Does the Culture of Hockey Encourage Over-Aggression?

Last night, I happened to catch a short video clip from CBC that was rather appalling. I’m unable to embed the video, so you can watch it at the link above. The gist of the video (and article) is to tell the watcher/reader what happened in a Minor hockey game in Ontario, Canada.

One player was skating down the ice and stopped in front of the opposing team’s goalie. Upon doing this, he “sprayed” the opposing goalie. If you’re not familiar with skating (on ice), when you come to a stop, sometimes, the ‘snow’ that has accumulated on the ice will be kicked up. After the player did this, one of the opposing player’s took exception and proceeded to start roughing up the original player. The original player did not fight back and, as you’ll see from the video, took a pretty harsh beating.

The story explains that the parents took the video to the league and the police are investigating the matter as to whether there should be charges pressed.

Now, I’d like to talk a little bit about the culture of hockey and maybe broaden that to sports in general. As I was born and raised in Canada, I’m familiar with the hockey culture. Though, I never played in any organized hockey, so I won’t ever be able to fully understand the experience. Nonetheless, I still think that, as a former athlete, my opinion should carry some weight.

This player’s actions are unacceptable. The original player simply sprayed the goalie and as punishment, he was given a broken nose and a concussion. Does anyone not think that the opposing player went a little too far when he was pummeling the original player? This scenario reminds me of an episode of The West Wing. In fact, it was the 3rd episode in the series: “A Proportional Response.”

In that episode, Syrian operatives blow up a plane that’s carrying Americans (and the President’s personal physician). The President’s military advisors come up with a plan that they call, “a proportional response.” The President doesn’t like it because he doesn’t think it’s going far enough. He wants to do more damage to the country that’s responsible for those American deaths and demands to see a plan that will take out the airport in Syria’s capital city, Damascus. There’s more to the story (isn’t there always with an Aaron Sorkin script?), but at one point, the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says to the President’s Chief of Staff, ” he will have doled out five thousand dollars worth of punishment for a fifty buck crime.”

Among other things, this is what it appears to me that happened in this minor league hockey game where one player committed a five dollar crime and ended up with a five thousand dollar punishment. Of course, I’m not saying that the player shouldn’t have stuck up for his goalie, but maybe he went a little overboard? And it’s certainly not the first time a player has gone overboard in sticking up for his teammate. It’s been almost 10 years since the infamous Bertuzzi-Moore incident.

I have to think that the “punisher” had he knew what was happening, wouldn’t have wanted to give the original player a broken nose and a concussion. I have to think that, because this happened, somewhere as part of the culture, this is okay. Not necessarily that it’s okay to inflict such physical damage to a player, but the culture of over-aggression is normal and maybe even lauded. Again, as I said, I never played organized hockey, so I can’t be certain of hockey culture in the dressing room or on the ice. As a spectator, I know that this isn’t something I want to see. I understand the logic and reasoning behind having enforcers on a hockey team, but I wonder what the NHL would look like without enforcers.

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