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Fighting words

Henrik Sedin

Henrik Sedin

I am off hockey as many of you will know.

It should’ve been a great start for the season. For the Rafe of old, the Canadiens beat the Leafs on opening night, in Toronto, 4 to 3 scoring the winning goal with 33 seconds to go and not on a power-play. In days of yore that would’ve sent me down to the Georgia Beer Parlour to look for Leaf fans to hassle. Moreover, for the Rafe of today, the Canucks won their first game.

My disaffection could not have been more neatly summed up than by the opposite of recent statements by Brian Burke, now of the Calgary Flames, uncritically supporting the violence of today and vowing that we’ll see lots of it from his team.

I should tell you, we have a history. Many years ago, Burke tried to get me fired from CKNW merely because I had said, on air, that Brian Burke gets into the asshole Hall of Fame without the usual five year waiting period. I have not changed my mind.

In any event Burke is all in favour of violent hockey complete with fighting. He deplores the fact that many ex-players like former Boston Bruin tough guy, Mike Milbury, have seen the light and now are preaching against violence in hockey.

I don’t suppose those of us that deplore violence in what should be a beautiful game will ever make much headway.

Those who say hockey would never be the same without violence, are right. It would be a hell of a lot better game and we would see the speedy forwards and the agile defensemen in a much better light than we do now.

There is the question of injury. Almost every hockey player who lasts for a while comes out with a great many permanent injuries often requiring a lifetime of operations. Concussions are a common problem in hockey and while they would never be eliminated, they could be much reduced if the game was a clean one.

Moreover, at the risk of being corny, what ever happened to sportsmanship? There is a rule against “unsportsmanlike conduct” in hockey. What a joke. That, surely, is the oxymoron of oxymorons of all time!

Soccer does not tolerate violence or fighting and it really is hockey on turf. Football doesn’t tolerate it either and as the man once said, “football is not a contact sport, dancing is a contact sport, football is a collision sport”. They don’t tolerate violence or fighting in rugby where a great number of the players are put into very close contact many times during the game whenever there is a scrum.

I will, as now is my wont, carelessly follow the Canucks and other teams. It’s pretty hard not to considering that sports pages from now until next summer will be wall to wall hockey. But I can’t get very excited. I would love to see players like the Sedins be able to open up and play the kind of hockey of which they are capable. That the scores might be higher doesn’t bother me a bit. A 6 to 5 hockey game with lots of wide open skating to me is a joy to watch.

No, I will not get my way and even if I do, it won’t be until long after I am gone. That does not prevent me from saying, more’s the pity.

While I would be the first to admit that hockey players are better today than they were when I was younger, the game was better to watch back in those days. When you could see the Bentley brothers, small men, Rocket Richard in full flight, his brother Henri skating like the wind, defensemen like Doug Harvey or Tim Horton, goaltenders like the acrobatic Jacques Plante or the steady Terry Sawchuck – there was a game!

What a pity it is that the fathers of hockey in those days, didn’t ban altogether the fighting – which was minimal. Then what a game we would have today!

To quote Lincoln out of context, The world will little note nor long remember what Rafe Mair thinks about hockey in 2014.

Be that as it may, that’s my opinion, like it or not and that’s what I get paid the big bucks to render from time to time.

What’s yours?

5 Responses to “Fighting words”

  1. luigi says:

    The sport, of course, reached the heights of brutality when the fanatical Philadelphia fans of the fighting Flyer thugs showed the American bosses of the game that if you create a large enough spectacle, there will be an audience for the NHL in the U.S.
    But what really turns me off about the NHL is the continual tinkering with the rules of the game. Do the NBA, NFL or, god forbid, Major League Baseball, change the rules of their sport annually, if not more often? No they don’t.
    But the American masters are hellbent on messing with the rules of hockey to the point of being ridiculous and absolutely ruining the product. What was the matter with the rules we had? Nothing, I would surmise. But it’s all abouty the saleability isn’t it. Like much else, it all comes down to the buck.
    I watch the playoffs.

  2. Rafe Mair says:

    On Luigi’s last point – anybody in the stands watching the baseball game last night would have been drained at the end of the game. One only had to watch the crowd during the nine innings to see the emotions come and go. Slow game? There wasn’t a soul in the 55,000 crowd who even dreamt of leaving at any time during the 3 1/2 hours.
    There have been changes of coarse – the designated hitter rule comes to mind (something I oppose). The ball was juiced up in order to take advantage of Babe Ruth but that was damn near 100 years ago. Most of what has been done lately he is to improve the speed of the game and the safety of the players (such as sliding into home plate.)
    To my main point, last nights game and all baseball games have a high degree of excitement for fans and nobody is punching anybody out and any undue roughness is penalized. It’s that which separates sports like baseball, soccer, rugby etc from roller derbies and hockey.

  3. admin says:

    I once heard Burke call Neil Macrae an asshole on the air.
    Yes, the NHL is the enemy of the sport of ice hockey. “Tinkering with the rules”: NASCAR is the only sport that does it more often. Fighting: once again, it’s the foolish idea of trying to make the sport viable in the US, and in doing so ignore the obvious fact that the sport just doesn’t work that well on television. And now Bettman is talking about expansion, when they don’t have enough good players to fill the teams they’ve got.

  4. Rafe Mair says:

    Administrator Bob makes an excellent point. You could put a baseball team, basketball team, a soccer team, anywhere from Panama to Yellowknife and have a built in fan base. Hockey, however, is dead in the water about 50 miles south of the 49th parallel. This means that new franchises proposed by Bettman must attract a virginal audience and they do that by violence and fighting. In doing this the commissioner has slowly but steadily destroyed the game and real hockey fans suffer the loss of their game.

  5. Astro says:

    Hockey is a great sport, when it is played by the rules! It demands a lot of skill and not a lot of fighting and dirty checks. I watch very little because of disrespect the NHL has for the sport.

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