October 28, 2011

Beautiful Hockey

In the mid-1970s Winnipeg's Bobby Hull teamed together with Swedish imports Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to create one of the greatest lines of all time. The trio instantly clicked and they wowed audiences everywhere with their "beautiful hockey." Transition offense based on speed and creative play making.

They were so much better than everyone else in the WHA that they were immediately targeted everyone else with violence. Yes, some things are eternal in hockey. Let the lesser players beat up the stars rather than protect the stars so they can demonstrate hockey at it's best.

Gare Joyce talks about in his new book, The Devil and Bobby Hull.
"If Hull had little protection against the goons, Hedberg and Nilsson had none at all - they were victims of a slow-to-evolve culture of the '70s dressing room, full of resentment toward Europeans coming in and taking the jobs of Canadians, teammates from past seasons, friends.

"Even the refs had it in for us, letting guys get away with murder going after us, when they could have called penalties if it had been anyone else on the end of it," said Nilsson.
It got so bad that in the 1975-76 season Bobby Hull sat out a WHA regular season game to protest the failure of referees around the league to enforce the rules and the coaches, managers and league itself for encouraging "brutality and savagery."

Here's Hull's quote from Joyce's book:
"It's becoming a disaster. The idiot owners, the incompetent coaches, the inept players are dragging the game into the mud. They're destroying it with their senseless violence. You talk to some of these idiots at the top and they say, 'It's the nature of the game. It has always been that way and always will be.' They're full of bull. It's worse than it ever has been and it's going to end up ruining hockey. They ought to take all these incompetents, these idiot owners, coaches and players and put them in their own league so they can kill each other."
Ouch! Now I'm not going to suggest things have not improved since the low days of the 1970s.  But in many ways things have not changed. Bobby Hull's sentiments have been echoed time and time again since then, including quite famously by his own son Brett Hull and arguably the greatest player in the history of the game, Mario Lemieux. Heck, even in 2011 the Sedin twins, the Hedberg/Nilsson of today, have been treated in similar ways, made to suffer stoically instead of being able to demonstrate "beautiful hockey."

The NHL still does not take this seriously enough. It's always open season on the superstars. look at all the great players we've lost to injuries - Lemieux, Lindros, Bossy, Orr. The greatest player of current time (Sidney Crosby, in case you forgot about him by now) has not played in 10 months because of his head shot.

And that is a shame.

Why does the NHL condone such "useless violence?". Simply because allows lesser teams and players to compete. That allows those markets to sell tickets - not necessarily because of the violence itself, but because it allows them a chance to win. I think that is as big as any reason as to why hockey condones such violence.

1 comment:

rockfish said...

I think its more complicated issue but agree in the main point that several major areas need to be addressed to return the game to the skilled players.
That would include banning hard-shell shoulder and elbow pads, for one.
Harsher penalties for head shots, just the way as it seems there is no tolerance for anything that draws blood now. I like much of what Shanahan has been doing.
As to fighting, i wouldn't ban it but make every fight reviewable with fines/suspensions as possible deterents.