Friday, March 11, 2011

Heart

I think my hockey heart is broken. Or, if it's not broken, it's seriously bruised. I've loved this game since I was eleven years old. I love the speed, the impossible move that turns a defenceman inside out, the goalie strrreeeettttccchhhing for a spectacular save. The game; the one I read about in King Leary and Hockey Fever in Goganne Falls when I was a kid, the one we played on our backyard rink and on the canal late at night at university in Ottawa, is a beautiful thing.

What the beautiful game has become under NHL guardianship is something I don't really recognize. Systems and goons and injustice have turned it into a "product," not a "game." We still see real hockey in the playoffs, but to get there, a team must run the gauntlet of thuggery, cheap shots and league indifference to justice. Every decision the NHL brass makes is driven by money. When many teams were building new rinks, the league could have increased the size of the ice surface to give bigger, faster players more room to move and improve player safety. That didn't happen, because it would have meant the loss of too many paying seats.

We see empty arenas and dismal teams in US markets because the NHL commissioner believes the elusive national TV deal the league chases like the Holy Grail won't happen without teams in all the major centres. And we see devastating injuries to really good young players swept under the rug as the commissioner smiles his plastic smile and explains how they're unfortunate, but all part of our fast, exciting game. Rule changes are made to increase goal scoring because that's what paying customers and TV audiences want. Nothing happens to reduce violent hits or fights, because the league thinks paying customers and TV audiences want those too.

This is all to say that I watched the Canadiens play the Blues last night, and I didn't care what happened. The defence was disorganized, Pouliot was terrible and Cammalleri non-existent, but I didn't feel a spark of frustration or anger. Even when Matt D'Agostini scored, it didn't matter. The destruction of Max Pacioretty with the league's tacit approval has had the effect of a kick in the heart.

Lost in the business of the NHL is the fact that young, talented hockey players are taking their lives in their hands every night, and nobody cares to protect them. That's not something I enjoy, and I didn't blame the Canadiens for playing with no heart last night. They were the ones closest to their teammate as he lay on the ice, and the ones who heard the gunshot of his head hitting the stanchion. If they're a little queasy or heartsick, that's to be expected.

I don't know if my passion for NHL hockey will come back. I expect the Canadiens will recover because they're professionals who've trained all their lives to play this game, and most of them know nothing else. I wonder, though, how many other lifelong fans have finally had it with the NHL? How many others are watching games with the disinterest inspired by heartbreak? The Stanley Cup may be sport's greatest trophy, but how much meaning can a championship really hold, when it seems like the league has a say in who wins it? Those are questions I'm asking myself today. I expect a lot of you are too. I also expect the NHL brass won't bother, until the disinterest of formerly loyal fans starts to hit them on the bottom line.

27 comments:

KD said...

You took the words right out of my heart(and mouth); I, too, have never felt like this..

Flint said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, but I think that rather than getting disheartened, we die hard fans should find a way to hurt the NHL where it counts - in their bottom line. Why not target any Canadian sponsor, especially those who market to children? Those same children who will not be allowed to play hockey because of this violence.

For me this is a MADD moment. It's time to change attitudes by grabbing the higher moral ground and shaming those in charge of the NHL 'Code of Silence' into action. Let's picket the National Hall of 'Shame', boycott Hockeyville in Canada (and especially it's sponsors).

I, for one, will not let them destroy our game without a fight.

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same. Didn't even watch the third period. No excitement, no anguish. Nothing. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

Demonstration are planned in Montreal next week (March 14th and 15th) coinciding with NHL general managers meetings. Location: NHL office and Bell Centre.

Don't see it on the news, be part of it. It's time for our voices to be heard.

In the long run...

CHL (Canadian Hockey League).

Patccmoi said...

Thank you J.T.

I felt like I wanted to write something this morning about how I felt, but somehow I KNEW that you would've written it already.

This is exactly it. I can't get myself to care. And if I don't, why should the team? Something really wrong happened, and I realize it's not the first time, but obviously you're more affected when it touches one of your own. It's not hypocrisy, it's human nature.

