Sunday, February 18, 2007

Old-Time Hockey...
I don't think I've ever mentioned it here before, but I'm a huge hockey fan. Have been since the late 80's when baseball went though it's multiple strikes and became a "pretty-boy's" game. Funny, but my brother is a collegiate baseball coach, and I constantly hear him refer to some of his players as being "hard-nosed", and it's all I can do to keep from laughing. There is nothing "hard-nosed" about baseball anymore. Pete Rose was hard-nosed. Frank Robinson was hard-nosed. Most ball players these days break a fingernail and spend 45 days on the Disabled List. Heck, the Chicago Cubs Kerry Wood just injured himself exiting a hot tub! Hard-nosed injury, indeed!

I was thinking about this yesterday while watching the Rangers/Flyers game. The thought also crossed my mind last week watching my Devils play the self-same Flyers. The carnage on the ice recently has been great. I don't mean "carnage" as in resulting from the gratuitous violence of the sort that marred the game in the past; this is carnage that is being inflicted by playing the game by the rules. In yesterday's game, the Ranger's Brendan Shanahan, on of my all-time favorites, was carried off the ice on a stretcher after a collision at center ice, a total accident. I certainly hope he's perfectly fine, of course (I don't want to see people hurt) and returns to the game soon, but it's incidents like this recently that remind me just why I took to hockey to begin with.

It's a physical game. Infinitely moreso than baseball. Much more than football (in which the physical aspects of the game take place in 3-8 second bursts, interspersed with 2 minute intervals in which people stand around waiting for the officials to spot the ball and start the clock). It's IMMESURABLY more physical than basketball, which is hardly a sport at all, in my opinion. In my opinion, if you don't get bones broke on a regular basis, it ain't a sport; it's a game.

However, to look at hockey over the last few years, you could be forgiven for questioning whether it ever was a physical game. In an attempt, I guess, to respond to the pussified cries of Canadian fans who nowadays blanch at the THOUGHT of the sight of blood, the panty-bunched uber-parents of suburban America determined to mold their little tykes in an antisceptic way, and due to the influx of (relatively cheap) European players who play years without giving or receiving a body check, the game got soft. It's current brain-trust (led by the soft-brained Commissioner, Gary Bettman) seems determined to make it even more so with it's ridiculous rules changes.

However, there is a ray of sunshine on the horizon. The players themselves seem to have taken matters into their own hands, and seem determined to revive the sport they grew up playing and which I so love. Tune in nowadays and you'll see more hitting, more fighting, more grit, than you have seen in a decade, and which many of the rules changes were intended to eliminate. And I've seen it all happen within the last few weeks.

Despite last night's aberration (the game between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres saw 110 penalty minutes racked up, with a few brawls, even between goaltenders), the game is getting back to it's roots: speed, physical play and grit. It's a beautiful thing.

So, if you've never watched hockey before, I recommend you do so now. It's exciting again!