Sunday, March 14, 2004

Dr. Murphy takes the pulse of the nation!

Rex Murphy opened up his phone lines on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Check Up program Sunday, and Canadians from coast to coast unburdened themselves of the angst of the Bertuzzi incident. From Newfoundland to British Columbia, Murphy had guests on line and took calls on the topic of hockey violence in the NHL and in hockey in general.

While Murphy admitted that he was not a close follower of the game, he provided some excellent points and asked the questions that have been making the rounds this week in other forums, not always handled as carefully as Murphy did.

Caller after caller gave their observations on the incident in question and the state of the game in general. The first caller of the day, a gent named John in Waterloo, Ontario, recounted how a junior hockey game degenerated due to the hostile nature of the parents and fans in attendance. A caller named Tom, asked why the NHLPA had not made any comments about the situation, wondering why they had not made efforts to protect their membership, by offering suggestions and support for cracking down on other violent incidents. Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail, who was a guest in the first half hour offered up the suggestion that there isn’t much in the way of leadership these days, either in the league office or with the player’s themselves.

Through the two hour programs a few themes seemed to come up over and over again. Violence is no more prevalent today than 20 or 30 years ago, according to Richard in Ottawa. Ed in Ontario claimed the NHL should have punished both coaches for the incident, suggesting that Tony Granato should have known that this kind of situation could have developed. The Medias approach to the incident came under fire from Don in PEI, who offered the opinion that a lot of the media in Vancouver had been building up the rematch for a week or so, bringing things to a boil so to speak.

The instigator rule came in under attack as well, callers identifying it as a root cause of the increased attacks on star and journeyman player alike. Don Cherry and Dave Hunter, who both appeared as guests, echoed that suggestion, claiming that if the players knew they were answerable for their tactics at the hands of an enforcer then things might be different today. Cherry blaming the left wingers (political ones, not positional players) who force the instigator rule on the league, which in his opinion has declared Open season on the stars. Hunter, who appeared close to the end, said much of the same, saying that the players were living by the code of take care of your team mate. Both men said that the suspension was what they expected and should be the end of the situation, with no police involvement. Both however said that they believed the courts would become involved in the case.

One caller from London laid the blame at the feet of the minor hockey system, saying that it has a win at all costs attitude, forsaking skill development for the brute force approach to success. Murphy brought in Ed Willis of the Vancouver Province at one point, who recounted the atmosphere at GM Place that night, describing it as a surreal and bizarre type of game. Leading to an ugly third period and the events well documented by now. Pointing out that just prior to the incident, the Canucks had a line on the ice consisting of Brad May, Todd Bertuzzi and Sean Pronger, to try and engage Steve Moore in a fight. Moore had declined an invitation from Pronger, not more than thirty seconds before Bertuzzi made his fateful move. Willis described how the arena’s mood changed quickly as the trainers, doctors and paramedics scrambled onto the ice to attend to Moore, the pool of blood forming around his head as they worked. By the time they had him loaded onto the stretcher, a sick feeling had descended on the rink.

The callers continued to express their opinions of the possibility of legal action, the far too often use of sticks above the waist in hockey and what we perceive is acceptable action on the ice. They decried the lack of power of the referees, urging them to be given more control over the games. Some wondered why hockey was singled out for violence, when football and basketball both also have violent incidents with injuries part of the mix.

Most interesting were comments from two young hockey players of twleve and thirteen years of age, both of whom accepted that Bertuzzi had done wrong and needed to be punished for the situation. Both suggested that the use of sticks was something that needed to be addressed.

The two hours went by rather fast, an interesting dialogue in the state of the game today and a collective therapy session for fans still trying to come to grips with the events of last Monday. If you can find the time a listen to the Cross Country archives will give you a replay of the program. An interesting snapshot of how the country is thinking about the last week and how the game has been affected.

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