It kinda feels as if I'm going through mourning phases.

First there was shock. That was when Max was not moving on the ice, and then when the league gave no suspension (although I kinda expected that, although I would have hoped they would AT LEAST give some meaningless, 1-2 games to show they cared just a bit).

Then denial that this would really just go unpunished.

Anger, which got me to act, send emails to all sponsors and built up an email list and draft letters that I posted in various places for people to try to take action too.

Then depression, I think that was last night, when I watched the team play and I just didn't feel into it at all. I just couldn't care.

Now I feel like I'm pretty close to resignation : Bettman & co. might very well have just killed our sport (and soon enough some players) with how the NHL has been moving, how it's been promoted, to the point where they do not even feel the need to punish murder attempts on the ice, instead calling it 'strong hockey plays'. And mostly seeing how the majority of the league seems to be agreeing with them (or at least everyone who's vocal about it).

Then there will be acceptation : if that's how hockey is, maybe it's time I just stop following it, wish the Habs the best of luck and thank them for all they gave to me in terms of emotions and memory, and move on...

I still have a sliver of hope. Maybe people in Montreal WILL care enough to make something happen. Maybe Molson and Gauthier will have some sort of impact. But right now, seeing the reaction of Bettman to yesterday, I don't see it happening. Until enough people stop caring and the league goes bankrupt, nothing will change. Or maybe it won't happen and they'll manage to get all the UFC fans to turn to hockey too, and then they will just have killed the spirit of the sport and it won't be something I want to watch anymore.

Anyway, something in me just snapped on Tuesday, and Wednesday I guess (because a strong league response might have mend the wound, at least in part). You put it best : my hockey heart is broken, and I'm not sure if I'll really get it fixed.

MC said...

If it makes you feel any better, I feel the same way and the players looked the same last night. It reminds me of when the Sens lost 7-1 after going to a funeral the same day; you only have so much capacity per day to deal with stress. If you use it up on other things, you have nothing left to respond to a hockey game. We all will all feel better by Saturday I hope.

What is making difficult for me is that it is obvious that there is a hazardous attitude that permeates the sport of hockey from the NHL down. The attitude that it is okay if you hurt someone if it is within the rules. Essentially, the integrity of the game comes before player safety. On the radio and on TV, you see former NHLers saying it was "just a hockey play". It is collective insanity. The aviation world went through this in the 1970s when planes were crashing for no reason. They finally realized there were hazardous attitudes throughout aviation that needed to change and Crew Resource Management training was initiated that is now institutionalized in aviation.

The only silver lining for me in this case is that the hazardous attitude that is engrained in hockey culture has been unveiled, and it is ugly. At least we know what we are fighting against now.

Paul B. said...

Don't get me wrong J.T., I like reading your comments during the games BUT you are certainly at your very best when (like everybody else, I suppose) you have had the time to organize your thoughts and ponder your comments.

And if you're ever fed up with hockey and decide not to blog about it anymore, please blog about something else.

jew4jah said...

i second paul b's sentiments. you have always been a clear voice in the confusion.


it's all fun & games until someone loses an eye... someone lost their proverbial eye on tuesday.

please don't stop JT

Topham said...

We got a message from a guy that used to comment on Lions in Winter all the time. He's had enough and said so long to watching. I was a bit surprised, but I understand the reaction.

I am not ready to stop watching, but I do want to channel some of the dissapointment into hopefully creating momentum for change. The league needs to set deterrents to their players that will strip the possibility of these plays out of the game. Simple as that.

Harry said...

Hi-As usual,JT you are stop on about the feelings we are all having.People say that after your home is broken into you never feel the same again.Our spirit has been broken into,I'm sure it will come back but its gone for now.
Just as a side note-did you notice the penalty Chara 'the slammer' got last night against Buffalo-BOARDING !!! He has been really shaken up over this right ???

dusty said...

Don't know what will come of the GM's meeting but wouldn't be surprised if Bettman floats the idea of a 7 minute major penalty for causing death by a hockey play with perhaps a 2 game suspension.

