Monday, December 26, 2011

When Calgary and host Vancouver lined up for the opening faceoff Friday night, the Flames had Tom Kostopoulos at left wing, opposite the Canucks’ Dale Weise.
When the puck was dropped, Kostopoulos, ignoring the puck, skated right past a bemused-looking Weise and started fighting with Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
The game was three seconds old and both players were given fighting majors.
And the purpose of that was what? Who knows? Although rumour has it that Kostopoulos had bested Bieksa in a fight last season, so boys being boys and all that, one supposes.
As I watched that silliness unfold, I couldn’t help but think about a book that I was reading at the time — Fighting The Good Fight: Why On-Ice Violence is Killing Hockey.
Written by Adam Proteau, a columnist for The Hockey News, this is a devastating and depressing look at the state of our beloved game, mostly at the NHL level.
Make no mistake about the fact that Proteau loves the game; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have wasted his energy chronicling the mess in which the NHL finds itself.
Time after time, Proteau makes the case that the NHL has to change its game, that it has to get rid of headshots and that the premeditated fighting has to go.
He accepts the fact that there always will be fighting in hockey, but he makes a terrific case for getting rid of the planned and egregious fights.
He makes the case that players have to stop “finishing their checks” and get back to the days when the whole idea of a bodycheck was to separate an opponent from the puck.
He deals with the subject of equipment that is designed to deliver blows rather than protect the wearer. Yes, he writes, the time has come to change shoulder and elbow pads.
And if the NHL can get headed in the right direction, Proteau argues, hockey below that level will fall into lockstep and all will be well. He wonders, however, if “hockey’s gatekeepers” will “implement real change in their own way . . . or sit back idly and vainly and proudly until a lawsuit and/or government legislation give them no choice but to do so.”
As former NHL general manager Craig Button, who now is an analyst with TSN, points out: “You cannot lead from the bottom up. You lead from the top down, and the NHL has to be the leader in this.”
In Chapter 10 (The Unoriginal 10), Proteau, with all the subtlety of a high-stick to the head, dissects the 10 most common arguments for keeping fighting in the game. As he points out, “I’ve heard the same claptrap so often I have no problem formulating my response to those charges before they’ve been fully made.”
He then proceeds to do just that.
At the same time, Proteau is practically beside himself because of the NHL’s inaction.
“As the world saw during the obstruction crackdown that followed the 2004-05 lockout season,” he writes, “hockey is as organic as any garden, and can be shaped and landscaped like any green space. Thus far, though, hockey’s garden has been allowed to grow wild and unsightly.
“By weeding out these invasive strands of violence, by giving the game back to those who play it best, by setting out a distinct direction for the garden’s care from this point forward, the game is guaranteed to be more presentable.”
Perhaps the most distressing part of the book is near the end, where Proteau allows hockey people like Mathieu Schneider, Murray Costello, David Branch, Ian Laperriere and David Perron to have their say in their own words.
Here’s Perron: “It’s supposed to be the best league in the world, so you’re supposed to have the best players and the best rules in the world. I want the game to be played in the best possible way.”
More Perron: “Maybe I’m different from other people, but to me, the basics of the game are the speed, the skill and the physicality — but it all has to be applied the right way.”
No, David, you’re not alone.
However, as Proteau points out time and again, the gatekeepers don’t seem to see things quite this way.
Button, however, thinks it’s only a matter of time before they come around.
He says the end game is a game with no fighting, meaning fighters will be ejected. On top of that, “We’re going to have a game where there’s no headshots allowed. Zero tolerance there.”
“So,” Button continues, “if we know what’s the end game, what the hell are we waiting for?”
What indeed?
When you head out on your post-Christmas shopping tour, you really should give Fighting The Good Fight strong consideration. Proteau offers up a lot of food for thought. The book, from John Wiley & Sons, is soft cover and has a cover price of Cdn$26.95 or US$21.95.

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