Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reviving the days of the Bullies?

Two ugly incidents in less than a month involving the Philadelphia Flyers have many hockey fans wondering if the era of the Broad Street Bullies has returned to the NHL.

Not since Schultz, Kelly, Dupont et al brought terror to NHL rinks on a nightly basis, have the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves the focus of so much attention.

Over the off season the Flyers proclaimed that they were returning to the values that made Flyer hockey famous; tough, physical play and a pre season of fight filled games seemed to testify to the change of direction in Flyer hockey from recent years.

Gone it seems will be the free wheeling, skating game that the NHL promised after the lock out year came to an end. Anaheim marched, hit and fought their way to a Stanley Cup last year and this year’s version of the Philadelphia Legions seems determined to return to the era of intimidation and cheap shots.

Colin Campbell, Chief Justice of the NHL Supreme Court may want to keep Friday’s open for Flyers, (Flyer Friday's has a nice ring to it doesn't it?) as he once again finds the e mail clogged with missives about seemingly out of control hockey players decorated in orange and black

On September 20th Campbell had to deal with the horrifying to watch hit of Steve Downie on Ottawa’s Dean McCammond, as Downie became a human missile and literally launched himself into the air and took out McCammond in an explosion of violence.

McCammond lay on the ice without movement for far too many minutes and to this day has not returned to the line up for the Senators and is not expected back for the next two to three weeks at the earliest.

For his transgression of not only civil behavior but common sense, Downie has found himself suspended for twenty games, a punishment that many have deemed as too short considering the nature of his brutal hit on McCammond.

So, if twenty games is not considered a strong enough deterrent for this kind of unwanted behavior in the game, whatever is Campbell to do with Jesse Boulerice, who on Wednesday night provided a sickening cross check to Ryan Kessler's face, dropping the Canuck forward to the ice in a heap.

It was a particularly ugly aspect to what had become a very ugly game, the Flyers running ahead on the scoreboard and both teams running around the ice, taking shots at forwards, defencemen and a goaltender before the cage match came to an end.

Boulerice has the unique entry on his resume of being banned by the OHL for an entire season, after a nasty episode in his junior days, which found him in trouble with the law when he was charged with assault to do great bodily harm less than murder after hitting Andrew Long of the Guelph Storm during the OHL final in 1998.

So far this season he has been busying himself by racking up the majors at a pretty good clip and portraying the role of Vlad the Impaler for the Flyers, just look up his name in a YouTube search engine and you'll quickly learn that Jesse ain't in the line up for his scoring touch .

The calls for swift and definitive justice have come from across the NHL. A 20 games suspension is the apparent benchmark, but no one it seems would have a problem if Justice Campbell were to double that punishment, in order to set an example and highlight the fact that the senseless violence of the last few weeks has to end now.

Hockey has always been a tough and at times violent game. The bone crushing checks, nasty stick work and even full scale brawls have long been documented in past eras, as an aspect of the game that while unseemly were accepted as part of the sport.

As the NHL entered the new era of enlightenment of the last four or five years the attempt was made to try to reign in the wild marauders, in order to allow the artistic play makers some room to operate. The last couple of seasons however have seen the more physical part of the game begin to regain more and more of a foothold in the sport, now the physical nature has given way to the blatantly violent.

While the body checks are welcome, the stick work and disrespect of fellow players must be exorcised from the play. The NHL has been lucky so far, no one has been seriously injured or God forbid killed by one of these senseless acts of stupidity, but you have to think that the odds against that get slimmer with each violent act on the ice.

The Flyers may like to reminisce about the Good old days when the toughest of the tough could lay waste to team after team in quest of the Stanley Cup. But for the future of the sport, the time is now to get some control over the madder dogs from all teams that are patrolling the ice. It's hard to believe that the Flyers and the other teams, didn't get the message that the goonery was no longer acceptable back in September, the Boulerice incident should be the last time a message needs to be sent.

The league office needs to reclaim the ice, making it clear to all teams that the lack of respect being shown by players to their competitors must end. The ugly head shots of the last month have no place in hockey, Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman must make that stand and do it now, if for no other reason than the fact that if they don’t, there are surely any number of politicians or law enforcement agencies that will be more than ready to step in and take charge.

Hockey is getting back into the mainstream spotlight, but once again it’s not for amazing goals or talented personalities. Instead, the media glare is focusing on brutal assaults that on any Canadian or American city street would probably have the offender spending time in a prison.

The time is now to send a strong message that the sudden violent turn that the game has taken has no place in the NHL of today, if they miss this opportunity then once again the NHL will have only itself to blame for the troubles that will surely follow.

No comments: