By Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine
Sticks and pucks and checks may break their bones, but spilling blood’s a no-no…
I was hoping to table any further discussion about the nature and place of fighting in the NHL since the topic was pretty well pulverized by any media member with a mullet, a microphone and an axe to grind last week – but Wednesday night’s game between the Flyers and Hurricanes once again brought it to the surface.
With just over six minutes played in the game, Carolina’s Craig Adams leveled Denis Gauthier with a big check along the end boards to the left of Martin Biron. The only problem was, Adams took half the length of the zone to hone in on the defenseman, and hit Gauthier when he was turned squarely against the glass and unaware who was bearing down on him. Gauthier appeared to wrench his shoulder on the play, and was eventually diagnosed with a sprained right wrist. He did not return to action and might miss the last six games of the season if the sprain is severe enough.
On the following shift, Randy Jones sought Adams out and attempted to engage him in a fight, only to see Adams turtle within seconds and the officials break up both players. Jones was sent to the penalty box on a double minor for roughing, while Adams returned to the Carolina bench unharmed and unpenalized.
I was appalled to see once again, that either man could not properly defend a teammate and take one’s punishment by a mutual dropping of the gloves. Adams showed absolutely no backbone by refusing to stand up for himself against Jones. Even if Adams had done so and just hung on as Jones rained blows upon him, drawing a coincidental major, it would have garnered him more respect in some quarters than just curling into a ball on the ice and waiting for the officials to come to his rescue.
Which brings me to the Fedoruk-Orr incident in last week’s Flyers-Rangers tilt.
It’s always jarring to see one player laying prone on the ice after taking a huge check or a devastating punch, but why is it that Fedoruk’s plight was lumped into the cyclical arguments about removing fighting from the game? If Colton Orr had grabbed a skilled player like Simon Gagne and leveled him with that right to the face – OK, you’ve got a point about senseless retribution. However, since both players were of equal stature on the ice (both tough guys on the ice to specifically keep the peace), Fedoruk’s falling within two punches solely means that he suffered the embarrassment of losing a fight he should have made more interesting.
If anything, the fact that he was concussed on the play and suffered significant damage to a face which already has plates and screws affixed to it, means that Fedoruk maybe shouldn’t fight anymore. Which means maybe he should retire. To suggest that fighting be removed from the game simply because a renowned fighter was shown lying helpless on the ice in a 10-second television highlight is ridiculous.
I recall an incident involving a Flyers brawler in November, 1992 at Boston Garden. Bruins forward Brent Ashton (6’1” 210) had been needlessly bugging defenseman Ryan McGill (6’2” 200) throughout the first period of that game, until McGill decided to take matters into his own hands. From a face-off, McGill grabbed Ashton, a goal scorer nearing the end of his 14-year career – by the jersey with his right hand, and in one motion, pounded a left squarely under Ashton’s left eye. The force of the blow knocked Ashton backwards and made him hit his head on the ice and suffer a concussion. By the time the Bruins training staff got him to the bench, his left orbital bone was shattered, colored a grotesque purple and red. Nobody then took the reactionary stance and called for the elimination of fighting, or a suspension for McGill in spite of the damage one punch caused to a skater not known for fisticuffs.
The solution to the issue really isn’t to ban fighting – even though that would be the path of least resistance. The solution is one deeper and far reaching, something the league refuses to admit while touting a faster and more skilled game. If the NHL truly wishes to curtail damage done to players, it should instruct its scouts and general managers to select smaller and lighter players instead of the six-foot-plus 200-pound-plus behemoths prowling the ice today.
Remember, it was only because of the impact Eric Lindros had on the game that a bigger and heavier player became the norm starting in the mid-1990’s. Now that Lindros and players of his size and bulk are exposed as too slow in the new NHL, why not start taking the 5’10” 180 guy with soft hands and a mean streak instead of stocking rosters with Zdeno Charas? Nobody ever suffered a crushed face when Rick Tocchet or Pat Verbeek fought years ago, and Brian Gionta (5’7” 185) has acquitted himself well as a smallish skilled player in his brief career.
