Michigan State?) in the American sports consciousness. I cannot speak for the Canadian sports consciousness. But Eric links to Colby Cosh, who can:

All Outrage, All the Time: If USA Today doesn't like hockey, and its sportswriters don't know anything about hockey, you'd think they'd have the common sense to shut up about hockey. You'd be wrong! Ian O'Connor has such a refined understanding of the game that he makes Wayne Gretzky out to be a spokesman for its most violent impulses (huhwha??) and warns that the league may not survive the death of a player from an ill-timed hit (looks like they've forgotten you already, Billy Masterton). The nonsensical shrieking continues unabated under the byline of Christine Brennan, a writer whose work on figure skating I admire greatly but which makes her credentials to discuss this topic possibly somewhat questionable. "Who among us would notice if, this autumn, we found ourselves surveying a sports landscape without major league hockey?" she asks. Gee, I don't know... NHL fans?

In more Brennan's (who I like) than O'Connor's (who I don't read) defense, they do write for USA Today--and the USA is a nation of people who have abandoned the NHL. And when Brennan asks who would notice the disappearance of the NHL, the answer is, in America, almost nobody. Yes, Colby is right, NHL fans would notice--but there aren't that many left.

I have never believed the theories that fighting limits the appeal of the NHL, but after this incident, and noticing the disparity of opinions between 1. hockey fans and people close to hockey culture, and 2. casual hockey fans or casual sports fans--the people who read the hockey scores in the paper but make no effort to see games--I'm starting to think the fights are a reason people get turned off. I mean--if you hit a batter and there's even a whiff of retribution for an earlier hit batsman, you're considered a total bastard in baseball. If you even think about retribution in the NBA, D. Stern comes down on you like a ton of bricks. And I've never even heard of retribution in football. And as been pointed out throught the Bertuzzi saga, at (pounds fist on desk after each word) every other level of ice hockey fighting is not tolerated. Why is still tolerated in the NHL? Is it anything but an anachronism?

I mean--you can bullshit about passion all you want, passion is not unique to professional hockey. Vendettas carried out not by out-competing the opponent but by physically beating him down are. My opinion is that if you think what Bertuzzi did is in any way acceptable--from the act itself down to the Vancouver Canucks franchise-wide desicion to git Steven Moore--you are waaaay too close to the National Hockey League to have some perspective on why this really is ridiculous. Maybe Eric is right about how their used to be a code in the NHL and the influx of foreigners has sort of eroded the code. Fine and dandy but that doesn't make the code any less dead. Look, the NHL is sort of at its nadir right now, kind of like the NBA in the 70s. You only talk about it when something goes drastically wrong. It has to change or it will die and getting rid of a primitive element that has no place in modern sports would be a good start.

Gawd, I'm getting all high-horsey here. I just want to suggest that while fighting isn't the only problem with the NHL it is a problem, and as long as it is a part of the game the hockey cult is not going to get a lot of new members. AND I want to hypothesize that any loss of the NHL after this season will lead to a lot more college hockey fans, a sport that is already on the way up up UP. There you go.

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