National Hockey League: Respect Among Players? It Is About Winning, Duh!

March 10th, 2011 by Shawn Hutcheon Leave a reply »

Actor Charlie Sheen was on TV yesterday and he, once again, alluded to the fact that he is “winning, duh!” As I watched, it occurred to me that “winning” in the National Hockey League is the most important thing to an NHL player, as it should be. But in striving to achieve that victory night in and night out, respect has been lacking throughout the history of the league, resulting in some ugly occurrences.

The acts of violence have involved “goons,” role players and stars.

Bobby Orr, arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen, had a history of knee injuries. He was the target of many leg checks during his career. Opponents frequently tried to injure Orr believing that without him, Boston was a more vulnerable team. Ultimately, the hits and 11 knee surgeries took their toll, and Orr was forced to retire after just 10 seasons in the NHL.

One of the most famous violent acts happened on December 12, 1933 in a game between Toronto and, ironically, Boston. Bruins superstar defenseman Eddie Shore tripped Toronto forward Ace Bailey from behind. Most of the players did not wear helmets in those days, and Bailey landed on his head, fracturing his skull. He fell into an unconscious state and began convulsing while lying on the ice.

Bailey needed several surgeries in order for doctors to save his life. He eventually recovered from the injuries, but he never played hockey again. Shore was suspended for 16 games by NHL President Frank Calder.

The show of disrespect did not always involve player vs. player incidents. In 1955, the great Rocket Richard punched linesman Cliff Thompson during a game. Richard was suspended for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. His suspension cost him the chance of winning that season’s scoring championship.

Ted Green, another former Bruins defenseman, was on the receiving end of a vicious stick-swinging fight between himself and St. Louis Blues forward Wayne Maki in an exhibition game on September 21, 1969 in Ottawa.

After engaging in slashing and fisticuffs with Maki, Green, who was not wearing a helmet, turned to go to the penalty box. At that moment, Maki hit Green over the head with his stick. Green crumpled to the ice. He needed emergency surgery to remove bone fragments from his brain. Both players were suspended for 13 games. After undergoing three surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation, Green returned to the NHL. He played 10 more years before retiring and becoming an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers.

In 2000, Marty McSorley of Boston swung his stick at, and connected with, the head of Vancouver Canuck Donald Brashear. Brashear was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion. McSorley was suspended for 23 games and convicted of assault with a weapon in a Vancouver courtroom. He was placed on 18 months probation. 

In 2004, Todd Bertuzzi, as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, jumped Colorado’s Steve Moore from behind, planting Moore’s face into the ice. This resulted in Moore suffering a concussion and fractured neck vertebrae. Bertuzzi was suspended for 13 regular season games, plus the Canucks’ seven playoff games.

One of the biggest stories of the 2010 season was the blindside hit Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke put on Boston’s Marc Savard on March 8, 2010. Savard was rendered unconscious and diagnosed with a severe concussion. Cooke escaped a suspension while Savard was unable to play for the rest of the season and the first round of the playoffs. Savard is currently out of action again with a second concussion suffered from a clean hit from Colorado’s Matt Hunwick.   

Unfortunately, there have been more acts of player on player violence in the NHL. These are just a few of the more prominent ones.

The recent incident in which Boston’s Zdeno Chara’s body check on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty brought about a question from sports fans around the globe: “Where is the respect?” Former NHL players appeared on television and radio asking and/or commenting about the lack of respect in today’s NHL and how “…when we played, we respected each other…”

However, former NHL veteran Jeremy Roenick appeared on the NHL Network’s NHL Live radio/TV show Wednesday and when asked if he ever checked an opponent with the intent to hurt them, he answered, “Yes.” At least, he was honest enough to admit it. It would be no surprise, really, if most NHL players admitted that when they check someone, they do it with enough force and intent to injure someone. 

On one of Don Cherry’s first editions of his hugely popular “Rock ’em, Sock ’em” videos, he is shown as saying, “When you hit someone, you hit to hurt!” 

Hockey is a contact sport and should remain so. Injuries are going to happen to almost every player who laces up the blades but the frequency of serious injuries resulting from the lack of respect between the players at the highest level of hockey is growing all in the name of “winning” and that needs to be addressed by the league, the organizations, and the players. 

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