Saturday, September 19, 2009

Puck Boy witnesses first pickup game brawl -- and it's amazingly lame

Hand-King 2

As I've written before, I attend a Wednesday night adult hockey clinic at the Pasadena rink. After our class is done, I usually stick around with a couple of the guys to watch an adult pickup game that follows the clinic -- a game that features some very talented players.

Obviously the above photo isn't from that game. I grabbed it at Flickr; it was taken at a minor league hockey game by someone who goes by the screen name Dread Pyrat No Beard. But I like the photo because it illustrates the point I'm about to make. (Here's the link to more of his photos).

One of the regulars in the pickup game is a dude named Chris. I run into him during public sessions and he's a nice guy who always has encouraging words for me -- but he also happens to be wound a little tight. So it was hardly surprising when a few minutes into the pickup game Chris and another guy start jawing along the boards.

I was watching with a friend of mine. Neither of us saw what precipitated the jawing. But within a few seconds the gloves were dropped and Chris and the other dude were taking a few whacks at eachother before toppling over. At that point, a few other guys from the game -- all of whom seem surprised there was actually a fight -- skated over and broke things up. None seemed impressed.

The damage was slight. Chris came over and showed us a small cut on his lip. I almost felt bad for him the cut was so small. And telling him it was so small was like telling him he had a small dick. The other guy went into the small locker room with a bloody nose that I would score about a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. A kid I knew in grade school could produce a better bloody nose just by doing multiplication tables.

Here's the thing: While the pro game obviously feels the need to have fighting to sell tickets, the recreational game seems the polar opposite. Owing to the fact that many of us in my adult class can't stop well, there's a fair amount of jostling and knocking one over. No one, myself included, has gotten upset enough about it to start something. In three months I'm not sure I've even heard angry words. We play because it's insanely fun.

That said, I totally can see how fighting in the game has infected (okay, maybe that's a strong word) the culture of the game. If you watch enough pro hockey and you play, it's hard not to want to do as the pros do and whack someone.

A few weeks ago, for example, I was chasing a dude who was in his own defensive zone with the puck and was starting up the ice along the boards.

Through no skill of my own, I just happened to have a perfect angle to crank the dude. It was, admittedly, very tempting. And this was a guy that I liked. I didn't do it, but I did skate along side him and give him a little hip check -- enough to warrant a friendly "what the fuck?" from him. I just shrugged my shoulders as if to say, "sorry dude, I was up until 2 a.m. watching the NHL game and had a really bad testosterone surge back there."

Okay, maybe such aggression is just part of the sport, a byproduct of flying around on skates with sticks and a lot of padding. And I don't happen to think there's anything wrong with that. Part of the fun of the game, I think, is the jostling and rough-housing. If you spend any time at all in CorporateLand or my current world, LocalGovernmentPalooza, there's something wrong with you if you don't want to jostle a little at the end of a long day.

That said, I do think the excessive fighting in the pro game casts a sort of spell over all those who play the game. Most of us understand it's just theatrics used to fill seats. But I think it also sends the message to the more weak-minded players that fighting is a necessary part of the game. I've read all the justifications for fighting from the NHL execs -- that it's the only way to properly police the game and such. Yadda yadda yadda, it's crap. Football is more violent than hockey and yet officials have figured out how to police the game. They simply don't tolerate fighting.

I'm not particularly worried about it, but it makes me wonder if I'm going to get cranked by someone who took up the sport looking for an excuse to punch or demolish someone. If so, that's pathetic.

--Steve Hymon

1 comment:

  1. I do appreciate you using my picture, but I have to ask how a couple of minor leaguers enjoying themselves proves your point. (If you look at the next picture in the stream, you'll note that the player in white, Colt King, is smiling.)

    I'll agree that there isn't any need for fighting on the rec league level. Why some guys seem to think otherwise in a league they paid to join is beyond me. None of us are proving anything to anyone, and with some very extreme exceptions, none of us are advancing past where we are now. We do play only for the fun of it.

    On the other hand, BOTH of the players in the picture you used were invited to AHL training camps this year, in no small part because of the fact they are willing to fight. The character in black, Ryan-James Hand, has little to no other skill as a hockey player (God, I hope he doesn't read this and run into me at the bar afterward!), but the Springfield Falcons respected that fact just enough to give him a shot. King can put the puck in the net also, but look up the accolades he received for his performance last year. He was recognized first for toughness.

    I can understand your opinion on fighting, but I do not agree with it. Yes, fighting puts people in the seats, and were it not for Mr. Hand, I do not think my hometown team would have sold out as many of their final games as they did. Hockey cannot survive on superstars alone, though. Did anyone else notice that the NHL's poster girl, Crosby, sat out the third period of the biggest game not only the season, but his career? I could care less if the guy fights or not. There is much more to hockey than that. (How many times did Steve Yzerman fight? How many times did he pull Crosby's stunt?) One can be a great player without ever dropping the gloves, but one cannot take two months off for a bruised ankle. For example, Yzerman played on a ruined knee through the last four months of 2002.

    The point is that these guys are willing to sacrifice anything for their teams. That's what it's about. Especially in the case of guys like Hand and King, the idea is to do anything to get people to notice you, to not only keep your job, but move up to the next level. I respect them for laying everything on the line for what they love. Neither one of them will ever be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but come back 20 years down the road and ask the people who saw them play live who means more, Ryan Hand or Evgeni Malkin.

    On a semi-related matter, I do not want people to get the wrong idea about me. I love hockey nearly as much as anything else in my life. I have never once gone to fisticuffs on the ice, nor do I intend to. This is not because of fear, but because I find myself more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box. As for my pictures, the simple fact is that I am not able to hold my camera still enough to get a good, close picture of anything but a fight.

    Puckboy, best of luck to you. Thanks again for using my picture, and if you're ever in South Dakota, make sure you've got your skates.