“I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” – Rodney Dangerfield
When most people hear of hockey their first thought is brutality and fighting rather than teamwork and talent. After watching the way the first half of the season has played out, who could blame them? The 2011-2012 season has brought more attention to the game than ever before, due to the insane amount of head shots and dangerous hits making headlines all over the nation. This season alone the NHL’s Head Disciplinarian Brendan Shannahan has awarded thirty-four suspensions, three of them belonging to the Boston Bruins.
While the Bruins are a more aggressive team than most, are all of the calls on the ice legitimate or do the defending Champions have a target on their back? Take a look at their last match-up with theVancouver Canucks. Now, there is no question that these two teams have some unfinished business after the Bruins defeated the Canucks in a 4-0 shut-out in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but to have 18 penalties in the first period alone? That seems a little steep, don’t you think?
Just 3:54 into the first period Milan Lucic got a game misconduct for leaving the bench to join an altercation. If you take a look at the play, both teams were in the middle of a line change. Lucic had clearly come over the bench and set both skates on the ice before play was stopped, meaning he had legally entered the game. The altercation took place between Shawn Thornton and Alexandre Burrows between the two benches, with a high stick on Thornton to which he retaliated. However, if you count the number of players on the ice, you count six Canucks against Thornton. This should result in a too many men penalty, yet it didn’t. Vancouver ended up with the man advantage with this scenario.
After conclusion of the game, the NHL determined that Lucic had legally entered the ice before the whistle blew and rescinded the game misconduct. Now I ask you, what good does it do to rescind a call once the game is said and done? Lucic is a key player for the Boston Bruins and would have made a huge difference in this particular game, yet he got penalized and had to sit in the stands. Granted we all make mistakes, so we’ll chalk this one up to one of those mindless mishaps.
Let’s review the second period of said game, Sami Salo is going hard into the boards to battle it out against Brad Marchand for the puck. As he nears, Marchand lowers his body careening Salo in a somersault motion over him. This hit to Bruins fans, who have seen Marchand do it a million times before, was a normal, legal hit. The referees that night however, did not see it this way and gave him a game misconduct which later resulted in a five game suspension. Considering this hit resulted in a player getting injured, I can understand a three-game suspension, but five? There were far worse hits that have occurred that didn’t get as steep of a suspension. (Max Pacioretty hit on Kris Letang) That’s two calls that are arguably favored against the Bruins. I can understand one bogus call, but two in one game?
Now let’s take a look at a more recent game against the Philadelphia Flyers, another team known for their aggressiveness. At 2:53 in the second period Marc-Andre Bourdon had a high hit on Nathan Horton, knocking him off of his skates to the ice, no call. Horton responded by going up to Bourdon and cross-checking him to the ice by Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, resulting in a two minute interference penalty. After this hit, the intensity in the game grew, resulting in harder hits that threw forward Chris Kellyfor a loop and was slow to get up on the play. Again, no penalty called. Nathan Horton was not found on the bench for the entire third period and it would later be noted he suffered a mild concussion from a high hit from Tom Sestito. Where as this hit had resulted in injury, Bruins fans figured Shanahan would review the play and make at least a one-game suspension, especially with Sestito being a repeat offender. The result, no review, no suspension, no fines. How is it that the two most physical teams in the League go head to head, a player gets injured and there isn’t even a game misconduct, let alone fine or suspension?
It seems as though the League has posted a target on the Boston Bruins back and holds the defending Stanley Cup Champions to a higher standard than the rest of the League. The League has been challenged with reports of inconsistencies of suspensions, but what are they really doing to change it? Until they find a way to make hockey fair and safe for all of the teams, they aren’t going to be changing people’s minds about the sport.