Still, to the lawyers who populate the league office in New York, it’s all about the “Mean World Theory,” and the fact that a family of four in the Midwest who are casual fans won’t want to become true fans when they see organized violence on the ice if they’ve already seen a healthy dose of bloodshed on the nightly news.
His last name’s not Brodeur, but his first name is Martin, and it’s pronounced the same way, and that’s gotta be a sign, right?
Martin Biron and his agent finally hammered out a two-year deal on Monday, which allows the goaltender to remain in Philly for at least the next two full seasons. This provides the Flyers with their first Number One goaltender, with a proven record, in the prime of his career, since the beginning of Ron Hextall’s second stint with the team (1994-99).
We’re not going to count Robert Esche, a project upon his acquisition from Phoenix, since he never developed into a bona-fide top netminder despite one good postseason. Ditto to Brian Boucher, who gained the organization’s confidence based off one good year as a back up and one spectacular save in the playoffs and promptly fumbled it away. Roman Cechmanek was too unpredictable and inconsistent to be taken seriously, John Vanbiesbrouck was at the end of his career, and both Dominick Roussel and Tommy Soderstrom were average at best.
The difference is, Biron comes to Philly having earned a starting job with Buffalo until head coach Lindy Ruff decided to give the keys to the kingdom to Ryan Miller. Is he a difference maker, able to carry a team on his back like Brodeur, Ed Belfour, and Roberto Luongo? Probably not, but he’s light years better than the names in the previous paragraph, and since goaltending does so much to set the tone for the rest of the club, Biron should be a huge piece of the puzzle in getting the team back on track.
Now, that the money’s no longer an issue for the Quebec native, he can work on finding the nearest gas station from his new house.
Coyotes Ring of Honor? That’s just “Ducky”…
The Phoenix Coyotes will honor Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk by inducting him into the franchise’s Ring of Honor next week. Only Bobby Hull and Thomas Steen, both former Winnipeg Jets, have earned the distinction. My answer to that is: What took them so long?
Hawerchuk basically saved the Jets franchise upon his arrival in 1981. Turned a team that won nine games in 1980-81 into a dynamic club that skated stride-for-stride with Edmonton and Calgary throughout the 1980’s. Although Steen played with the Jets for over a decade, and Hull was the face (and hair) of the team in its WHA days, Hawerchuk was the best player and developed into the finest leader the team has ever had in his nine-year tenure. Plus, there was very little argument that he was the finest center in the NHL next to Wayne Gretzky in that period. OK, so he played for three other clubs before his retirement unlike Steen, who ended his career there. But no other name says “Jets” like Hawerchuk’s does, and it’s a crime that Phoenix waited ten seasons after the move to have a night in his honor.
Fans college age or older remember him as the player traded here from St. Louis in March, 1996 for Craig MacTavish. He posted 20 points in 16 games that year, then added 12 goals and 34 points, including a hat trick in 1996-97. With the Flyers that season, he reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in his career, a fitting way to bow out after an arthritic hip caused a premature end to his playing days at age 34.
Hawerchuk was widely credited as the calming veteran voice after the Tampa Bay Lightning took a two games to one lead over the Flyers in their 1996 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. He led the way through Flyer wins in Games 4 and 5 as the Orange and Black regained control and eventually closed out the Bolts in six.
…and one more thing…
If there is anything to be said about a quick turnaround for a franchise down on its luck, remember this: Twenty-two years ago this past Wednesday, the 1984-85 Flyers, the youngest team in professional sports history, won a division title with a 3-1 win over Detroit at the Spectrum. The Flyers trailed Patrick Division-leading Washington by 11 points in early February, and clinched while 10 points ahead of the Capitals.
That club, coached by Mike Keenan, featured 10 players under the age of 22. However, it featured a skilled, veteran defense and a goaltender who lost a starting job the year before only to rebound with 40 wins. There is hope, which can hopefully not be confused with hype.