Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There has been blood.

There's been a lot of hoopla around the National Hockey League this week, about the skate cutting incidents, both the horrifying (Richard Zednik) and the unfortunate (Linesman Pat Dapuzzo.)

Predictably, this has started the avalanche of easy hockey articles proclaiming that "next time we won't be so lucky" and that "something has to be done."

Well, to leave the Zednik issue aside for a moment, I'll tell you what can be done. Get at least one of the officials off the ice. All season, I have seen inconsistent officiating, holding, hooking, tripping and interference calls that when they go my team's way I'll shrug and say- "jeez- OK, I'll take it," and when they go against my team, I say "goddamn, really? That was a penalty?" But ultimately, If I were a player, I'd really have no idea how to behave out there.

Dapuzzo's injury was extreme and unfortunate, and I don't mean to specifically blame him for anything, especially considering that after the incident, he admirably attempted to keep doing his job, skating over to break up a fight, displaying a "keep doing your job until the whistle blows" attitude that fewer and fewer players are exhibiting these days, in large part thanks to the inconsistent calls.

So while I certainly don't want to criticize Dapuzzo, I will say this- he was in the way, and was by no means the first official to be in the way this season. I have seen a lot more plays broken up when pucks hit official's feet or they just can't get out of the play in time this season. The officials do a great job getting out of the way most of the time, but with an extra official on the ice, there really is only just so much room out there. And if the officiating was actually better with the extra official, I'd never say a word. But it's not. It's worse, and now linesman are getting slashed across the face with skates? Let's have fewer zebras out there, and let the boys play hockey.

As for Zednik, as horrible as it was to see it, and as pleased as all of us are that it seems he will make a full recovery, I'd like to make a small point, one that is mentioned extremely rarely, about the selling of this game.

The game of hockey, as fast and skilled as it is, is played while ice skating. It sounds stupid to write it like that, because, well- duh, but honestly, ice skating is an activity which, if you take away the sticks, pucks, pads, hitting and goals, is the basis for numerous other competitive, extremely difficult Olympic sports.

Just ice skating at an elite level is fucking hard.

Speed Skating, Figure Skating, in singles or pairs, it's a remarkable skill.

One of the reasons that we are so horrified when someone is cut by a skate blade in a hockey game is because these athletes are so adept, so skilled, so masterful at getting around, stopping, turning and performing astounding acts of artistry WHILE ICE SKATING, it's easy to forget that they are on ice skates at all. These guys are incredible skaters, and when someone's throat is cut by a skate, either in Zednik's or Malarchuck's case, we are reminded of that fact instantly, as though the life threatening danger emerged from absolutely nowhere, and we had forgotten that oh yeah- these guys are playing this fast, thrilling, exciting sport on a sheet of actual ice, with 16 inch, razor sharp knives strapped to their feet.

That's impressive as hell to me, and worth mentioning to anyone who tells you that the hardest thing to do in professional sports is to hit a baseball.

In other news, I'm going to the Senators/Devils game tomorrow with my buddy Pat. I'm going to keep an especially close eye on the newly reunited Heatley, Alfredsson, Spezza line.

Among other things, they are amazing fucking ice skaters.


danae said...

I don't think the extra set of arm bands changes Dapuzzo's position on the ice as a linesman. But I agree, I don't know what's worse, missing a call behind the play or calling a guy for simply thinking about wrapping his stick around Jagr. Oh wait, that hasn't been a penalty all season.

Anonymous said...

not to get into the extra officials debate, because i could talk forever, but i thought you would like to know that FSN's "Sports Science" show disproved that the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball... hitting a softball is in fact much harder (not to mention the myriad of other sports which require immense amount of skill)