Thursday, 8 February 2007

When Hockey Players Go Bad

I've got to hand it to Aaron Downey of the Montreal Canadiens. He basically used Sidney Crosby to get fifteen minutes of fame on all the sports highlight shows across North America by calling him a faker. The Montreal crowd called him a faker. Heck, Ken Hitchcock and Ted Nolan have called him a faker. Honestly, this kind of reaction to Sid the Kid's reaction to any sort of questionable play needs to stop. Wayne Gretzky used to complain to the refs about questionable stuff that happened to him. Mario Lemieux hated the game for a long time due to the cheap shots that were given to him. Why is Sid, the next great player, being chastised for protecting himself and helping his team?

Look, I'm not saying he should dive or flop on every hit, and he doesn't. He gives back as much as he takes in terms of clean hits, and seems to enjoy wading into traffic in the corners and in front of the net. However, when a player such as Downey, known more for throwing his fists than scoring points, calls Crosby out for embellishing a high-stick, he needs his head checked.

I'm not saying that Downey is totally to blame here. No one should be able to walk around in the NHL untouched, nor should they be able to "help" the officials with the calls being made. Crosby deserves to take the blame in the Montreal overtime win as he tried to one-handed stickhandle around Plekanec, and he turned the puck over. But it's time for the "faker" chants to stop.

Sidney Crosby is, by far and away, the best player in the NHL on any given night. He leads the NHL scoring race by 14 points, all while being 19 years of age. On any given night, he's a target for agitators and grinders who, for the most part, play the game with an edge that sometimes results in a high-stick or a slash that is beyond what is allowed. Crosby may oversell the foul, but he is trying to draw a penalty for his team, and he is trying to win the game. Most of all, he's trying to survive the rigors of 82 regular season games, and the shots that go unnoticed by the refs will catch-up sooner to him rather than later. They did for Mario Lemieux, they did for Pat Lafontaine, and they will for Sid the Kid.

I'm not saying that Sidney Crosby should be allowed to dive. He'll learn that there are times when he drops to the ice that he hurts his team more than he helps it. He doesn't play soft, and he doesn't stay out of traffic. In fact, he seems to like traffic. Bob McKenzie of TSN writes, "He's like a bull terrier. He initiates more physical play and is at his best in heavy traffic like few others who have his skill and productivity". I think this is the truth.

Why is it that the less-skilled NHL players and the media like to eat their own when it comes to skill players trying to up the standards at which they play? Maybe the responsibility lies with Ray Shero, the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, to go out and grab an enforcer like Dave Semenko was for Gretzky. In today's salary cap NHL, it is harder to keep an enforcer on the payroll if he cannot score. There is no free ride for a guy with hands of stone in the NHL, just as there's no free ride for a guy who shies away from contact.

So what should Crosby and the Penguins do? Find someone who isn't afraid to throw punches and can contribute. Let Crosby find the balance between overselling and playing hard. And most of all, reward any player who steps up and throws punches to defend Crosby. He's the heart and soul of the Penguins, and those vital organs need to be protected.
Congratulations are in order for a couple of players, both who excelled at their positions for some time.

Mike Vernon had his number retired by the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, an honour for the hometown kid who retired in 2001. Vernon's number will join Lanny McDonald's number up in the rafters of the Saddledome, the only two numbers to be retired by the Flames thus far. Flames fans were treated to a 47-minute pregame ceremony about Vernon that showed most of his exploits in the 1989 playoffs.

After going the full seven games against Vancouver in the opening round that year, Calgary lost just three games the rest of the way. The Flames won the Stanley Cup Final over the Canadiens in six games, and they became the first visiting team to hoist the trophy on Montreal Forum ice.

"Winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Calgary Flames was such an honour for me, because I am a Calgarian," said Vernon, who also won a Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy with Detroit in 1997. The third-round selection in 1981 still leads the Flames in many categories, including regular season victories (262), playoff victories (43) and career games (526).

Phil Housley was honoured by the Barney Rubble Hairpieces by inducting him into the team's Hall of Fame Wednesday night. Housley is still the team's highest scoring defensemen, and the sixth overall pick in 1982 made his NHL debut directly out of high school. He recorded 178 goals and 380 assists as a Sabre, totalling 558 points, fifth all-time in Sabres' history.

Housley retired in 2003 having become the highest-scoring American-born player, amassing a total of 1232 points. He played a total of 21 seasons for eight teams, and hopes to become the next Hall of Famer as he becomes eligible later this year. "It would be the highest honour you can get," Housley said. "Hopefully I can get there."

Housley was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. He was a seven-time member of the U.S. National Team, and received a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics.

He is currently head coach for the boys' hockey team at Stillwater High School in Minnesota, and was an assistant coach for the bronze medal-winning Team USA at the World Junior Championships earlier this year.

That's all for today. Keep your sticks on the ice!


Sean Zandberg said...

"But it's time for the "faker" chants to stop."
I disagree. In a new world where people speak there minds, I think it's ok that they heckle him. There is no excuse (IMO) for anyone to dive. It was started by Europeans and filtered it's way into the NHL. It's cowardly and pathetic. If I was in Montreal that night, I would have started the chants myself!

Teebz said...

I have no problem with heckling. Booing him is a form of heckling, and I've got no problem with that.

The only reason I say it should stop is because no one says a word when Paul Kariya does it, when Daniel Briere does it, when Jaromir Jagr does it. Sid gets the most attention because he is the best player, and he may oversell some stick infractions, but he has to survive 82 games of it.

I agree no one should be allowed to dive, and I would hope the NHL does punish him so that he doesn't do it again. But to pick out plays where it can be called a true dive are few and far between with Crosby.

Good comment, though. I wanted to stir discussion with this topic. :o)