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Les Habitants and the theatre of the absurd
Be forewarned, the following is written by a native of Toronto, Ontario.
Many things could be taken away from the Montreal Canadien’s thorough beating at the hands of the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, for example, that once again it seems as though size is an issue for The Habs.
However, all that Montreal’s players seemed to take away from the game, if you watched their post-game interviews (and that of their coach), was that The Leafs are dirty, and that Mikail Grabovski bit Max Pacioretty.
Then again, this is Montreal, where the theatre of hockey often takes precedence over the game of hockey.
Who can forget their mislead foray into hiring an English speaking coach? When The Habs’ brass fired Jacques Martin and replaced him with Randy Cunneyworth, an Anglophone, there was outrage, an outrage that succeeded in distracting all of us from the real problems that seem to affect a team that had only recently had a deep, although surprising, playoff run.
No one seemed willing to discuss the fact that while the Leafs were being so nasty, they were also dominating the Habs from the opening faceoff onward. The Habs looked punchless on a Hockey Night in Canada game with their biggest historical rivals, in their own rink.
The Maple Leafs, a truly Burkian team.
After the first frame of Saturday’s all-Canadian slug fest, Don Cherry, as is his custom, dropped a truth bomb wrapped in several other minutes of blustery-incoherence: If Randy Carlyle had been the coach when Brian Burke got to Toronto, he’d likely still be the team’s general manager.
How painfully ironic is it that just as he gets fired, in a truly inexplicable fashion, the team he said he would build finally shows up? Saturday’s game was quintessential Burke hockey: the defence was solid, the goaltending perfect, and the forwards played an exciting, yet defensively responsible game. Oh yeah, and truculence abounded.
The Leafs lead the league in hits and fighting majors, and have for the first time since the late nineties, become a physically imposing team.
While it has been a small sample size, and though it appears this team is not quite there yet (although that could be a symptom of years of watching countless Toronto sports teams burn out) The Leafs definitely play a more sustainable style of hockey. One always had the feeling, even when they were riding high, that Ron Wilson’s run and gun style teetered on the verge of collapse. And, collapse it did.
The Devils make fools of us all again
Did any of us prognosticators remember at the beginning of this shortened season that the New Jersey Devils made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year? Year after year we count The Devils out, and year after year we’re wrong. Why? Martin Brodeur’s apparent finding of the Holy Grail helps. So does this franchise’s uncanny ability to replace great players. Moreover, Lou Lamoriello seems to consistently demand his players to play unselfishly and they consistently respond in the affirmative.
The Devils are 8-1-3 and just swept a home-and-home with this year’s sexy Cup pick, The Pittsburgh Penguins.
Finally, more truculence
I’ve read many pieces written since the bloody affair at The Bell Centre over the weekend having to do with violence, particularly fighting in hockey. I will spare you both the over-acted indignation of stuffy sports-writer-intellectuals, and that old refrain from the games hawks “ever see someone turn away when there’s a fight?” I will even avoid the non-committal fence sitting of “it’s part of the game”.
Instead, may I ask, is there really a categorical difference between fighting and any of the other built-in violence of the game?
Let’s revisit some hockey terminology:
The ‘clean’ hit: This apparently is reserved for a player’s attempt to seriously hurt another player within the confines of the rules, i.e., not directly to the head, from behind, or being ‘late’ etc. Anyone who says that the player is not intending to hurt the other player with a clean hit has probably never a) been on the receiving end of a really good, open ice hit. Or b) never given one. How preposterous is it to argue that skating full speed at another human, and then throwing your entire weight into him, is not done for the expressed purpose of hurting them?
‘Battling’ or ‘battling down low’: One of the oft unexamined terms in the hockey lexicon, this refers to the contact that takes place behind and directly in front of the goal. What an innocuous euphemism for slashing, cross checking, slew-footing, and face washing? The acts are not as dangerous as bare knuckle boxing on skates, but the spirit is definitely similar.
Crashing the net: This occurs when an opposing team member (or several) carries the puck directly into the goalie, trying to use the force of their body to edge the puck into the net, or create a fortuitous rebound. In many cases this is done repeatedly to ‘rattle’ the goaltender. Which, when unpacked, simply means to make him psychologically unhinged. How’s that for disconcerting?
The difference between fighting and other, non-fighting violence in hockey, to me anyway, appears to be that fighting is not verbally diminished; it cannot be softened by vague terminology or hidden in the speed of the game. When a fight starts everything else stops, and this amount of direct focus has clearly skewed how we talk about it in relation to the many other examples of violence in the game.
I admit, there is a difference between fighting and the other violence that no one seems to have a problem with, but I don’t think it’s a categorical one. They are all just symptoms of the same desire to win, and the same temper and testosterone that fuels that desire. Fighting is just a more bloody and emphatic expression of the general hockey ethos.
By Jesse B