A boy and a puck
I was fortunate to grow up in the glory days of hockey. Born and raised in Guelph, where the Biltmore Madhatters were the Junior A farm team for the New York Rangers, I cut my teeth watching Harry Howell, Dean Prentice, Andy Bathgate and Leapin’ Louie Fontinato. In high school, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert were fellow students. Eddie Shack was doing his patented end-to-end rushes. As they moved through town, the players were part of the community. Brian Webber, who played on a line with Shack and Bill Sweeney, married an older sister of a friend. Between periods we’d go across the street from Memorial Gardens into the kitchen of the Green Rooster restaurant for French fries. They were good and they were greasy. The Biltmores won the Memorial Cup many a time.
The last time I saw a hockey game was at Maple Leaf Gardens maybe fifteen years ago. I was so sickened by the time wasted fighting I vowed I would never watch another game again. Sorry to be a purist, but where is the speed and prowess of yesteryear? These days, teams hire enforcers to injure top players. This is a strategy? It’s only recently that things have got so bad I’ve begun to pay attention again. It’s impossible not to. In the midst of setting a new scoring record, Sidney Crosby, the best player in the game, is given a concussion by a no-name that could end his career. This week, Zdeno Chara drove Max Pacioretty into a stanchion. This isn’t hockey; it could have been manslaughter. Chara gets a wrist slap. He’s the captain of the Boston Bruins. This brutal way of playing has reached its tentacles into the establishment. By not cracking down on such hits, the NHL condones the goons and condemns the good players to target status.
All this in the name of pleasing fans in the deep South where boys and girls hardly play the game growing up. It makes no sense to me to ruin our national game to chase a will-o-the-wisp audience. Anyway, it isn’t working. Scalpers routinely get a mere $10 a ticket in the lower bowl to watch the Atlanta Thrashers.
Restoring the game needs drastic action. Eject from the league anyone who sends a player to hospital or has more minutes of penalties than points in a season. Bring back deft passing, good defence and canny goaltending. Who knows? The fan base might even grow. And if the current bozos in the arena don’t like the new, clean, high-flying action, they’ve got an alternative: mixed martial arts. Now there’s a sport worthy of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Put two wackos in a wire cage and let them pummel and kick each other until the blood pours. Oops, that sounds like hockey.
I said I swore I’d never watch a game again but I have a four-year-old grandson who plays hockey so I have recently been back in the cold seats on a Saturday morning. Last week he scored three goals to lead his team to victory. Will his natural skill make him a marked man some day for a goon who can’t score so needs to ruin a young life to get ahead? Grandparents unite! Bring back the glory days. If not for the fans, for our loved ones.