Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wherein I talk alot about hockey, fighting in sports, and fandom.

In part two of this week's special blue theme, I saw my beloved Rangers take on the hated flyers at the Garden tonight. And what a great game it was, a 5-0 crushing of the Flyers... First time Buddy's ever seen a Rangers victory, and Schedule1 and I lift our regular season record to 1-1-0.

First, thoughts on the Rangers team... several weeks ago, I felt it was a strong likelihood that the Rangers wouldn't make the playoffs, and that was downright disappointing. Last year's team was challenging for the number 2 seed in the playoffs until a few weeks out, then proceeded to fall off a cliff and lose the division to freaking dweevils on the last day of the season. So we went from being almost number 2 in the conference to 6th and losing home ice advantage. Honestly, the way we played Joisey in the playoffs, it wouldn't have mattered. We were slow, we had lost the fantastic momentum we had built up, and while getting blown out of game 1, Coach Tom Renney decided it would be a good idea to send Jaromir Jagr out to penalty kill (I'm sure something he hadn't done in a while). To Schedule1's and my horror. And of course, as if on cue, Jagr promptly injures himself, and after years of no playoffs, the Rangers are eliminated in one round.

We started this year off well, but the effort has been spotty. Momma K's reviews of the games always note how many periods the Rangers actually show up for, and for a good portion of the season, it has not been all three. Letdowns, disappoitnments, comebacks that fall painfully short, the first half of this year was not that great. But a few things have happened recently. The injuries piled on, but instead of going crazy and mortgaging half of the Hartford team for a rental, Sather made a couple of smaller trades and has been bringing up youth to fill the gaps (maybe taking a page out of Brian Cashman's playbook). I wasn't happy with the Jason Ward for Avery trade. I didn't really know much about Avery, but knew that Ward was one of the only guys that seemed to be playing all game. So far, I've turned out to be wrong about that. Avery reminds me of Theo Fleury in his heyday- feisty, not afraid to hit or make a nuisance of himself, and more dangerous offensively than you expect of him. He also seems to be one of those rare players that instantly takes to New York, building a great repoire with the Garden faithful. And the kids? The kids look awesome. Jarkko Immonen, Brad Isbister, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, David Liffiton and Daniel Girardi have all added something pretty awesome to this team. Energy, fire, speed, urgency, and assertiveness. The best line tonight was Avery, Shannahan and Callahan. Girardi also had an excellent game tonight. Building the team around Henrik, Prucha, Avery, Cullen, and these kids gives me hope for the future. There may not be a Sid the Kid in there, but there's a lot of promise. My hope is that in two years, Tom Pyatt, currently tearing up the OHL, will join this impressive group.

Something else happened at the beginning of the game that was kinda troubling. 21 seconds in, two heavyweights, Colton Orr of the Rangers and I wasn't sure who at the time for the Flyers dropped their gloves. It turned out to be Todd Fedoruk, who's name rang a bell. They mixed it up early, and Orr knocked Fedoruk out cold. In my years of seeing hockey games, I've never seen someone knocked out by a punch. At first, thinking maybe he was just stunned, I made a joke about counting him out for the knockout. But man, then, he still wasn't moving. Eventually, he was taken off the ice on a stretcher, with his head immobilized. The Garden faithful, at first exuberant about the fight, became quiet when they realized it could be more serious.

When I got back to Knucklehead's place- i told her about the game being great, and then about the fight. Her response was, "wow, I hope the guy is okay." And mine was a gingerly "me too. mostly" she seemed confused about my hesitation. "Well, I mean, I hope the guy is okay and isn't permanently injured. But by the same token, he got into that fight because he was playing dirty and could have hurt someone the last time the Rangers played."

For those that don't know hockey, it's actually not so weird for a fight to happen early. In cases without history, it's merely the tough guys on the teams getting it out of their system (see Domi v. Probert). Actually, once the Flyers saw that the Betts/Hollweg/Orr line was on the ice, they sent Fedoruk out there... maybe to get the fight out of the way, because sometimes you just know its coming. Sometimes, a fight like this happens because of very recent history. Hockey is a very physical game, and one of the reasons for tough guys or enforcers on a team is to protect your teammates from being intimidated or roughed up. Seems that Renney didn't dress Colton Orr the last time the Rangers played the Flyers, and this happened:

Blue Notes-
Both Gagne and Upshall scored in that 5-3 Flyers win on Feb. 17, which was notable not only for the Shanahan injury, but the cheap and rough shots that some Flyers (Fedoruk, Eager, Richards, Picard) laid on Rangers starting soon after the puck dropped.

