I gave up adult recreational hockey 20 years ago because I was embarrassed at what the game I loved had become.
Playing with some fellow working hacks, I had to play by their rules. No slapshots, no bodychecking, no fighting. It made sense because we were all well past our prime, we all had responsibilities outside hockey and we all had to get up and be healthy in the morning. No quibble there.
But our Tuesday afternoon pickup games quickly devolved into a form of pond shinny that I found revolting on arena ice. Players stickhandling into the offensive zone with their head down; fancy moves and dekes as though they’re going around a pylon.
Because I was born and bred a defensive defenseman, my mantra was to stare the puck-mover in the chest and not let him get past me. Knock him on his duff, hit him into the boards. In adult rec hockey, my only option was to ride him off the puck.
Before long, one complaint turned into a dozen: “Dude, you’re in a no-hit league.” No one bought my explanation: “Dudes, body contact is allowed, you’d really know it if I was hitting.” It wasn’t going to work, so I quit.
Where am I going with this? I’m having a tough time these days watching decent hockey hits result in an attack on the craftsman. And now in the case of Tom Kostopoulos, I see an aggressive hit result in a six-game suspension. What in the name of Tim Horton is going on?
I’ve watched the replay over and over and I continue to see 5-foot-11 Kostopoulos use his shoulder and torso to hit Detroit’s 6-foot-2 Brad Stuart in the chest. No blind side, no hit from behind, didn’t jump into the check. Stuart had just finished playing the puck and was leaning over so the follow-through of Kostopoulos’s hit affected Stuart’s jaw.
I understand the NHL is hyper-sensitive about concussions and hits to the head, but I think the league crossed the line on this one in issuing Kostopoulos a six-game suspension. (I actually think the only penalty on the play was Tomas Tatar hooking Jarome Iginla on a scoring chance a couple seconds before the Kostopoulos hit.)
When you think of it, any sort of serious body contact surely must cause some trauma to the head/brain. The way we’re going, hitting will eventually become a casualty of hockey’s evolution. When that happens, I think I’ll leave this game for good.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.