Yes, it is a hot topic, but if one is around the sport long enough, you just grow to know that it is a part of the game.
Ice hockey has long been one of North America’s most controversial sports. It is rough. There are fights. Players often chirp at each other.
It is one of those games where an altercation is still legal. If a player decides to tangle with another, he probably will earn a 5-minute trip to the penalty box for his actions. There are no technical fouls like in basketball. There are arguably fewer ejections than in football.
Yet the physical nature of the game cannot be discounted. It is tough. You play at your own risk. Anyone who laces up the skates knows that there is the possibility for injury. However, most players have a pretty hard shell.
On Nov. 30, in a 4-3 overtime win versus Anaheim, San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton took a deflected puck just above the right eye. It arrived at a high rate of speed. Joe went down, got up and left a trail of blood all the way back to the Sharks bench. He immediately retreated to the locker room where it took several stitches to close the wound.
Thornton missed but one shift. He re-emerged with a half-closed right eye. Things were already black and blue. He was a mess. However, Jumbo Joe continued the game and actually contributed an assist on the goal that gave the Sharks the first lead of the game.
As the SAP Arena crowd held its collective breath, Joe took it in stride. In the postgame analysis, Thornton totally played it off, saying that it was part of the bumps and bruises a player absorbs during the course of the season.
He spoke of how it is a long season and that this was merely a small part of it. He looked a mess but vowed he would be on the ice two nights later in Toronto. And he was!
On Thursday night, San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture had a puck somehow find its way under his protective visor. He too was cut badly. He skated to the locker room, got stitched up and lamented missing one shift in the game.
Hockey is not a sport for the faint of heart. However, those who participate simply know that it is far more than a strong match of badminton. Players skate at a high rate of speed. The puck is shot at more than 100 mph. Bodies are checked into boards. There are even the open-ice hits. However, when all is said and done, you know that it is part of the game.
Shane Peters has refereed internationally. He is one of the best in the state of California. A little more than a week ago, Peters was involved in an altercation as a referee.
At the same time he was breaking it up, a stick flew through the melee. He took stitches above the eye from the fight and had a bruised cheek in which you could see the imprint of the tape on the stick.
Peters missed about 10 minutes of action while he was bandaged and repaired. When he returned, it was not a big deal. These things simply happen. In hockey, one is always wary. Yes, there were pictures taken of Shane, and a mild discussion took place. However, there was not a fuss to be made. This is the culture of the sport. It is the way it goes down. There is always this risk.
If one does not want to participate, there is no state mandate saying he or she must. It is one of those decisions. There are few sports as rough. I would imagine there are some that rival it, but this is simply a part of the territory. One gets used to the bumps and bruises to which Joe Thornton alluded.
On October 15, a San Jose Sharks defenseman was knocked out by a vicious, illegal hit by Maxim Lapierre of the St. Louis Blues. He was carried off on a stretcher. Lapierre received a game misconduct along with a seven-game suspension.
How did the Sharks respond? They rolled up their sleeves and beat the Blues in St. Louis 6-2.
It is a part of the game.
The National Hockey League began several seasons ago to reel in the illegal hits. They especially protect the head. Much the same as the NFL, hits to the head have been outlawed. A player faces heavy discipline. This violation or any others that put a player at risk have been addressed.
Yet, this is a tough sport. It is not for the faint of heart. Each time you lace up the skates, you know the potential.
I turn 60 next November. This is my last season as a referee. I have decided to hang it up. I guess I am getting too old. Strangely enough, being in the middle of the action is something I will dearly miss. It is a sport that envelopes you. It captures, at times, who you are. As controversial as violence in sports is, hockey is one place where you simply learn to live on the edge. It is a part of the journey, never to be forgotten.
Jim Adams lives in Grass Valley and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.