Monday, 15 November 2010

Par For The Course

I had serious reservations about posting this tonight, but I think we need to look at the event that occurred at Madison Square Garden between the New York Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers yesterday. The man to the left, Sean Avery, played a big role in the fiasco that erupted on Sunday afternoon, and there are a number of factors that contributed to the insanity that erupted after Avery set the fireworks off. Sean Avery has always played on the edge, repeatedly pushing the envelope in terms of what is acceptable on and off the ice. His run-in with Ladislav Smid on Sunday afternoon is entirely why Sean Avery gets little to no respect from his peers and the NHL fans.

Let's start with the video of what happened.

Oi vay. Let's break this down as easily as we can.
  1. THE HIT: Avery's hit on Colin Fraser was completely clean, and there was no need for Ladislav Smid to challenge Fraser at first appearance. However, the Oilers trailed 5-2 at that point in the game, and Smid may have been looking to give his team a spark. A little retribution for a hit on Fraser doesn't hurt either, but the hit was clean.
  2. THE CODE: Smid openly challenges Avery to a fight, and Avery stands there with no reaction to the challenge. Smid, seeing the play continue, has to remain aware of where the puck is as he still has a job to do as a defenceman. Avery, after five seconds of standing with his hands at his side, drops the gloves without letting Smid square up. That, readers, goes against the "code" in the NHL. I'll talk a little about this below.
  3. THE PUNCH: Avery caught Smid square on the jaw with a thundering right fist before Smid had a chance to square up and get his hands up. This, in any other instance, is a sucker-punch. If you saw someone at a bar or on the street get popped like that, you'd call it a sucker-punch. Avery could have said "no" to Smid's challenge - something that the "code" states is allowed - but he instead waited until he had an unfair advantage as Smid had half-turned away from him.
  4. THE AFTERMATH: Kudos to the officials for getting Avery off the ice as quickly as they did. It could have been a bloodbath had Avery been allowed to remain on the ice, and the officials deserve credit. As for all the other players, the brouhaha is all about respect and pride, and they did what they had to do. But it wouldn't have gotten as serious as it did had it not been for Sean Avery's actions.
Ok, let's go back to "the code". I want to make this clear for all of those who think that hockey fights are barbaric and idiotic: I do not condone fighting, but fights happen in a game where emotions and violence line-up alongside one another. I'm not advocating fighting in hockey in any way, but they occasionally happen. The problem is that fighting in hockey could be controlled if it was left up to the players.

In any case, the "code" states that:
  • ... players fight within their weight class. I'd say that Avery and Smid are fairly decent middleweights. No mismatch here, so this should be a fair fight.
  • ... players challenged have the right of refusal. The challenged player must have a good reason to refuse the fight, or additional verbal abuse may be issued. From the way the video showed it, Avery just stood on the ice. He didn't accept nor refuse when Smid asked. He just stood there. Make a decision, Avery, and make it fast.
  • ... players fight fair. You do not embarrass, humiliate, or exploit an advantage to gain an edge in a fight. EVER. If you gain a reputation for that, chances are that someone will do the same to you. Avery, unfortunately, has that reputation, and he is only cementing this further with his actions on Sunday.
Add in a little bad blood due to how poorly the Oilers have been playing, and Avery was the spark needed to set off this powder keg. Had he simply refused the challenge from Smid or accepted and engaged immediately, none of the aftermath would have happened.

I do agree with John Mackinnon of the Edmonton Journal who said, "The brawl was merely the logical conclusion of one team overreacting to a normal body check. Avery is an easy and convenient target, owing to his long rap sheet. But, in this case, I blame Smid for the whole brawling mess."

As you may have heard once or twice, it takes two to tango, and Smid was certainly instigating the scrap when he went over to Avery and challenged him to a fight. Smid is not a fighter, and Colin Fraser had no problem with the hit as it appeared. The check was legal, and Smid did something that is becoming all too prevalent in the NHL today: he challenged the hitter after a clean, big hit was thrown. Smid isn't known for his pugilistic skills, so Smid canot be absolved of all the blame in this instance.

However, where it gets murky for Avery's credibility is in his refusal to initially fight Smid, allowing Smid to back off before attacking him. That's Strike Two when it comes to the "code" as illustrated above. If you say "no", the engagement is over. There are no second thoughts or regrets; you either engage or not. Avery said "no", and Smid backed off. Case closed, according to the "code", and the game continues.

Except this happened. Look at that series of pictures again, and look at Smid's legs. He isn't squared up to Avery until his chin is taking the full force of Avery's punch. Avery has a distinct advantage in that the best punch that Smid could throw as he's leaning back is a left-handed roundhouse. Otherwise, it would be a left jab, and that's going to do nothing as he is leaving his face exposed to Avery's right hand by standing open. Smid wasn't ready for the fight, and Avery took advantage of an unfair opportunity. He broke the "code", and his time might be coming sooner rather than later if the Oilers have something to say about it.

This isn't the first time I've gone on in length about how Avery flirts with the wrong side of the law, and it probably won't be the last time either. Ladislav Smid is now sidelined with a concussion from the punch-and-fall combo, and that leaves a gaping hole on an already-depleted Oilers blueline. As for Sean Avery, he's still playing for the Rangers having apparently escaped any further discipline.

I'm not sure what one can do about Avery's antics, but this is seemingly par for the course for the NHL's bad boy in a career filled with childish behavior and questionable, dangerous hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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