Monday, February 14, 2011

Mario Lemieux speaks the truth

Preface: Don't worry, I'm not trying to go all Damien Cox or Adam Proteau here. Finding a reasonable column in print media on fighting is about as tough as finding Dire Straits on FM radio in Canada, but I'll give it a shot in online form.

Frequently, when a fight breaks out in another sport, I feel a tinge of pride that a baseball player, basketball player or elephant polo player doesn't fight like a hockey player. But that doesn't mean every clean hit needs to result in fisticuffs or that every accidental running-of-the-goalie needs to result in a scrum around the net. There's a little too much testosterone in the game, and last week we saw the epitome of it.

It's one thing when two original six rivals in Montreal and Boston get into a couple of line brawls on national TV, but it's quite another thing when New York Islander after New York Islander drop the gloves with Pittsburgh Penguin players. I'm sure this was all in violation of the unwritten code that old-school tough guys like Don Cherry and Mike Milbury point to regarding all-out brawls, but there really isn't. You disagree with a guy, you drop the gloves, you clear the air, there's mutual respect, both players get a slap on the wrist and the game goes on. If fighting isn't about players resolving their differences in the only language they can speak, then why is it in the game?

Now, Mario Lemieux played with Ulf Samuelsson and employs Matt Cooke, but that in no way means that he is in the wrong when he says this:
“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”
Bit of a bombshell, and, as others have mentioned, Lemieux's Penguins lead the league in fighting majors and penalty minutes.

Better late than never for the Penguins to become self-aware. They have a lot of multi-fight games:

October 18th vs. Ottawa - 2 fights
October 29th vs. Philadelphia - 2 fights
November 2nd vs. Dallas - 4 fights
November 10th vs. Boston - 3 fights
November 29th vs. NY Rangers - 2 fights
December 8th vs. Toronto - 4 fights
December 22nd vs. Florida - 2 fights
January 25th vs. NY Islanders - 2 fights
February 2nd vs. NY Islanders - 2 fights
February 8th vs. Columbus - 4 fights
February 10th vs. Los Angeles - 2 fights
February 11th vs. NY Islanders - 8 fights

I have to go with Mario on this one. As chickenshit and escalating as the Penguins have been this year, it probably has a little more to do with all the injuries that have come to their scoring forwards. This isn't indicative of the organization or its coaches, but more of the situation that they've found themselves in lately. They had 48 fights last year, 16th in the league, and 39 in 2009, which was 23rd in the league.

Like I said last week, Matt Cooke can be an effective forward. Mike Rupp, in another life, was scoring Stanley Cup winning goals. I don't think that this team was built around goons, but they certainly haven't strayed too far from controversy this year. That said, while it's easy to call Lemieux a hypocrite, or easy for resident NHL lackey John Shannon to let owners vent anonymously in public, remember Cam Cole's article on hypocrisy that everybody agreed with last week. Instead of going after Lemieux for his own connections like a cheap political campaign, keep in mind that he's saying something that needed to be said. And unlike any journalist or blogger out there with their own mind on fighting, Mario has the power to change it.

The Penguins/Islanders game was not representative of hockey, but just as importantly, it was not representative of fighting. No team needs a goon to win anymore, and certainly there are better ways of building team unity than letting emotions spill out all over the ice.

And in defense of the Penguins, as much as I hate to do so, it does take two to tango.


Brief hoserism update, Milos Raonic won the SAP Open after an impressive performance against Fernando Verdasco Sunday night, 7-6, 7-6. His strong run at the Australian Open had the country take notice of him, while he shot up in the world tennis rankings and will end up at 59th in the world today. This is the first Canadian male single's champion on the ATP Tour, and he did it on nationally televised Sportsnet, who had the presence of mind to pick up the feed to the event.


The one-year anniversary of the Vancouver Olympics came this weekend, which led to an interminable amount of patriotic fervor on CTV and TSN2. I was going to write a column on the lavish eccess of the Superbowl last week, but I'd feel badly after seeing how Vancouver is treating the one-year anniversary of an event. It's only been a year, guys. Relax, let the memories sink in, and come back in four years. Or at least come back at a time when the biggest star of the games has the mental capacity to celebrate its biggest moment.

Also, even though I already used this joke on Twitter: "I wonder what the ratings were like for the one-year anniversary special for the 1976 Montreal Olympics."


The Edmonton Oilers are terrible. They managed just 12 shots against Anaheim Sunday night and are on pace for 59 points. Only the '07 Flyers, '06 Blues and '06 Penguins managed worse post-lockout records.

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