Watching Backes run around trying to fight Plekanec last night was disgusting to watch. If only Larry Robinson was still playing.

Tara said...

Wow. Just wow. My disjointed thoughts put to words by someone I don't know. But I'm with Anon 2:22: It's our game, let's find a way to get it back. These are our boys, regardless of team, and they want their game back more than we do.

DB said...

It seems that about once a decade the NHL has an incident (Chara/MaxPac, Bertuzzi/Moore, McSorley/Brashear, Green/Maki, Shore/Bailey)that shocks the fans. The chorus of fans and pundits calling for change will rage for awhile and then fade away.

While the fans rage the NHL's head is buried in the sand waiting for the fury to die down. Deepdown the NHL knows change is needed, but it'll be damned if it will let those who've never played in the NHL dictate the pace of change.

Eventually Bettman will surface to smuggly tell everyone that change will come only when the NHL is good and ready and that the louder the fans and pundits protest the more the NHL will dig in its heels.

Bettman doesn't care if you like his message; he knows best and wants everyone to know that. He is the Maxim Lapierre or Sean Avery of commissioners and like all good agitators he bets you can't wipe that smug look off his face.

Ted said...

JT

I too have felt like I'm wondering in a daze still unsure that I've heard what I've heard and seen what I've seen in the last few days. Bob McKenzie thinks if we don't like they way hockey is played we should start watching billiards (comments on team 990 this morning).

The problem is many have taken to watching poker!! Really - watching poker!! I would rather watch grass grow.

I propose a new league, bigger ice surface with Canadian and European teams. It will be watered down but maybe, just maybe we could find a commissioner with some hockey sense. I can guarantee that any product put out would be better than what I witnessed on Tuesday night.

BTW - I'm giving up my Center Ice Package and NHL live package next season. I'll catch it on ESPN. Wait - they only carry poker!!

Jay in PA said...

As always, JT, you said it best. Like you, my hockey heart is broken, and I watched the game last night in a detached way until I realized that it was an effort just to pay attention to what was going on. My heart wasn't in it, so I switched it off.

Max Pacioretty didn't die, thank goodness, but I feel somewhat like I'm in mourning. I don't know, but it seems to me that I need to see some sign that the league genuinely cares about the safety of the players that comprise it. What I've seen is posturing, hypocrisy, and an attempt to erect a wall of bloodless corporate communication that ignores the very real fact that a young man with his life in front of him was nearly left paralyzed or worse. And, as someone pointed out here yesterday, it sets a precedent that beating someone's head into a stanchion is now not punishable by suspension--so long as it happens as part of a hockey play.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Couldn't really care last night.

moeman said...

Yup, feeling numbed about the direction of the game. I'll give Price and Eller kudos for playing wit lots of heart last night.

Jessica and Stephan said...

I too have felt sickened and seriously questioning whether I want to continue to watch hockey, and watch players get injured like this. My heart is not in it anymore.

DT said...

Well said, JT.

I feel the same emotions but also feel enraged that Boston has socked it to us again. When we lost 8-6 in Beantown the team was beaten up and lost a few games afterwards before they could heal their bruises, re-focus and win again. Then they got on a roll and started winning again. Enter the B's at the Bell centre and this time a great win by the boys but at a huge cost... followed by a loss.

Should I care? Not for wins anymore. Until things change, I care only for the players who put their lives on the ice every night. Oh, and I'd be a liar if I didn't take some delight in seeing Boston lose the rest of their games.

dan edmunds said...

i couldnt agree more once again. last night sucked. i watched, sort of, but really didnt care or expect a win. thia game is tainted and i wish there was something we could do about it.

Tony said...

Likewise for me; I've never felt so low about the game. I will send emails but if something doesn't come of this, I'm out.

Anonymous said...

I did not watch the game. Like you I had no interest. The stonewalling by the "NHL" I think is what I am disgusted with. The NHL is a group really. Thirty owners (and some) who hire managers to look after these things while operating their "franchises" along common lines.

