Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Circus Around Battle Of Ontario Crazy As Ever

The beat goes on for the Ottawa Senators after another comeback win, this time on the road against God’s Team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was a game everyone wanted to see, and the hype was surprisingly strong for a mid-January tilt between clubs that play each other six times a season. Even if the game is ho-hum (this one wasn’t), the circus surrounding it is always worth a laugh simply because everyone takes it so seriously. Television’s talking heads lose their objectivity and seem to think they’re on the ice with the players (see Nick Kypreos). Or in the case of Damien Cox, use it as a platform to tell everyone what’s so awful about the NHL (ad-nauseum). Tweeters see every nuance of the game and tweet about it as if it was some vital piece of information, or proof that their viewpoint on the current state of hockey is being proven right beyond any argument.

Take the Nick Foligno – Dion Phaneuf incident. You all saw it. The hipcheck (or the “clipping”). Phaneuf going ass over chin and landing on his face. Phaneuf starting to get up and then faking an injury (allegedly). Then the big fight a little bit later.

As far as the two players are concerned, the fight was a natural reaction to the hit and the matter was settled. It’s not a complicated process for the players to understand.

Yet the reaction amongst the cognoscenti was far from simple and each side had to adjust the reality of it to fit their agendas.

The exchange between Nick Kypreos and Damien Cox on Sportsnet right after the game is a good representation of this.

Kypreos said that Phaneuf had to fight Foligno to send a message that it wasn’t okay to run him and think you can get away with it. Again, this is simple logic for most hockey players. It’s like an inherent truth, an archetype, a natural reaction.

Then you had Damien Cox with that sour look on his face exclaiming “But they lost the game!” His point was that Toronto was leading 2-1 at that point and that Phaneuf should have just accepted the fact that Foligno got a penalty and turned the other cheek.

This made Kypreos start flinging his arms around saying that you can’t let “guys like Foligno” take runs at you and not do anything about it. Kypreos was on the verge of hysterics while Cox smugly looked on like a kid who had just poked a hornet’s nest for the fun of it.

Cox’s theory is representative of a growing consensus in the game that players should leave all the policing up to the league instead of taking matters into their own hands.

If you read my blog at all, you probably already know my take. I think that’s complete bullshit. I’m on the pro-fighting side of the current debate and that’s that. I like the traditional way of players settling issues with each other on the ice, instead of expecting the league to take care of every issue.

Clearly I have my own agenda and I know that. Don’t bother calling me on it. I have a lot of respect for people on the other side of the debate like Roy MacGregor amongst others. There are lots of valid points in either argument.

Yet, I’ll go back to something I said about Don Cherry not too long ago. I’ll always respect the opinion of someone who genuinely seems to love the game, even if they tend to go off track once in a while either in the name of entertainment or bullheadedness. When I see Cherry or Mike Milbury get spitting mad about changes in the game, I see guys who are passionate and protective of a sport they based their entire life around.

I saw that same emotion in Kypreos last night. Cox won the argument simply by being cool and smug, and knowing that Kypreos could never articulate his points the same way a polished writer and communicator like Cox can.

But it doesn’t make Cox right.

To me, I will always err on the side of player’s opinion. They’re the ones who play the game and put their health on the line every night while guys like me sit and judge them for every move they make on the ice.

In short, I’ll take guys like Milbury, Cherry and Kypreos just as seriously, if not more than I would Cox, MacGregor or Adam Proteau. And that also means that players such as Stu Grimson and Chris Nilan have just as valid points to make. Maybe that’s a flawed approach, but it’s the one I believe in.

A major weakness I see in Cox’s argument, and the variations on it that you read in the blogs and on Twitter is that fighting largely has no effect on the game. People like to point out when a fight either hurts a team (like Toronto last night) or when nobody seems to gain momentum from it. But to acknowledge that it can have a negative effect also means you have to acknowledge it can have a positive effect on a team. That’s just logic, not some theory I invented in my spare time. You can’t separate the two in order to prove a point. If the fight was bad for one team, then it was clearly good for the other team.

