Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tough Guys

I'm so grateful for Hal Gill. Sure, I know I was among the skeptics when we watched him handle the puck like he had shovels for hands all season. I sighed as gustily as anybody when he chugged up ice like a disabled aircraft carrier, with a comparable turning radius. When the playoffs came, though; when games really mattered and the big prize was on the line, he gave an actual pound of flesh in his determination to win. He fearlessly blocked dozens of shots that left his carcass splotched with bruises in various shades of livid. Playing with fifty-two stitches in his left calf had to have hurt like a bugger, but aside from a little awkwardness in his stride, you'd never know he was skating with more thread in his hide than a leather coat.

I bring this up now because of the World Cup. Like many of you, I've substituted hockey obsession with an interest in the big soccer tournament, at least to kill some time before the NHL draft. I don't watch a lot of soccer, aside from a passing interest in the English premier league. Still, I figured, it's the biggest competition in the world. Nation versus nation, passion, pride, skill and glory. Aside from the psychotic-episode-inducing drone of the vuvuzelas, what's not to like?

I'll tell you what: the diving. Oh. My. God. Watching these supremely-talented athletes throw themselves to the grass, writhing in agony after the slightest brush of an opponent's boot, makes Mike Ribeiro's theatrics in the 2004 playoffs look Oscar-worthy. It's so ridiculous. They grimace and flinch, clutch their body parts and shout in agony...then take a hand up and continue as though nothing happened. And it's not just once or twice. It happens seven or eight times a game, and nobody's above doing it. For a hockey fan, this is unbelievable.

We're used to watching guys like Gill, and Bob Gainey, who played with two separated shoulders. Travis Moen had fifty stitches in his face and missed one game. Andrei Markov had his tendon severed and came back to play weeks ahead of schedule. We're accustomed to players who will come off the ice under their own power unless they're unconscious. Soccer players, to a hockey fan, are big, rich, talented wimps. I'd like to see one of them nailed in the corner by Zdeno Chara, or blocking a MAB slapper. They think soccer cleats hurt? I'd like to see them take a skate in the leg like Gill did, just so they'd know the difference between "ow" and "HOLY LORD, there are only ten pints of blood in the human body and four of them are on the ice!"

I can appreciate the significance of the World Cup, and the strategy of the game. When it comes to pure admiration of the athletes, however, give me hockey every time. If I'm going to watch a game played by men, I want to see men on the playing surface. Guys faking injuries on every play just don't impress in quite the same way. Hal Gill might not have the dexterity of Messi or the speed of Ronaldo, but he's got real courage. For that, I'm glad he's on our team, and I'm glad to be a hockey fan.


Unknown said...

Wow. Thank you for expressing my sentiments *exactly*.

Kyle Roussel said...

I'm with you all the way on this one, J.T.

I've tried time and time again to get in to soccer, but I just can't do it. The diving completely ruins it for me.

To see these guys go down like they've been shot with a crossbow, only to spring up and get back in to action makes my stomach turn. At worst, they are "helped" back to their sideline as they cover their face in "agony". One wonders if they aren't really laughing instead. Then, one or two sprays of some magical aerosol, and they're 100% again. Give me a break.

I've been watching the World Cup, as I did in 2002, and 2006, but the World Cup is all I can tolerate. Pro soccer gives me fits, and the North American brand leaves me...empty. Give me hockey and hockey players any day of the week.

CheGordito said...

I don't think that the comparison is fair.

First, the stereotype - just like in hockey, different teams act differently when challenged/fouled. Check out this replay from Italy-Paraguay:


Meanwhile, you have players coolly receiving stitches on the sideline while bleeding from the head (can't have any blood on the field), like Taribo West from Nigeria vs. Argentina in 2002. (Sorry, couldn't find a replay.)

Second, it's a different game. Not to take anything away from hockey players, but it's easy to be "tough" when you're wearing lots of padding and playing for 90 seconds at a time, and you stop every five minutes for a two-minute ad-break, plus replays for certain plays. Play for 90 or 120 minutes and some players will have run tens of miles, and will be affected by the relatively slighter injuries. Fatigue is part of the reason that the slow-downs are (somewhat) tolerated.

At the same time, the soccer/football world is well aware of the diving that does happen and does try to combat it. The referees are all well-briefed before the match and have studied how individual players dive, to know when to play on, if they didn't get a clear look.

Players can be given a yellow card for diving - two of those in a game, you miss the rest of the game, and the next one. Two in different games and the player will miss the next game. In the NHL, the advantage only lasts for two minutes, and is further shortened if the opposing team scores a goal (Thanks historic Habs), vs. the extended disadvantage of a red card.

Incidentally, the yellow/red card system (plus refereeing) is why there's virtually no real violence in the sport. I'd take most "soft" soccer/football players anyday over most "tough" hockey players, as athletes and as role models.

That being said, enjoy this "Italian Practice" video:

Anonymous said...

