Hockey is a Tough Sport, Get Use to it

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Hockey Fight

With the recent on-ice incidents in the playoffs and the calls for abolishing fighting in hockey, here’s my take on the issue.

There were three incidents in question, Milan Lucic’s spear on Danny DeKeyser, the hit from behind on David Backes by Brent Seabrook, and Matt Cooke’s knee-on-knee to Tyson Barrie, that were not the result of a fight. Yet people still believe banning fighting outright is going to fix these problems. Delusional doesn’t even begin to describe the anti-fighting crowd.

Hockey is a tough sport. But that is what makes the game exciting both to watch and play. We’ve seen previous attempts to eliminate the violent aspects of sport like hockey, football, and more recently baseball. But what it really did was create disinterest in those sports. There are hockey leagues outside the NHL that suit those who don’t like fighting or body checking. How come they are not going to those games? I can tell you why, because games in those leagues are as interesting to watch as paint drying.

Instead of making futile attempts to ban fighting and limit physical contact, why not teach young hockey players how to deliver a body check, how to take it, how to avoid it, and the right way to fight an opponent? It is just as good a skill to learn as putting pucks in net. This will get them prepared for what really goes on the ice, not the Hollywood fairy tale that some “experts” are telling us.

I don’t expect every NHL game to have a fight. In fact, I would be the first in line to have staged fights taken out of the game. But the fear of having to fight keeps players on the ice honest. With the instigator, ejections, and threats of suspensions, that fear is non-existent. I will go so far as to say if you like goons and want to continue seeing them high stick someone like Steven Stamkos, then be my guest, get fighting out of the game.

I don’t like seeing players getting hurt as much as the next guy. But as long as there is contact allowed, people better get used to the violent nature of hockey or they should find another sport to play… or watch.

Links:

Letter to the Editor National Post (RE: Fighting is the solution)
My commentary for the Bayshore Broadcasting News Centre.

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Why Not Shanahan?

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Brendan_Shannahan

If you are the one who goes by the mantra “if it can work in other places, why not here?” then Brendan Shanahan is the ideal man to run the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’ve seen sports teams go with former high-profile players in management roles. Some have succeeded (Mario Lemieux, John Elway) while others ended in disappointment (Matt Millen, Isiah Thomas). Only time will tell which side the Mimico native ends up.

Shanahan brings with him 3 Stanley Cup championships, an Olympic gold medal, and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It kind of reminds me when Ken Dryden was hired by the Leafs to be their team President in 1998. He was, like Shanahan is now, a rookie executive with an extensive list of credentials that was brought in after the team missed the playoffs that year. After the hiring of Pat Quinn as head coach, and the signing of free-agent goaltender Curtis Joseph, things began to turn around in the Leafs’ favour. Here’s hoping history repeats itself.

Shanahan does have some challenges to face, not the least of which a Stanley Cup drought in Toronto that is going on 47 years. Knowing the way he played during his NHL career, I don’t think Shanahan is going to move away from the approach Brian Burke had when he became the Leafs President and GM. That is having a tough, physical team that is difficult to play against. But Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis will need to find a way for the team to sustain that style of play for the entire 82-game schedule whether it is changing the personnel on the roster or changing the personnel behind the bench.

Shanahan has his work cut out for him but if he can iron out those problems, you can bet the Leafs will be playing hockey next June.

James Reimer Deserves Better

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James Reimer

People still want to single out James Reimer as the fall guy for the Maple Leafs missing the playoffs. It’s not fair to put the blame squarely on him but I guess it goes with the territory of playing in Toronto. It is only now that experts are coming to the realization that goaltending wasn’t the problem for the Leafs to begin with, it was their defense. I don’t like to say I told you so but here’s what I said back in January.

Reimer deserves better than the way he is being treated right now, by the team, media, and fake fans. He has done well since he took over as the starting goaltender in 2011. Always kept the team in the game and even stole one or two when the offense was struggling. Reimer was the reason the Leafs were able to get into the playoffs in 2013. It is too bad that he may end up getting traded to another team.

