After outing myself as a Canadian who dislikes snow, I suffered the virtual slings and arrows of outrageous readers who called me a snow (w)itch and wanted to send me to Siberia. Funny. I have another Canadian tradition to reject: I don’t like hockey either. (The comment section is below, or you can tweet your opinion to us, but if you read on, you’ll probably find something to really sink your teeth into.)

When I was a kid, I watched hockey with my dad. It was more about being with my dad than interest in the sport, but I did enjoy the games. Back then players had quirky nicknames based on something about the player’s skill or personality—Rocket Richard, the Golden Jet, Boom Boom Geoffrion. These colourful characters played for the love of the game and salaries reflected that they played a game for a living. Today’s players have nicknames based on their names. Olie the Goalie. Ebs. The Nuge. Iggy. Where’s the imagination? Some nicknames do exhibit a spark of imagination, like the Bulin Wall (goalie Nikolai Khabibulin), whose moniker is more about his name and where he’s from than any resemblance he bears to a wall.

Back in the day, those colourful names and personalities provided colourful commentary. The announcers said goofy things, like “Clickety clack, here comes Shack” when Eddie “the Entertainer” Shack had a breakaway. There was even a song about tough guy Shack that went “Clear the track, here comes Shack, he knocks them down and he gives them a whack.” Mr Hockey, Gordie Howe, has an unofficial play named for his assertive style—the Gordie Howe Hat Trick (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. Howe racked up only two eponymous hat tricks).

But I don’t dislike hockey because of the unimaginative nicknames or colourless commentary, though the lack of both don’t help. I dislike hockey because of what it’s become, or rather, what it no longer is. It’s no longer a sport, and hasn’t been for some time. It’s all about big money, franchises, new arenas, spin-off revenue and injuries.

Where is the passion for the game? I miss that. You can see it sometimes in kids playing road hockey or shinny, and in a few rare kids at the rink—the ones who are eager to go to their 6:00 AM practice. But often that passion is ruined by parents with visions of NHL careers, living vicariously through their little boys. They bully and push their kids, and bully and push other parents, organizers and officials. Kids playing a game should involve having fun. Those pushy parents are goons and I have no doubt that goons beget goons. Maybe they have realized that thuggery, rather than skill, offers a better shot at making it into the NHL. There certainly are a lot of goons playing the game professionally, ostensibly to protect their team’s highly skilled players, but their actions suggest they are on the ice to maim the opposition’s best players.

In the past, there were fights during games. There was even a joke about it—“I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.” A cheap shot or a rough check and the gloves came off. The players waltzed around a bit until the refs pulled them apart. Bobby Orr’s knee injuries notwithstanding, you didn’t hear about career-ending injuries or concussions. Today’s players—mainly the goons—are bigger and faster. It’s appalling to see these huge guys flying through the air, feet off the ice, to crash into another player—essentially a colleague—and smash him into the boards. A flying leap is not a check. A check is supposed to be about controlling the puck, not taking a player out of the game for good. Sid Crosby is an example. He missed 41 regular season and seven playoff games last season due to two concussions and 20 games this season due to concussion symptoms. After a spectacular return in November in which he scored two goals and two assists, he was off the active roster indefinitely due to more symptoms. At 24, his professional hockey career may be over and the rest of his life affected by his injuries. The NHL is eating its young by allowing this kind of savage play that targets star players.

Are there more injuries now, or do they just get more attention? Or is this generation of players actually a bunch of glass tigers? In the past when a guy was checked into the boards, he could usually shake it off and resume playing. Today, players often miss several games due to injury, the most newsworthy being concussions. According to the Messier Project, more than 750 NHL players have suffered concussions since 1997, with an average of 639 games missed per season. In the 05/06 and 06/07 hockey seasons the number of NHL games missed due to concussions rose by 40 per cent.

Clearly the game has become rougher. Besides larger players, the game is surrounded by a culture of violence. Fans scream “hit him, hit him.” Commentators talk approvingly about bone-crunching checks and fights, justifying them by noting that extreme fighting is a popular “sport.” If people want to watch moronic cage matches and extreme fighting (comment section below), they can. But brutal behaviour should have no place in a game that is better when played with strategy and finesse.

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. My 2 cents…I am a proud hockey mom and I do agree that hockey has a violent culture that encourages fights. I don’t tolerate this with my boys, but they tell me that sometimes in the heat of the moment you’re angry because another player’s playing dirty, and a lot of the violence is self-defense. I don’t play hockey competitively, so I would not know what it’s like to have someone elbow me or jab me in my face or chest. I don’t know if it would drive me to jab someone back, so although I tell my boys to ‘watch it’ and ‘play nice’ I’m not sure if I would be so patient and nice in the same situation when if I meet an aggressive player.

  2. Hockey is a high-adrenalin game, and players aren’t encouraged to learn to handle that; they’re encouraged to put on a show (i.e. fight) for the crowd. With the speed, the puck, the sticks, the ice, the blades, players will get hurt anyway, even without the purposeful aggression. It’s too bad fans seem to like to see that. Hockey is no longer a game played in a sporting manner. Or maybe when it is, we don’t see it on TV because it doesn’t make exciting footage for the cameras.

    I would be happy if I didn’t have to hear anything about hockey in the news; it’s too much! There is so much coverage of it that you’d think the game has some effect on our daily lives in this country. What the …? Of course, yesterday on the news, every hour, there was a story about the changes to cup size that Tim Hortons is making. This is news the general population needs to hear? Sheesh. Perhaps I should be glad it was a slow bad-news day.

  3. Marshall Letcher

    Given the unbelievably intense audio and visual advertisements aimed at spectators during NHL hockey games these days, I would amend the famous quote mentioned in the above post to “We went to a commercial and a hockey game broke out”. Enough, already.

    And, I just happened to view a video clip of Sidney Crosby’s overtime gold medal-winning goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics. It’s still exciting to watch that momentous event. The young hockey player was literally on top of the world that night. Now, a short time later, his hockey career may be over.

  4. Florence Hayes

    Right on! and so well said. This comment from a 20 year hockey mom who is proud to say her son has never dropped the gloves in all these years, though many suggest that this may be detrimental to his obtaining a pro contract. He’s looking at European leagues where it seems there is still some semblance of skill and sportsmanship in the game.

  5. C’mon! Violence in hockey is as Canadian as our over-inflated impressions of self-importance on the world stage!! OK, ok, ok. Maybe time to re-think my argument.

  6. If you look back at hockey from 1975 to 1990 you will find that it was a much more violent sport back then, measured by fighting anyway, than it is now. I would argue that fighting is all but extinct in the modern game.

    By way of anecdote, I remember a WHL team from the mid 1980′s that had 6 players with over 300 penalty minutes in one season. This season there won’t be a single NHL player with that many minutes. Now we have endless milling around, pushing and shoving, and cheap shots.

    I also think we have more devastating long-term head injuries. There simply weren’t players missing full seasons due to concussions back then. The collisions happen at much greater velocity, the equipment itself can cause injury (as pointed out by Cherry many years ago) and yet the players can’t or don’t regulate themselves to protect star players anymore.


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About Laura Bonikowsky

Laura Neilson Bonikowsky has lived in and travelled across Canada, the United States and Europe. Her interests lie in a variety of topics, including history, science, technology and medicine.




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