Saturday, December 9, 2006

Welcome to HFU

So my first column isn't all original thought. Get used to it... some people simply say it better than I do. An example is below and we will get that.

First and foremost, let me say welcome to I hope this site is successful and we can have an eventful North American Save the NHL Night on January 20th. We chose that date because there are games played in major media markets throughout Canada and the United States. Even if there are only 500 - 1000 people holding up signs that night, that is a success to us. We hope for more of course. We will continue the tradition on an annual basis until the NHL realizes that this is a North American game for North American fans that want their traditional style of hockey back. I'll spend another Sig's Corner on this at some other point. In the mean time, enjoy the site, make the most of it, keep your comments clean, and promote, promote, promote the site and the Save the NHL night out.
Now on to the Caps/Thrash game. Okay, I admit it, I subscribed to NHL Center Ice this year. I TIVO games that I think are going to be exciting and will watch them if they live up to my expectations. Watching an average hockey game this year in unthinkable though. However, I do regularly watch my Caps. I am a hometown guy all the way.

Last week, I had the pleasure of tuning into the Caps/Thrashers game. This has turned into a good Southeast rivalry and it has been enjoyable hockey to watch. Both teams are young, talented, and have some toughness and grit to their teams. Unfortunately, one team adequately uses their toughness and one team doesn't. That night, Bob Hartley decided to scratch Eric Boulton from the Thrashers lineup knowing full well the Caps carry regular tough guys in Donald Brashear and John Erskine. On top of that, Garnett Exelby was out. So adding Boulton seemed even more logical. No dice.
With little time left and the game in hand for the Thrashers, rugged D-man Andy Sutton tried to lineup youngster Mike Green from the Caps. He missed however, but not before throwing his elbows up near Green's face, leaving his intent very clear. Ben Clymer went after the much bigger Sutton for his actions. Unfortunately, Sutton is much bigger and more skilled in the art of fisticuffs and handled Clymer fairly easily. While this was happening, a scrum ensued between Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk and Caps captain Chris Clark. Kovalchuk, for whatever reason, thought it was in his best interest to grab and pull the fish bowlesque cage that Clark was wearing as a result of having his teeth rearranged by a puck. A classless move to say the least.
Next shift, Hanlon throws out Brashear, Erskine, and Matt Bradley amongst others. Brashear goes right after Vishnevski, no doubt because he has taken a few cheap shots at Caps' players this year and has not to pay for his transgressions. Brash grabbed Vish with his gloves still on and Vish was actually the first to get his gloves off. Soon after, Brash dropped his gloves and pummeled Vish to the ice, leaving a bloody mess behind. Erskine went after Hossa and pummeled him, no doubt because a number of Thrashers players have taken liberties with Caps' star players this year. And Bradley went with de Vries, an even matchup that Bradley won. Next face off, Sutherby pops Larsen, who his reluctant to drop his gloves. Next face off, Thrashers captain, Scott Mellanby edges out Cap Jamie Heward in a good tilt. While this is happening, Hanlon and Hartley are having words. Reports of such verbal jabs as "You wanna go?" and "Next game" are picked up. Hanlon even gives Hartley the chicken dance. Hanlon reportedly tries to get at Hartley after the game with no such luck.
A couple of days later, NHL policeman, Colin Campbell releases his verdict. Brash picks up a three game suspension, even though he plays a regular shift and was the last one to drop his gloves. And if you check out Brash's fight card, his fights have gone down over the years. As a matter of fact, this was only his second fight this year! Sutherby gets a game for what could have been called a non-fight since very few punches were thrown (Larsen latched on to Sutherby's legs). And Mellanby gets a game for doing what a captain should do. Hartley gets $10,000 drawn from his pay check and Hanlon has $30,000 taken from his because of wonderful NHL rules that prohibit instigators in the final five minutes of a game.
A couple of thoughts about all of this. First, this rule is terrible. As with many other new rules the NHL has implemented, they didn't investigate the side effects. If you cannot "invite" a player to a fight, how are you supposed send a message that cheap hits won't be tolerated against your team in the final five minutes? Here is an answer... cross check, high stick, or slash a guy. Even if you get a major, you won't be suspended. I am, of course, being sarcastic. Does the NHL brass not see that their current rule actually promotes cheap play and no retribution? And if each of these subsequent instigator fines leads to double the amount of fine, at what point do you stop? Will Hanlon lose his full salary if his guys keep standing up for their teammates?
Next, kudos to Glenn Hanlon for carrying a tough lineup. Apparently Bob Hartley doesn't feel it is necessary. Why else would he scratch Eric Boulton against a tough squad? Atlanta fans should be disgraced that Boulton wasn't in there to help protect their star players like Vish and Hossa. Hanlon used his toughness the way it should be used. Hanlon obviously feels that men should settle their differences in a gentlemanly manner, not with the use of flying elbows and high sticks. What Hanlon didn't realize is... the NHL doesn't agree.
