Anomalous hockey fight

David Roepke

The powers that be of the National Hockey League are pretty upset. Apparently Boston Bruins defenseman Marty McSorely is just ruining what used to be such a nice sports league.

McSorely is the peach of a guy who, in a game Monday against Vancouver, took his stick off the ice, brandished it like a spiked club and swatted Cannucks’ forward Donald Brashear over the head with the business end from behind.

A lot of hoopla has been made about the vicious altercation. A hearing to determine McSorely’s inevitable suspension was scheduled for Wednesday, and the talk show circuit has been chock full of callers, many of them not even hockey fans, declaring that the sport is too violent and drastic steps must be taken before a player actually gets iced on the ice.

Well, I’m not a hockey fan either, but I’ll watch a game from time to time — on the off-chance that I might see a fight.

No matter how much hockey fans toot on and on about well-played hockey being a finesse game, a ballet on ice, there’s no denying that the major draw hockey has, its only marketing trump card against a 500-foot Mark McGwire dinger or thundering Vince Carter dunk, is physical violence. Without fights, hockey is slippery soccer.

Those who deny that basic fact are the same types who consider boxing a “chess match” and professional wrestling “real.”

There are minor league hockey teams that get local businesses to actually sponsor the fights. Seriously.

“Tonight’s altercations between highly skilled finesse players will be sponsored by Bob’s Brass Knuckle Emporium, Community Dentistry and Mercy Lutheran Hospital.”

So what’s the NHL to do? On one hand, it’s not very desirable to have players tracking down other players during a game in an attempt to decapitate them, but to discourage the rest of the hooligans in skates from roughing it up a couple times a game would cut down on fights/revenue.

The issue here is not very clear, but it requires a clear and immediate reaction.

In an interview on ESPN, McSorely said the incident was not planned, and he put no thought in to it before it happened.

For those of who’ve seen the tape of the assault, McSorely clearly tracked Brashear down from behind and just slapped him silly. No provocation, no flaring tempers; it was an act of pure, premeditated aggression.

McSorely does not belong on the ice. McSorely does not belong on the streets. McSorely does not even belong in a prison; he belongs in a psych ward.

See, there is a difference between a vicious check against the boards and a stick to the head. There’s even a difference between a stick to the head and an unprovoked stick to the head. And there’s definitely a difference between hockey fights and what McSorely did on Monday.

The NHL should sit McSorely down for at least the rest of the season, but the reasons for the suspension need to be clearly spelled out.

Hockey is a violent sport, and things that happen while violent sports are being played can be easily taken out of context.

This incident was not taken out of context, however. Fans and non-fans need to realize that the suspension does not mean that the NHL doesn’t endorse fighting; it means they don’t endorse the acts of the criminally insane.

In fact, I think the proper way to respond to this incident is to begin a new NHL advertising campaign based solely on promoting good, clean, throw-down-the-gloves brawling.

The league could gather up all of the meanest goons, those players whose skill lies more in what they can do with their fists than what they can do with their sticks, and sponsor a Royal Rumble-style event, except on ice and without a script.

Some fans might find that idea a tad offensive, but is it really any more offensive than NFL’s All-Madden team, an annual award given out by the terribly uninsightful Fox commentator that rewards the league’s nastiest, dirtiest sons of bitches.

Although McSorely hurt hockey’s image as a civilized sport even more than he hurt Brashear’s noggin, the NHL has got to portray the incident with McSorely as the anomaly it is and not attempt to enact a slew of hurried, constricting rules that would take the only thing worth watching out of hockey.

David Roepke is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Aurora. He is a news editor at the Daily.