Hatred and Violence Are at the Heart of Our Sport, and Sunday All the World Saw It

In their bloodlust, Arabs and Jews have nothing on the Flyers and Penguins.

(Isn’t it grand!)

Really, in a relative sense, what transpired on the ice in Philadelphia yesterday made the Middle East seem one big, happy, if diverse, family. Yesterday’s matinee jihad in the City of Brotherly Love was all consuming — it enveloped even Sidney Crosby. There were thugs aplenty in the Flyers’ 8-4, series determining mauling of the Pens, but it was hockey’s choir boy going gansta that has everyone talking hockey today. Well, that and the fact that this series is now reminding everyone of the NHL in the 1970s.

On-line reckonings of Sunday’s wreckage uniformly illustrated Flyers and Penguins players arms raised not in goal celebrations — though there were many of those — but rather with fists clenched, heads buckled by blows.

The weekend crews on 106.7 the Fan, heretofore known not much by name but rather by their myopic fixation on Skins-in-all-seasons, were snuff-film horrified into acknowledging how hockey had shouldered aside the winding down NBA season and early season baseball as grist for great broadcast chatter. We are a culture with a peculiar and grotesque patronage for extreme violence, so naturally what happened on the NHL’s postseason ice — especially yesterday — ensnared us. And yes, you really had to see it to believe it; we really did seem to have been catapulted back in time, to an age of bell bottoms, muscle cars, and ‘Charlie’s Angels.’

We had cross-checks to the throat, followed by punches to the back of the prostrate-on-the-ice head. We had springboard leaping checking in open ice, the better to maim by. We had seriously Code-violating fisticuff engagements, with assailants tackling targets from behind. Slashes to knees and ankles? No, more like medieval mace and machete swings meant to fell the victims into wheelchairs for the remainder of spring. And the Eastern Canadian finesse stars, Crosby and Giroux, were at the center of it.

By Sunday evening Dan Bylsma had devolved, too. I’d associated Bylsma with precocious success and a polished but fiery and inspirational comportment from his run on HBO’s ’24/7′ a couple of years back. Confronting Sunday evening’s cameras and microphones, however, Bylsma was halting and incoherent in his reflections. Really, he couldn’t make any sense of what he’d just witnessed. He was shell-shocked. Most of the questions posed to him were fair and thoughtful, but he’d typically pause, ponder, then stammer gibberish. He seemed a fish out of water, heretofore the coach of pretty poetry hockey suddenly overwhelmed by immersion in gangster rap street life.

Crosby gave better than he got all day long but managed actually to add a layer of infamy to his offensive aura of whining and peripheral, prim-and-proper pretty boy comportment. And for good measure he melted down, sniveling in style, about the madness in Sunday’s postgame.


There was nothing scripted or phony about all the malevolence; Crosby’s long been on record acknowledging his and his teammates’ disdain for their Philadelphia counterparts, and he reiterated it yesterday — I hate those guys, every one of them. They bring out the worst in our team. Yesterday we saw a great rivalry go medieval, because of the stakes.

Fines and suspensions no doubt will be levied, but there is no undoing what is congenital to these two organizations, especially in spring. They hate, and we hockey fans love that.

We don’t always do such a good job admitting it, however. There was of course the predictable piety — feigned indignation, really — reacting to game 3 all about Twitter late yesterday afternoon. “What an embarrassment!” the friars and monks of Twitter thundered, none of them of course averting their gaze, ever, nor covering the eyes of their progeny. Game 3 was V-chip material alright, but who among hockey families pulled the viewing plug? They and their young charges will tune in on time Wednesday night, and if things go sour again . . .  savior it . . .  before lecturing anew. To feel better about themselves, I suppose.

Really, in today’s American culture, isn’t that a lot like lawn chair protesting out front of 7-Eleven the sale of Playboys within?

It’s fair — and damned interesting — to wonder where we’re headed from here. Have any doubt about which first-round series is drawing the biggest TV numbers, or what interest there will be in Wednesday’s game 4? NBC may simulcast that game across all of its broadcast properties. And what message did Brendan Shanahan send about the league’s tolerance of violence when Nashville’s Shea Weber received merely a nuisance fine for trying the drive Henrik Zetterberg’s head through a pane of plexiglass?

