Like it or not, the NHL is getting softer, and there’s not a damn thing you’re gonna do about it. But as we go kicking and screaming from the last remnants of ‘old time hockey’ to the new world of ‘chitty chat’ pucks, at least we’ve got that kicking and screaming part.
But then again, probably not. Not our style.
In 1982 a guy named Bruce Feirstein wrote a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche – A Guidebook to All that is Truly Masculine”. It was a tongue-in-cheek exploration of all things macho. In it, literally in the first couple of pages, among the initial list of “real men”, it said something to the effect of, ‘anyone who plays in the National Hockey League’.
And this was not coming from a hockey guy.
Later that decade we all enjoyed watching the protection Steve Yzerman received with the Detroit Red Wings from the ‘Bruise Brothers’ Bob Probert and Joe Kocur.
Here, let me sum it up for you.
OH MY GOD!
Opponents weren’t enjoying themselves at all, but holy %#$&@, it was fun.
Fast forward to 2011 and former NHL general manager Mike Milbury was a regular as a panelist on Hockey Night in Canada when he started to describe the ‘wussification of hockey’.
He’d really be struggling now. What he saw coming has come.
Yes, along the way we needed to, and did, get rid of designated goon fights. When heavyweights George Parros of the Montreal Canadiens and Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs got tangled up on NHL opening night in 2013 on HNIC and Parros fell and cracked his head and was stretchered off, it seemed to be the demarcation point. The goons silently went the way of the dodo.
Fine. We’d miss some of the craziness and the wild west stuff but it was for the best.
Now, we’ve gradually crossed another line.
If I hadn’t been a scheduled radio guest for the Anaheim Ducks postgame show Friday night I very likely wouldn’t have been watching their game against the Arizona Coyotes. I’m glad I was.
Near the end of the third period, already up five-nothing, the Ducks were digging for a loose puck at Coyotes goalie Josef Korenar and Arizona center Jay Beagle took exception. Things had already been heating up a little bit, on top of the fact Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras had scored a lacrosse-style goal earlier in the evening and the Coyotes were feeling a little embarrassed.
Players paired off and Beagle began ‘feeding’ Ducks leading scorer Troy Terry. Feeding him as in punching him in the face.
The kid didn’t even know enough to turtle. Zegras, who had been cross-checked to the ice by Beagle a bit earlier was shocked and dismayed to say the least.
Anyhoo, after the game, Zegras pulled some of the tattle-talers around privately in the hallway to whine to the principal, in this case the league, about what a bad man Beagle is.
How about you check the NHL schedule and find out when you play them again and circle the date and exact some revenge and score five more goals.
Sorry. Dreaming. Flashback.
This did get my stream of consciousness flowing. I thought about St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube, who I’d been chatting with the other day. If someone had scored a lacrosse style goal, or probably even attempted it against his team while he was playing, he would have ripped their head off. A donnybrook would have ensued.
It’s not that long ago.
Secondly, a connection dawned on me.
I sometimes bring up being mystified by Auston Matthews laughing, flopping in disbelief and not defending himself while getting essentially rag-dolled in a heated scrum against the Montreal Canadiens in the their first round (naturally) elimination at the hands of the Habs last summer.
How was that possible?
He doesn’t get it. Neither does Terry. Neither does Zegras. They’ve never had to. They’re little machines. They didn’t grow up playing hockey with a code, or the shreds of what’s left of it. People make fun of the old ‘code’, but it actually worked. Still does on occasion.
Most covering the game and many of those playing it have no concept. It’s why they make fun of it.
It’s not something you look up on a pie chart. Like hockey, it’s something you feel.
That’s where we’re at.