Tag Archive for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Hockey : Diving With Betttman

1220 for publication Friday May 5, 2017

Ross Brewitt

Do you recall, in this present season now into its last act, when goal production was called into question by the NHL’s Commissioner? Well, do you?

They were looking for something, anything, new rules, circular nets, open season on running goalies, and no-defenders allowed within the new no-go-area painted green and cerise between corner face-off circles.

The first paragraph was true, some of the second wasn’t’. You decide.

Of course the NHL, in its wisdom, rejected out-of-hand any of those crisp and effective, yet flawed suggestions needing more work. Still, as the NHL were scratching their heads and looking blankly at each other, time marched on and, who would’a guessed, the goals started to come. True, they were fewer, with only a few outbreaks of blowouts, but it was accomplished without doing any tinkering.

To their credit, the NHL withdrew their panic. Imagine, cost-savings and progress realized by using common sense on the problem. Whatta concept!

Take a fledgling team like Toronto, peppered with rookies up front and at the blueline, who became the darlings of tight hockey and wedged themselves into a post-season spot. They entertained fans with overtime games and one goal wins while losing in six against the Capitals, only the best team in hockey over the season. That took penalty control.

Montreal enlisted a new “old” coach, Claude Julien, and just made it into the post season, Ottawa did the same, getting Guy Boucher to take the Senator reins.

For me this was the most surprising coaching change coming into the season, and now, today, the Sens are still in the hunt. We had last seen Guy Boucher as the wild-eyed, growly, short-fused coach who harped his way out of a job in Tampa Bay. This new version is the quieter, calmer model and the team has responded.

The Oilers look like a team with the tenacity that will need a game seven with the Ducks to win. They lack the experience of Anaheim, have the legs and firepower to prevail, yet patience will be their key to any success.

However, as I have warned many times, there is this nasty feeling a series, perhaps the Stanley Cup Final could be decided on a penalty advantage gained by a “dive.”

It’s always a cowardly, disgusting way to play the game. With the rise in diving, don’t look to the League to take control or any leadership in exterminating the practice. Little has been done since the arrival of diving in the 70’s. Frankly, there is no excuse, none, for allowing it to continue.

My thoughts on the subject have been printed here. Often. My concern is, an important game is going to be won, or lost, on a phony penalty, the result of a dive.

So, it comes down to Mr. Bettman, and since he has had so much success in dealing with the players and their Union, it’s about time to get serious, and enlist their support before hockey is dragged down to the status of soccer. Hockey used to be the “tough guy sport, the sport other pros in other sports point to when asked about “tough’.

Most recently, the dive on Wednesday night when Penguin Nick Bonino successfully staged a stick in the vicinity of his shoulder, into a high-stick to the face penalty for Washington’s T.J. Oshie. It was a joke, And the joke was made obvious on TV-replay.

Therefore, why not give the referees a review? Why not afford them their own check, their own conference, and call an obvious dive a foul with some clout. Let’s say four minutes for diving!

With the advent of cameras everywhere, and the technology to back them up, diving can easily be exposed.

Mr. Bettman, why not go down in sports history as the big-league commissioner who eliminated diving, rather than the guy who helps promote it?

Otherwise, you are going to be sorry for your lack of judgment and control. If your players are trying such underhanded moves in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it means they have gone over the limit. It indicatess even the players don’t care anymore. That means you are headed for a breakdown, one you can avoid.

Like a Stanley Cup won or lost on a foul.

The Cost of Mistakes

1158 for publication April 22, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Suddenly the Stanley Cup playoffs get extra interesting.

At the time of this writing round one is awaiting the outcome of Thursday night games, the ones having critical implications. Five of the eight series are already sitting on 3-1 leads, and two more in the running could also be 3-1, closed out in five and resting for round two.

That makes it seven of eight series in “stranglehold” positions. In fact by the time this column appears two of those matchups, Detroit-Tampa Bay and Chicago-St. Louis could be over, with the Lightning and Blues moving into the second round.

Also of importance is the Blackhawks will be without suspended Andrew Shaw in what could be the season-ending game five. He was a valuable, playoff-tested member of two Chicago Stanley Cups in ’13 and ’15.

I say interesting because Shaw went into “meltdown” mode over a called interference penalty.  Allow me to stop the details right there, because in the big picture it won’t matter.

The facts are Shaw, in his over-the-top histrionics following the lame infraction, was assessed not one but two minor penalties, effectively putting his struggling team on life-support. If that wasn’t enough, he added two-handed ridiculous and rude “flippin’ the bird” gestures for everyone to see. In addition he verbally abused the referee with homophobic slurs. The kind anyone with eyes could make translate.

By Wednesday the bad news arrived. A suspension for game five, plus a five-thousand dollar fine, and mandatory enrolment in a “sensitivity program.” By NHL standards it was quick, costly, deserved and justified. On Shaw’s own admission, he was very aware he had screwed up, even as he was getting dressed after the game.

Watching his response on several media outlets, I have rarely seen a young player (age 24) atone for his sins as fervently and believable as Shaw. Enough to have me deem him as honestly contrite, a player who regrets his conduct, accepts the judgment, and will be better for this bump in the road. The other thing I liked, he also appeared genuinely embarrassed by his actions.

So many aren’t.

It brings to mind a question I have raised several times in the 22 years this column has been running. It’s a concern about how often obscenities arise, blurted out in whining complaints,  interviews, and media sessions. In the past two seasons, even following Stanley Cup wins and celebrations, salty language is commonplace.

When is the NHL going to step into the matter and make it plain and simple to players, coaches, even the occasional GM, that anyone connected to the League using obscene language or vile descriptions will be censured.

This was the case facing Andrew Shaw, much to his chagrin. But as usual, there are extenuating circumstances.

For as far back as I can recall, League control has gradually eroded. For every step lost , another was taken. As a result of that League-wide neglect, hockey players continue to routinely make their way off the ice, foul-mouthing easily lip-read obscenities until well after they crank the penalty box door shut. That same kind conduct in other sports directed against an official or his performance gets the player a red card, a jerk of the thumb, or a “technical.”

Not in hockey, it’s considered routine.

A required approach to the problem must be practical, logical, upstanding and sensible, or “PLUS.” As a wonderful English teacher of mine once PLUS-ed me in an earnest discussion she felt necessary to set me  straight.

If well paid players, with more advantages than almost everyone else find it necessary to curse and swear in making points, they must assume the fault. Foul language underlines zero respect for the game, reveals a limited vocabulary, and considerable lack of intelligence.

Those were the “life choices” facing Shaw. To his credit he stepped up and shouldered the blame. But the pain of that mistake will linger.

You can ask what’s the NHL have to do moving forward? The question doesn’t have a quick fix. But, in my opinion, the League choices are the same as Shaw’s. Take the responsibility and get serious about regaining control of their game. On many fronts.

And, it has to start from the top, Gary. Because it won’t start at the bottom.