New York coach Tom Renney left Orr out of the lineup when the teams last met on Feb. 17 and said he regretted it after Fedoruk and Eager combined for four roughing penalties and a misconduct in the first period. Sean Avery fought Philadelphia's Mike Richards midway through the period of that game.

While the officiating this year has been spotty at best, four penalties and a misconduct in one period- that's a lot of cheap shots. And those are only the ones they were penalized for. Maybe he wasn't swinging a fist, but Fedoruk was no angel in that game. Some would say he earned his beat down.

There is no other non-fight based sport that I can think of that only penalizes five minutes for throwing several punches over the course of the game. The rules have been made a little more strict (the addition of the instigator penalty, the three fights in a game and you're suspended for a game policy) but it's not a multi game suspension the way it is in the other major sports. I think this in part due to the rough nature of the game, and the fact that these guys all have large sticks. Seriously. I think we'd see more heinous Chris Simon two handed chops if we didn't have fighting in the NHL. But then I think of the family sitting behind us who took their kids to their first hockey game, and took their daughter out while Fedoruk was still out cold. I feel like Ruby as hockey fan understands why fighting is alright for the game, but Ruby the more generally interested person is not sure if the fighting should continue. The bone crunching body checks and the fisticuffs are the some of the things that make the sport what it is here in North America, but people get suspended for several games in other sports for throwing two or more punches.

Lastly, some thoughts on fandom (that might develop into a longer post). For me, and for many folks, attending sporting events is about heckling, about going back and forth with people about the game. I get loud and rowdy, but I don't get violent, and I don't get personal with other fans. I may mock their team like crazy, reminding them of their team's old failures, their city's general sports misconduct (throwing batteries, for example), but to me, it doesn't go beyond that. If I walk into Nassau Colliseum in my Rangers attire, I expect to get heckled, and I expect to give some back. Same with Yankee gear in Fenway. Maybe it's just my own life experiences growing up, but I just don't feel the need to get personal. However, there was a guy near us in a Flyers jersey as we were walking out last night who was itching to fight somebody. I was chanting "We Want Hextall" (a former Flyers goalie who the Rangers beat pretty consistantly and destroyed when he was with the Islanders on the way to the 94 Cup), and he starts saying all kinds of personal shit, and starts babbling to a friend of his about he "wants to fight somebody tonight," that he's proud that "it wouldn't be the first time he spent the night in jail" and so forth. Clearly drunk and foolish. And while I wasn't going for the bait, there are certainly enough drunk New Yorkers that he could get his fight if he really tried, and he nearly did. The one thing that was kinda sad was he seemed to actually know about sports and about the Flyers. How can a seemingly intelligent hockey fan be so intent on picking a fight with someone just for being heckled? I think a "rules of fandom" should be established. Don't be an asshole and try to ruin stuff just because your team lost. Rioting is not justified by either winning or losing. Neither is throwing batteries. And so forth. Like I said, this may develop into a bigger one.

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Blogger sched1/david. said...

in my "rules of fandom", there's no heckling of fans-- only of the participants in the event. it's a great way to avoid situations like the one last night. that guy was indeed a jerk, and he quickly heckled himself into an indefensible position by proudly proclaiming that he could "reach his ass." i told him to have fun with that, and he said he would.

i watched the replay at home, and orr just tapped 27 to get his attention, and they immediately dropped their gloves. they knew what was going on. yes, the result was upsetting, but i'm comfortable with it being part of the game. the girl's reaction behind us may or may not have been caused the fight, but it did serve as an important counterpoint to the initial crowd exuberance. and of course, the crowd gave 27 a rousing ovation as he came off the ice. as sam wyche said, "this isn't cleveland."

11:49 AM  

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