But that’s the kind of world the NHL is in right now. It’s become so politicized that it’s a bit of a bummer at times. You can sit and watch your Twitter feed during a game and be amazed that so many people get sucked into the shallowness of it all, the pettiness and the egotistical crusades that make it like a deranged schoolyard atmosphere where grown adults embrace their worst impulses and try to peddle it as insight. The amount of straight-up bullies on Twitter is amazing to behold. It’s like stumbling onto the island in Lord Of The Flies and seeing people in rags trying to maim each other. It’s somewhat surreal.

But who am I to spoil everyone’s fun. It is what it is. I’ve waded into those waters myself from time to time.

As Bob Dylan once said in Talkin’ World War III Blues, “Half of the people can be part right all of the time, Some of the people can be all right part of the time, But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time.”


Steve Gower said...

"Phaneuf starting to get up and then faking an injury (allegedly)."

Glad I wasn't the only one who saw that. There was no reaction anywhere that I saw (TV or Twitter) about my view, he was basically looking up to check whether Foligno was standing or not (clearly to fake injury if Foligno was standing).

Anonymous said...

Personally, I give people no credit at all who argue against fighting in hockey who have never played the game at any really competitive levels.

I played as far up as Junior A (and AAA) when I was younger until a back injury put me on the shelf for anything but house league hockey. I know how high tensions can run on a hockey rink. These same people who say there's no place for it in the game are (sometimes) the same type of people who would punch you on the street if you ran into them or tripped them. So for them to say it shouldn't happen on the ice is both stupid and hypocritical.

Phaneuf is a goof... that look to Foligno said volumes about his respectability in this league, and really hammers home the fact that he was voted most over-rated by the PLAYERS! They see shit like this too, even if pundits don't.


- BigSlice

Anonymous said...

I dont think its strictly a hockey thing. If you've ever played a team sport of any kind you know what it means to stand up for your teammates. The refs arent always going to be in your corner, the NHL has taught us that much.

Peter Raaymakers said...

"Cox’s theory is representative of a growing consensus in the game that players should leave all the policing up to the league instead of taking matters into their own hands."

I don't think that was Cox's theory. Maybe I'm projecting this onto him (mostly because this is my opinion), but I think Cox's theory was that Phaneuf's a tough cookie, and he should be able to take hits like the one Foligno took him out with. He's not a skilled player, he's a gritty one. And he's the captain.

If Foligno had hit, say, Kessel, then Phaneuf standing up for the team's leading scorer would make a lot of sense. You can't take runs at the team's finesse guys and expect to get away with it. But that's not what happened. I see Phaneuf's need to defend himself as little more than selfishness and stupidity. He penalized his own team to make a statement for himself, despite being its captain and presumed leader. Then he went and lost the fight, to boot.

@BigSlice: You don't have to give those people you mention for their arguments to be legitimate.

Jeremy Milks said...

Peter, good points, but to me, Phaneuf did what he had to do. He's a physical guy and he can, and should, take care of himself. I don't think he lost the fight at all. It was probably a draw. That penalty didn't lose the Leafs the game. It was bad goaltending by Reimer. If Phaneuf doesn't defend himself, he'd get criticized for being soft. You can't win. So he did what was right and challenged Foligno. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Anonymous said...

Phaneuf made a fool of himself by lying on the ice looking for pity/penalty after the original hit.

His teammates didn't stick up for him, which I find the most interesting.

Anonymous said...

The joke in all this? 'Foligno running Phanuef' claim by Kypreos. Phanuef was lining up Foligno in this case and started to leaved his feet on his own accord. Imagine what the contact would have looked like if Foligno stood up? - yep, likely a forearm to Foligno's head. So Phancy get's flipped on is ass, fakes an injury (allegedly) and is embarassed so he's gotta fight for his pride at this point. That didn't work out great either.

It's really hard to take former player's side with a take like that (Kyp made it sound like he's a poor defenseless 6'3" defenseman'- really?)