Finally, as Hartley said, "Next game." That game is December 15th by the way. Next game, Hartley will do what he should have done this game. Dress Boulton. Exelby should be back as well. Sutton has a bummed ankle and is out. Needless to say, it has all the makings of an old-time game. But here is where things will go wrong... the NHL brass will step in. The timely pre-game phone call will be made to both locker rooms warning that Bettman and Campbell are watching closely. The NHL brass will essentially squash any chances at an emotion-filled game. While they exclaimed that more games with division opponents will breed more rivalries, they obviously do not promote rivalries that involve rough and tumble play. This is the NEW NHL ladies and gents. Emotional, physical, and traditional hockey is not politically correct and will not be tolerated.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Fight Night, Redux
For far too long, Bob Hartley's Atlanta Thrashers have been tossing around questionably-legal elbows, knees and slashes like rice at a wedding. Wednesday night, Caps' coach Glen Hanlon and his Washington Capitals had had enough. But before we get into that, let's get a few facts out there for context:
Entering Wednesday night's game with Atlanta, the Caps were last in the NHL with only three fighting majors on the season.
In an eight-day span during which the Caps got beat by Division rival Carolina twice by a combined scored of 9-1, there wasn't a single fighting major in either game.
There was not a single fighting major in Wednesday night's game until after Andy Sutton - a player who has, in the past, been suspended for a cheap shot - went head-hunting on Mike Green.
With those out of the way, we can discuss the end to Wednesday night's game in context. Simply put, Hanlon was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more:
"It was a 4-2 hockey game and someone, a 21-year-old kid with a cut mouth [Green], gets his head knocked off with a high hit and one of their players [Ilya Kovalchuk] is grabbing our captain [Chris Clark], grabbing his cage and shaking it," Hanlon said. "What the heck are they supposed to do?"
What they did was release the hounds. Donald Brashear paired off with Vitali Vishnevski, Matt Bradley and Greg de Vries danced and Marian Hossa wisely turtled (but still somehow got five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct) rather than face John Erskine's fists. Immediately after the next faceoff, Brian Sutherby went after a visibly disinterested Brad Larsen, and Thrasher captain Scott Mellanby did the same to Jamie Heward following the next puck drop. All told, there were 135 minutes in penalties (if my math is correct) in a four-second span of hockey time, but the fireworks didn't end there:
The animosity continued in the hallway between the teams' locker rooms afterward, with Hanlon reportedly screaming at Hartley. In the game's waning seconds, Hanlon, on the Capitals' bench, gestured toward Hartley, flapping his arms like a chicken. Hartley responded by mouthing the words, "Next time."
Next time is a story for, well, next time. But regarding what happened last night, respect in the NHL is a two-way street. When you respect your opponent and the way they play the game, that respect is reciprocated. When the other team doesn't respect your players, however - when they send a cheap-shot artist out there to run players in the dying minutes of a game that has been all but decided - sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands (or fists, as it were) before someone gets hurt. And that's exactly what happened Wednesday night.Vishnevski's face will heal. But if Sutton cleanly landed his shot on Green, the kid could be out with a concussion for who knows how long. And if the Caps let Sutton get away with that garbage, who knows what liberties he or his teammates might take next. Now, at least, Atlanta knows that if they mess with the bull... well, you know.And while Hartley may paint his team as a bunch of choir boys, Mellanby had the proper prospective on what happened:
"Obviously, they took exception to [Sutton's] hit -- they were defending themselves, I don't necessarily agree with the way they went about it [captainese for "we would have done the exact same thing"], but they've developed a lot of pride and identity with that team. That comes from Hanlon, and I mean that as a compliment. He's instilled a great work ethic in that team and great pride. That was just old-school hockey, and I don't have any problem with it. It's part of the game, it happens."
The bottom line is this: Sutton ran Green and Ben Clymer went after him for it, but nothing came of it. Feeling that the Thrashers hadn't answered sufficiently for that hit and others that happened throughout the night and the other three games in the season series thus far, Hanlon put out a few toughs to send a message, and they certainly did send that message. Sutherby's fight was overkill (and who knows if Hanlon sent him out there to fight - Suts may have just wanted to do his part as an alternate captain and decided to drop the gloves on his own), and Mellanby's was similarly unnecessary. But Clymer said it best: "We’re going to stick together and if things get ugly, teams know they’ll have to face all 20 [of us]."Without question, fines and suspensions will - and should - follow. But they're all a small price to pay for respect and pride. And I can't imagine there's too much outrage throughout the rest of the League that the Thrashers got their lunch handed to them for once.
(Cross-posted at Japers' Rink)
UPDATE: Here's the action from the final 1:30 or so (thanks to Eric at Off Wing for the pointer)

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