The owners like Mr. Lemieux or Mr. Molson broke ranks a bit. Astounding really with the warm group hug of the League meetings just next week. They are indicating that the managers they hired to run the "league" affairs may not be performing to expected levels. Explaining to fans that you have no intent to overturn or allow appeal to a bad decision is odd. Telling corporate sponsors to literally "bite me" is odder.

I am hoping Mr. Bettman's signing of a five year extension is his "thanks for coming out" severance package and the board will decide to look for new leadership now. I hope this because with Bill Masterson it took 11 years to get the idea through the NHL that helmets might be a good idea. They named a trophy after Mr. Masterson right after his death from his on ice head injury, but it took 11 years and many more incidents to decide to make new players wear helmets. Remember watching Ted Green try and form simple words and phrases?

I don't want to see a Sydney Crosby trophy or a Pax Bowl. Mr. Bettman has made bad business decisions, maybe chosen what he thought was the better of many bad choices, but the actions regarding blatant head hunting within the current league would imply that he is either powerless or incompetent to evaluate such matters.

I thought I would be over my little pique of disinterest by today. Sadly I am not. I hope my interest comes back. I did enjoy watching the games and seeing players develop. I see now that it isn't about them, or sport. This is about perpetuating the good life for a few egos flying the corporate jet and not realizing there is a real danger there will soon be no airport or ramp willing to accept them.

Where the WHA went wrong was in emulating the NHL. Perhaps it is time to try something else.

Anonymous said...

Great great text... I think I will wait to see what will happened to the General Manager meeting in a couple of days to see what will be done. And if I am not satisfied with the changes or if there is no changes to the way these questions are treated, then I will move on... I will take a long break of LNH hockey and tried to find a way to KHL hockey in my tv! What a sad perspective, but I can't stand these stupid rulers of hockey saying crap every time someone get's hurt!

When Marc Savard, Crosby and Booth got hit, I felt the same. Now it is too much.

Number31 said...

My hockey heart took it's last gasp. I just can't must a care anymore, but I love the boys, I want to support them because they need my support more than ever, especially now...

The sick people with that Don Cherry attitude don't understand one thing: this is Montreal. "The cradle of organized sports where we come together for a common cause". Think Annakin Slayd was just making up words? Montreal started this League, it has the power to start change.

It starts with Jacobs, owner of the Bruins who's also the chairman of the Board of Governors. He's the man who's really in charge of everything. The corruption, the collusion, it all starts with him. He's the one who approved the extension of Bettman's contract so why o why would Bettman dare to do anything that might anger him? Campbell, who's son plays for Boston, whispers into Murphy's ear and "my hands are clean, my conscious clear".

Brunt's "It can't be nothing" still rings in my head as loud as the noise Pacioretty made when he was sent into the stanchion. All they had to do was say it wasn't acceptable, it was reckless, and this is his suspension/fine. Instead Chara goes out on the ice against Buffalo, gets a standing ovation, and takes a boarding penalty for hitting Montador. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

I turned off the game after the first period and didn't care how it ended. I lost my love for the game.

Peter said...

I feel exactly the same way. I'm 36 and have 3 young boys that love to watch the games with me. We cheer, we sing, we fist bump and high five for the goals and great saves. That hit killed a piece of my passion and love for the game. It took away my excitement about sharing the game with my boys because it brought down the cold reality of a league gone bad. I've recognized it, as have many, for a long time but I think we all have "learned to live with that weasel Bettman and his idiot hockey puck employees". It has gone too far and the next stop in my opinion is death. These fools running the game will not change in until a player is dead on the ice. It will be too late.

The day after the hit I didn't know whether to feel enraged or to cry for Max and his family. The heart broken feeling you so eloquently describe is reminiscent of 1995 when I gave up baseball upon the realization that it was purely a business and my beloved Expos would never stand a chance. Haven't gone back to the sport since. It will take more than the current state of affairs in the NHL to completely extinguish my fire for the game. Today though, it burns less brightly than ever before.