Not meant to be a blood sport

Robin
Robin Short
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If the violence continues, how much longer will it be before the kids stray from the game

By now, everyone from the Zamboni driver to the prime minister, to the writers and TV talking heads, to the rec hockey players from Torbay to Kamloops to the business powerbrokers (like Zdeno Chara is all Air Canada’s got to worry about), have weighed in on the Chara hit on Max Pacioretty.

Was it legal? Was it dirty? Did the big Bruins’ defenceman mean to introduce the Canadiens forward’s melon into the partition?

Nobody other than Chara himself knows, and never will know (though, after watching the video time and again and Chara’s left arm, it’s hard not to think the Boston defenceman didn’t have malicious intent on his mind).

Lost in all the finger-pointing and cries for suspension is a basic, elementary question: what the hell’s going on with this game?

Skaters are dropping like flies. Retired players are showing signs of scrambled brains. Hockey’s meal ticket — Sidney Crosby, of course — has missed 27 games and counting, and where’s the outcry?

Tough game, that hockey. Got to keep your head up, b’y.

Lacrosse is said to be Canada’s national game, though that might have officially changed. Who knows? And, really, who cares?

In the Great White North, hockey matters most, from the tots in itty-bitty Bauers to the pros. It’s every parent’s dream to see the young’uns go far in the game, maybe play a little junior, hopefully play some college, skate in the world women’s championship, or, hey, maybe make a buck or a million as a pro.

Pipe dream, but nonetheless a dream.

Be careful what you wish for.

As a parent of an eight-year-old hockey player, it wouldn’t kill me if tomorrow Junior decided to play basketball full-time. Or join the swim club.

Oh sure, hockey provides a great social avenue, but it’s becoming increasingly dangerous.

Before the emails start piling in, we agree that so, too, is rugby and boxing. But at least they’re policed with stringent rules.

Hockey? Keep your head up, boys.

And least we think it’s only the pros. Consider Eddie Bartlett, the erstwhile Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars forward.

Bartlett was flattened during an Avalon East hockey game in January 2009, and hasn’t played a single senior league minute since.

During the Saturday night encounter with the Mount Pearl Blades in Harbour Grace, Bartlett was skating through the middle of the ice after chipping the puck in the Blades’ zone.

Admittedly putting himself in a vulnerable position with the way the play unfolded, Bartlett was clocked by the Blades’ Nick Nurse and KO’ed.

It wasn’t necessarily a dirty hit, but a devastating one, nonetheless.

Not that Bartlett remembers.

“I can only remember waking up on the bench and then my mind went again. Next you know, I’m in the dressing room and I’m asking (Shane) Gamberg what happened.

“He tells me, and then I’m asking him again, ‘What happened?’. That must have went on 10 times. Gamberg was a bit taken back. He says, ‘I just told you. What’s wrong with you?’ We didn’t realize the full extent of the injury.”

Bartlett was, of course, concussed (he figures he might have had two or three that season).

He was off work a week, battling headaches and a degree of sickness. He kept the blinds closed.

He eventually recovered enough to get back to his teaching job at St. Bon’s, but hockey was out of the question. He was off skates for three months and today plays but a bit of rec hockey.

“I’m awfully lucky because I only suffered for a little while,” he said. “If I didn’t stop playing, there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be much worse off.

“People were telling me — Randy Pearcey, Andrew McKim, my family — you’ve got to stop, or else it’s going to be bad.”

To get his hockey fix, Bartlett is on the CeeBees’ coaching staff with head coach Ian Moores. He missed playing initially, but not anymore. Coaching gives him his hockey fix.

“Ian and I are in a nice spot,” said Bartlett. “We still get to enjoy the competitiveness, but we’re not beating up our bodies. We’re not waking up sore every Monday morning.”

Bartlett’s a hockey guy through and through. He’s helped out coaching minor and junior hockey. He even teaches the game at St. Bon’s, the only school in the province which offers a Hockey Canada-sanctioned program that can be taken as a credited course.

Even he sometimes fears for the game.

“Parents see these things happening in the game and they say, ‘Why would I put my kids through that?’ We were watching the Chara hit in the staff room and even teachers who don’t play hockey or have kids in hockey are talking about it.

“I don’t know if Newfoundland or other provinces will lose kids because of the injuries in the NHL, but there’s bound to be some loss in numbers. And that’s a sin.”

The NHL is a billion-dollar professional entertainment business. It’s about making money, and barrels of it. It’s not about leaving folksy Norman Rockwell-like impressions on minor hockey players throughout North America.

It’s a game with a violent history, from the Rocket Richard-Hal Loycoe incident, to the time when Wayne Maki broke Teddy Green’s skull. To Bobby Clarke’s chop on Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle to Marty McSorley’s clubbing of Donald Brashear to Todd Bertuzzi’s attack on Steve Moore.

But it’s a different world in which we live now, and no longer is this universally accepted within the sporting arena (yes, I know, they’re shooting each other on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver and in the United States, but that’s a topic for a news columnist to tackle).

Unless the hits from behind are eliminated, the mashing of melons eradicated, those lasting, images won’t be of Orr flying, Gretzky grinning or Lafleur in flight, but rather of injured players lying prone, leaving us all to wonder if they’re dead or alive.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Air Canada, NHL, Hockey Canada

Geographic location: Torbay, Kamloops, Boston Canada Avalon East Newfoundland North America.It Toronto Vancouver United States

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Recent comments

  • Corey
    March 13, 2011 - 19:57

    Seems like today's society wants to scare people, especially younger fans, away from the game of hockey now. Hockey ISN'T a "bloodsport" that people are portraying it as today. It's still a game with grace & skill, & plenty of speed. It's also a physical game as well; there are risks when playing the game, you just have to be more aware of your surroundings. Funny how today's society embraces MMA for its full-contact spirit, complains about baseball because it's "too slow" & "boring" & has no real physical contact, & now is turning its back on hockey because people think the game is too "violent". People want to nitpick at every sport today. The NHL does need to eliminate headshots from the game, but I hope people out there realize that physicality is part of the game whether they like it or not. Most people who think hockey is "violent" probably don't even watch the sport, except when they only see terrible incidents like the Pacioretty injury plastered all over the news. It's a great game...but yes, less headshots in the game will greatly improve the game as well.

  • Rose
    March 12, 2011 - 13:47

    Thanks for putting what many of us are thinking in a clear, logical article. I'm a grad student in the U.S. writing a paper on how kids look up to their sports heroes as role models and often emulate their style of play. To read about such fervent hockey fans rethinking the sport especially for their children is a powerful statement about how serious the escalating violence is. Hopefully Sid plays again so kids will choose his example over Chara's. Nice job.

  • Steve
    March 12, 2011 - 13:15

    Good article. The recent news about Bob Probert having the brain disease CTE will hopefully lead to changes that prevent future players from developing it also.