By David Bitonti
Hockey has been a huge part of my family for generations. When I was a kid, back in the ‘80s, every Saturday evening after my brother and I played our own minor league game, we’d all pile up in the living room to watch the Montreal Canadiens on the CBC French-language affiliate CBUFT. Between periods, my father would grab the most current edition of The Official NHL Hockey Guide (otherwise referred to as The Bible) and test our hockey knowledge. It was a bastardized version of hockey Jeopardy that no one ever won.
It seemed like hockey was simpler back then. Players were concerned about scoring goals and working hard, not securing lucrative endorsement deals and squabbling over multi-million dollar contracts. The reporting was crude and hard to come by and we savoured any juicy bit of news we got. Today, thanks to our best friend the Internet, we know everything about a given hockey player down to his IPod playlist and favourite restaurant.
And that’s not all that’s changed. Headshots. Concussions. Suspensions (or lack thereof). The recent and chilling image of Max Pacioretty lying face-down on the ice for over five minutes after getting ploughed by Zdano Chara has stuck with me and a lot of other hockey fans. I watched the game in real time and I really thought I had witnessed a death.
It’s got me thinking twice about registering my own nine-month old son when he’s old enough. I know that’s not really something I need to worry about yet, but I can’t help but feel I’ve already lost something important.
Players are being seriously injured at an epidemic rate and even stars like Marc Savard and Sidney Crosby (the face of the freaking league!) are not immune. We can blame Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell all we want but that’s like making fun of George Bush — too easy. The players need to stop hiding behind excuses like “The game is so fast,” “I was just finishing my check,” “I didn’t know that stanchion was there,” etc., and start taking responsibility for their decisions. Sure, the league’s response has been reactive as opposed to progressive but the players need to account for their own actions out there. Do these 200-plus pound behemoths really need to drive each other’s heads into turnbuckles and glass to win the game? I thought it was about who scored the most goals.
If things keep getting worse, I think my boy Andy might end up be wearing soccer cleats instead of skates. Sorry Dad.