I hope Dave Nonis (or whoever the GM of the day is) gets some good players or draft picks in return. But in my experience, that may be wishful thinking. Toronto sports fans and the media are notorious for de-valuing players down to a point where they become virtually untradable. Remember Larry Murphy? The Leafs paid a lot to bring in the Hockey Hall of Famer from Pittsburgh in 1995 to anchor the defense corps. But people knocked him around for his inconsistency and it forced the team to give him away to Detroit two years later. Most recently, former Blue Jays catcher JP Arencibia got the same treatment in Toronto. These folks could care less about how well or how bad the team plays yet they have the ability to set the bar where they like.

But back to Reimer, I hope he goes to a team that he can help lead into the playoffs and perhaps one day win the Stanley Cup. The sad part is he is not going to be doing it with the Maple Leafs. Players want to come to Toronto to finish their playing career but lately it is becoming more of a place where playing careers go to die.

Sports Media is Becoming Boring

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Radio Microphone

Part of the reason I got into radio was because of ESPN’s the Fabulous Sports Babe sports talk show. She made even the small stuff sound interesting. Some would say she was brash but that is what you want to hear. It didn’t matter if it hit a nerve, what she said was honest and it was the truth. She would make Sarah Palin sound like Mother Teresa.

When I was applying for a job at a prominent sports radio station years ago, I was told by someone in charge of programming that listeners want to hear the hosts talk about sports when they tune into their station and that I needed to brush up on that if I wanted to work there one day. So I have to ask, why aren’t sports radio stations today talking about sports? In fact, there has not been a lot of talk about sports in sports media over the last 20 years. Never has sports media (both in Canada and the United States) been so politically correct like it is now. Even PTI, where hosts once called players and coaches out and got on each other’s nerve, is now a hippie-style lovefest. Nobody wants to offend anyone, except if it’s on Twitter. And even then whoever tweeted out their hate ends up retracting it later.

Debate seems to be limited to what is comfortable. For example, there is a lot of talk about fighting in hockey but all the discussion seems to be towards the anti-pugilistic side. No one other than Don Cherry (and yours truly) publicly supports fighting in hockey but I know there are a lot more hockey fans in Canada that share that same view. Like fighting in hockey, listener/viewer/reader input also seems to be contrived, reduced to fake callers and emails written by staff. Then there’s the Toronto media making a big spectacle about equality in sports but they are the same ones who tried to run Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston out of town in the early 1990’s even during two World Series championships. The sports section of the major newspapers is easy to find, just look for the glass house.

Speaking of Toronto, when I tune to the Fan or TSN 1050 I expect to hear a lot of about Toronto sports teams. Hosts would often make a big whoop of their hometown team while slagging teams from other cities. But you don’t hear much of it. Why? Because a program from Toronto is also aired in Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver so it seems kind of pointless to focus solely on, for example, the Leafs. The show I do in Orillia takes a more local view of the sports scene. When people tune in they expect to hear news on the Barrie Colts of the OHL, Junior C hockey, high school athletics, etc. That makes my show unique compared to others.

Sports media is a niche format that caters to a specific audience. But lately there has been an effort to attract the lowest common denominator. At times there are topics on sports shows that have absolutely nothing to do with sport. Hosts seem to want to tie popular culture or political agenda to the topics being discussed. As much as I like to be aware of the social issues affecting our world today (i.e. Russia’s ban on gay propaganda during the Olympics), there are other channels for that. It kind of makes you understand why the bosses at Rogers want George Stroumboulopoulos as the new host of Hockey Night in Canada.

It is becoming such a bore to hear and watch sports shows on TV or radio. Sports media does not always have to air good news. Talking about whose struggling or playing badly and why IS sports. Tying it to the state of society isn’t. Sorry, call me Kevin O’Leary but unless it’s about wins and losses I don’t really care about how offended the natives are with the name Redskins.