Tim Watson, Toronto
A standout Canadian junior, a leader on a team of leaders, praised for his edgy style of play, his tough nose hockey, his very Canadianess, takes a stomach-churning cheap shot on another player leaving them severely injured and the hockey world shocked.
That player was Steve Downie, who debuted in the NHL by running then Ottawa Senator Dean McAmmond during a pre-season game in 2007.
Recently, it was Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who flagrantly elbowed Mikael Tam of the Quebec Ramparts Sunday during a Quebec League game.
Downie and Cormier’s resumes are different only in their age and the province in which they grew up. The reaction to both acts has followed the same, well worn, predictable path.
Television networks note the atrocious hits, run sound bytes of coaches and management claiming to have never seen anything like it and end by speculating over the suspension to follow, contrasting it with clips depicting previous atrocities and the punishments they garnered.
They’ll show Todd Bertuzzi on Steve Moore, Marty McSorley on Donald Brashear, Chris Simon on any of several victims.
Commentators recite their outraged monologues; undoubtedly practiced in advance before the incident or its participants were known. For some, this takes more skill than mere dictation; being themselves party to such outrageous acts in the past: Marc Crawford spent last year at the CBC while being alleged in court proceedings to have instigated the Bertuzzi-Moore incident when he was the coach of the Vancouver Canucks; Matthew Barnaby of ESPN racked up over 2500 penalty minutes (and several suspensions) during his NHL career; Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos infamously ran goaltender Grant Fuhr during the 1996 playoffs severely injuring Fuhr’s knee; and Tie Domi, briefly of TSN, was very nearly Patrice Cormier to Scott Niedermayer’s Mikael Tam during the 2001 playoffs.
Irony aside, the commentators will commentate. They will shout for serious punishment in order to send a message. The punishment will come. The message, undoubtedly, will not.
If Patrice Cormier is suspended for a game or a season (neither of which will affect his NHL status, by the way) it won’t make a lick of difference for a sport that goes through this charade at least semi-annually.
The outrage of the commentators feigned or sincerely held won’t make a difference, either.
The truth is, commentators work up their outrage for the same reason they promote the hard-nosed hockey and punishing hits. Because we like it. By denouncing the extremes, it makes us feel like we didn’t encourage it in the first place by praising the very perpetrators of these heinous act; like we haven’t been buying Rock’em Sock’em videos for 25 years or tuning in to the Hits of the Week on TSN and Fight of the Night on Sportsnet.
If you encourage (or demand) players to play on the edge, you must expect some to fall. The least we can do is not be outraged by it.