The sport in team sports

Ed
Ed Smith
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Call them the Big Three. They're the big three in my books this time of year. And yes, I am aware that not everyone reads the same books as I. Some people don't even read the books I write, and of those who do, not everyone thinks they're great. Just had a note from a fellow who used so many words telling me how bad my last book was, he practically ran out of adjectives.

My advice should have been for him to say, "It stank" and get it over with. Instead, I wrote and told him that he may be right, but not to spread it around.

Call them the Big Three. They're the big three in my books this time of year. And yes, I am aware that not everyone reads the same books as I. Some people don't even read the books I write, and of those who do, not everyone thinks they're great. Just had a note from a fellow who used so many words telling me how bad my last book was, he practically ran out of adjectives.

My advice should have been for him to say, "It stank" and get it over with. Instead, I wrote and told him that he may be right, but not to spread it around.

My Big Three this time of year is baseball, curling and hockey.

I never played any baseball except pickup games, but it's TV sport that can be enjoyed while having a beer, a set-to with the Significant Other or reading Revelations. Possibly all three at once, although I've never tried it.

I curled for many of my adult years and loved it. Some people - ignoramuses, mostly - like to talk sarcastically about the dangers inherent in the sport, but these are people who have never been injured while curling.

I once dropped a 40-pound curling rock on another curler's foot. That was bad enough, but her husband came close to rearranging my features.

I know other curlers who have fallen and hit their heads, sprained their backs and had hammer-ding-dong battles with wives who criticized their strategy after the game. OH is really competitive. Canadian skip Kevin Martin's wife may have a word or two with him after last night's game against Scotland.

Like most Canadians, hockey is my real passion. I played it - or played at it - from the time I was old enough to lace up skates and stumble onto a pond without falling in. I stopped playing only when my work took me to a community where there was no adult hockey.

I'd say the reason I was never any better at it was that I patterned my play after my heroes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. But that was in their glory days and, sadly, I don't have that for an excuse. Today I try to get my grandson, who isn't half bad for a 10-year-old, not to watch Hockey Night in Canada when the Leafs are playing.

(I'd like to say to my friend the Pastor, that I do plan to support the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs because this is their 100th anniversary and I'm an admirer of Bob Gainey. When the Bruins, with the help of Bonavista's Michael Ryder, knock them out after the first round, I'll go back to the Calgary Flames.)

Much as I love my hockey, I have to say that while watching all three sports over the last few days, I observed something really troubling.

The Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Cleveland Indians. Toronto shortstop Scutaro hit a double and trotted to second base. The Jays were well behind at the time, too, but suddenly there it was: Scutaro and the Indian shortstop having the friendliest old chat imaginable.

The curling game on Sunday night was tense from the word "go." This was the world championship game, after all, and there was a lot at stake. The score see-sawed back and forth for the whole game and you know both skips were wound up tighter than a premium golf ball.

Yet, there they were strolling down the ice together and talking as though they didn't have a care in the world.

Canadian skip Martin: "Cold out today, David, but this is Canada, you know."

Scottish skip Murdoch: "So it is, Kevin, but it's the same thing back in Scotland this time of year."

Martin: "Tough game. You guys are good!"

Murdoch: "No better than you fellows."

Every once in a while during the curling and baseball games, an advertisement would come on for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And what would they show? If you're at all sports minded you saw it, too.

Invariably they showed clips from that last Montreal-Boston game where, as the old joke goes, a couple of times during the fights a hockey game broke out.

It was unbelievable. The bigger, more pugilistic Bruins practically beat the Canadiens players into the ice, time after time, even tackling them from behind and picking fights with players who simply are not fighters.

I played hockey as an adult in an extremely competitive adult league. Perhaps once or twice in every game there'd be a scuffle or two, and more than once I found myself involved. But it was never like that. Usually, we shook hands after the game and sometimes even after the altercation.

We understood that we couldn't avoid losing our tempers on occasion but that's all it was, not a deliberate attempt to intimidate through fighting, especially with weaker, smaller opponents. The Montreal-Boston game was nothing short of sickening and it all but turned me off hockey completely.

The really great players rarely get into fights: Wayne Gretzky, Evgeni Malkin, any player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sidney Crosby is a bit of an exception, but he has to defend himself in today's league or be totally ineffective.

Canadian women play exciting and entertaining hockey when they have strong opponents. Hardly ever a brawl. I know hockey as a sport is faster, more punishing and more open to physical intimidation through bodychecking and the like. We can even excuse a scattered - and I mean scattered - fight when two players mutually decide they should have it out, and then that's the end to it.

But so is professional football hard -hitting and punishing. Yet, there are few fights and even those are over almost before they begin.

Sometimes I think NHL players just aren't Christian.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Organizations: Big Three, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens Montreal-Boston Calgary Flames Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians NHL

Geographic location: Scotland, Canada, Bonavista Toronto Springdale

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