Anybody with any integrity left soccer in 1823 when William Webb Ellis "WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL
A.D. 1823"

Anonymous said...

soooooo happy to see my tugboat of love is finally getting the recognition he deserves! harold priestly is a beast and a PK godzilla. he is a true leader, and an all-around great guy. for all these reasons, i got his number on the first-ever habs t-shirt i ever bought, this season.
ps- you forgot to mention when matt cooke tried to pry open his stitches on game 7 (first one back after the cut)by hooking his stick behind hal's knee and tugging... gill took it, kept playing and still was able to shake the man's hand and say a few words to him at the end of the game. such a class act.

just thought i'd stop lurking and finally comment, seeing as the topic of this post is of some interest to me. :)

awesome blog, JT. you've made a late-comer like me understand hockey in no time. you're hilarious and witty, but your passion is what sets you apart. thank you.


Jessica and Stephan said...

I've been following this blog for over 2 years, but have never commented...now I am, since I have my own blog and am into the "blogging" world.

One word about your article: AMEN!

My german-soccer-fan boyfriend thinks its the best sport ever, and that it will one day over take hockey in Canada.

.......I told him he's nuts, and if it were on a test for him to immigrate here he would fail.

Anonymous said...

Football is rough too. In basketball you can get a little hurt. Baseball is pretty laid back. I think Lacrosse was pretty good until all the equipment arrived. But for me, I like hockey and CC (Contact Curling for the uninitiated).

Ice Hockey has the bigger surface but just seeing the two teams lining up for the Contact Curling faceoff sends a tingle up my spine. Old timers tell me it was better before all the protective equipment, when all they did was duct tape the stone to the players hand and let the brooms fly, but for me I think the brass knuckles add a certain je ne sais quoi, lets say character, to the game. Sure the odd player fakes an injury now and then, withering on the ice until the broom is removed, but what the heck, build up those abs and next time you won't be caught gasping for air like that. I do think they should ban the lead from raising that stone above the waist. Someone could get hurt.

Do the folks watching these soccer games watch the field or are they just there to vent and make noise?

DKerr said...


Quick story. I live in South Texas and was in the store when I heard a lady speaking in french on her phone. I commented to her how wonderful it was to hear that language here (in the land of english and spanish). I told her the little french I know comes from being a Habs fan. She asked if I was interested in the world cup and I pointed out the day one scores; her France played to a 0-0 tie and the other game ended 1-1. I pointed out that scores like that were of little interest to me.

How could a tournament to determine the best in the world allow games to end in ties? How can teams stacked with supremely skilled players (I'll take their word for it) at their best equate to nothing on the scoreboard? The way I understand it (and I could be wrong) when an outcome is needed, they move onto free kicks. Free kicks is a goalie guessing which way a player will shoot at a seemingly 900 foot wide net. Honestly, if the goalie guesses wrong, an 8 year could score. A major game gets decided by which goalie guesses right more often or which player shanks a shot - a team game reduced to that? It could use a workover.

I do like video of some goals where the back checking forward lets his guy go and the ball ends up in the net. That is refreshingly similar to hockey. Don't do your defensive diligence and pay the price.

Your points on the diving are right on. To ther other poster telling about how soccer players run miles in a game as compared to short burst shifts in hockey; I guess our referees would be great soccer players!

V said...

Agree completely with CheGordito above JT. Respectfully believe you have this one all wrong.

Two entirely different sports. I love hockey - to be honest I love the Habs and I like hockey - but soccer has become my first love since my sons have played it for twenty years. The European and World Cup are the world's premiere sporting events and the level of blow-your-mind skill and athleticism is un-parralled.

When hit, most soccer players go down like they have been pole-axed because they have... overt violence in elite soccer is the equivalent of a hockey player using a gun to bring down an opponent. At a Canadian soccer game, when you see someone tripping and bashing into others, you look derisively at the person next to you and mutter, 'hockey-player'. In Canadian soccer, the inability to chanel your emotions in a productive way is a sure sign hockey is your first sport. Hockey is to soccer like mud-wrestling is to ballet.

Sure, some of these World Cup soccer players fake a foul and that sucks - but the majority of those that go rolling through the grass when tackled are simply shocked to find that their wonderful flight is over. Like the Gods, they are stunned to be so literally and figuratively brought to earth.

Unknown said...

To CheGordito and V:

I don't think there's any doubt here that football is a great sport, that the athletes are supremely gifted ("god-like," if you will), or that it's a hard sport to play. Absolutely.

I think all JT is saying is the players should stop the theatrics and act like men. If they can get up and keep playing, there's no need to writhe around on the grass mugging for attention like a child. It's unbecoming and tarnishes the beautiful game.

Anonymous said...

Lars Eller's first goal in the NHL is a beauty, (saw it on HABSEYESONTHEPRIZE) parked in front of Calgary's net on the powerplay, out working Dion Phaneuf for position and redirecting a point shot past Kipper. Just what the Habs need. Hate to see Halak go but with arbitration looming, Gauthier at least shipped him out west. Also, the Schultz kid looks like a physical presence (Lucic maybe?). Give him number 8 like another Schultz I remember. This could be a good deal considering Halak priced himself out of the Habs cap range.

Benee said...

Quote "....Hockey is to soccer like mud-wrestling is to ballet..." Unquote.

Good Lord man are you off your rocker !!

Anonymous said...

How can we alert Pierre Gauthier to this prospect before tomorrow? Danny Biega is home grown (Pointe Claire) and could be a tough, STRONG D in the NHL someday.