Sunday, October 28, 2007

Three strikes and you’re out for Philly?

Paging Sheriff Campbell!

The Philadelphia Flyers once again find themselves in the hot seat, after yet another ugly on ice incident.

Saturday night in Boston, the Flyers Randy Jones crushed Boston’s Patrice Bergeron from behind into the boards in the Flyers end of the rink. Bergeron lay prone on the ice for several minutes following the hit, while yet another series of scuffles broke out in a game that had already become a chippy affair.

The careless and dangerous hit on Bergeron marks the third time that a Flyer player has sent someone to the hospital in less than two months. It marks a trend that has many beginning to wonder if the Flyers are out of control and whether the discipline phase needs to go beyond the players on the ice.

Clearly the message about respect for players is not being received in Philadelphia, where the line between physical hockey and physical assault seems to get blurred from time to time.

Last nights hit by Jones isn’t as spectacular at the previous two examples of violent hockey, but it could have been just as, if not more dangerous as Bergeron was completely unprotected from the jarring smash into the boards.
At full speed it isn’t as obvious as the Steve Downie hit on Ottawa's Dean McCammond , or as violent looking as the cross check by Jesse Boulerice on Vancouver’s Ryan Kessler. But watch it a few times and you realize that the vulnerability of Bergeron on the boards at that time could have resulted in much more than just the overnight stay for observation that he endured.

While the game has always been on of physical contact, the Flyers seem to be on a march to recreate the boundaries for contact in the game not seen since the infamous seventies.

The NHL has so far this season twice sent Philadelphia a message that the kind of play they are engaging in is not acceptable, suspensions to the responsible players were supposed to set the tone for the rest of the year that violent and stupid incidents would not be tolerated.

Now once again, the NHL must sit down and examine yet another violent Flyer miscue, the time may be at hand to make the organization as accountable as its players, for what seems to be a mindset that has developed this season.

For their part the Flyers issued the obligatory comments that they are glad that Bergeron is ok and that Jones is anything but the prototype of the dirty player. They provided their interpretation of the nights events that the hit was not dirty, that Bergeron had come up short on the boards and left himself vulnerable. While the evidence does seem to support their claim that he's not a dirty player, he was regardless careless in this instance and made the wrong decision in the heat of the moment, a common trait of late it seems.

It must be maddening to watch a Flyers game from the NHL war room, never sure when a stupid play is going to be the next day’s talking point for hockey fans. Maybe Colin Campbell needs to talk slower, show more pictures and bring in a huge chalkboard for the Flyers to write “we will not (insert latest violent act) anymore.”
Maybe the time has come to suspend the coach as well as the player, fine the organization or make the Flyers top scorer sit out as well, for as long as the offender is suspended and the victim recovers. Maybe they should just send the entire organization to a taping of Dr. Phil, so as to address their anti social behavior!

Clearly the solutions thus far haven't had the desired impact in Philadelphia, the league needs to do whatever it takes to get the message across to the Flyers that their style of play is starting to cause the game embarrassment.

There may be a love of physical hockey by the fans, but the prospect of player after player lying in a hospital room waiting to recover from the latest on ice assault is something that will eventually attract the attention of the courts.

If hockey can’t control the sudden surge in violence that seems to flow out of a visit from the Flyers, somebody else will, and that will be far more detrimental to the game than the prospect of alienating those that aren’t happy until the stretcher comes out on the ice.

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