Think the NFL wishes away the high-pitched pixels associated with Bounty-gate?

The NHL may just be getting in on that fun. There’s probably somebody from the league office already working on a license for a video game of Pens-Flyers game 3.

This entry was posted in HBO's 24/7, Hockey fights, Morning cup-a-joe, NHL playoffs, Old Time Hockey, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Hatred and Violence Are at the Heart of Our Sport, and Sunday All the World Saw It

  1. kelly chuba says:

    I changed my mind about fighting when that filthy Penguin beat up Jay Beagle.

    We absolutely need to pull in more viewers and fans of the sport so thanks PA teams for setting that effort back fifty years.

  2. sonja says:

    I actually won’t watch that game. I’ll be watching the Capitals v. Boston because we’ve got a series of our own that features actual hockey.

  3. sonja says:

    My bad … I just looked at the schedule. We won’t watch it anyway …

  4. Jason Mitchell says:

    What are you people talking about? You must have only started watching hockey since the lockout! That game was awesome playoff-style hockey and in case you hadn’t noticed, there wasn’t a penalty called from the start of the 3rd period on in the Caps-Bs game Saturday even though a ton could have. Why? Because it’s the playoffs and you let the play get rough and tumble. You let the players decide the pace of play and justice to include the results.

  5. Martin says:

    @jason mitchel, so what if it’s the playoffs? Are you suggesting a strategy where the GMs sign up a few UFC heavyweights as a 4th line to maim the opposing teams’s star players in the first game thus clearing the path to victory?


    SO great to see league office and media darling St. Sidney of the Confluence get his head handed to him. I think it was Doc Emrick who commented yesterday that the Fligthless Foul looked like a beaten team, they didnt know what what hit them.

    PS nice to have these posts back for playoffs. Any chance of resurrecting the beer glass posts after wins ?

  7. Jason Mitchell says:

    I think thats exactly why you have ‘grinders’ and players with ‘grit’ and ‘sandpaper’. Theres a reason that 3rd and 4th line guys typically are bigger/defensive players. They go out and physically wear down the opposing teams star players. I dont advocate hurting another player on purpose or say using a stick like a baseball bat but look at how the flyers have gotten into the penguins heads in this series?

  8. Sean says:

    Love seeing the Pen-Goons get crushed AND then beat down by the Broad Street Bullies of 2012 in the same game!! Glad it wasn’t our Caps! Looking forward to seeing the Legions of Caps fans tonight to cheer the Caps on against the Bruins!

  9. Goat says:

    I, for one, was glued to my screen.

  10. mostholy2 says:

    The Pens-Flyers game wasn’t the only one with this level of goonery over the weekend. The Sharks-Blues, Rags-Sens all had very bad incidents.

    I’ve got the feeling that if the Bruins start to get behind in our series, they will resort to this brand of hockey to try to put the Caps off their game.

  11. penguin pete says:

    ugh. who’d a thunk giving 8 goals for the second game in a row would be the least of my worries?

    i really don’t mind what sid did, as i saw (feel free to claim bias) a captain trying to do something to shake everyone up. unfortunately, he has a reputation as a whiner and it’s easy to see how one could construe (not mis-) his actions as just that. however, if it were someone with the “warrior” reputation, let’s say shane doan, i think the hockey world would glorify his attempt to rattle the troops.

    however, they say perception is reality, and sid (and the rest of the pens) looked bad.

    except james neal. he looked like an idiot. credit to bylsma for keeping him out there to face the music, and credit to laviolette for not putting berube, holmgren and clarke on the ice for the ensuing faceoff.

    enjoy this guys, as we’re down and should be kicked!

  12. hank says:

    I disagree. Hate and Violence are at the centre of professional North American hockey.
    Watch any Olympic, World Jr., World Championship or games from outside of North America and it’s a different beast.

    It all began when the WHA formed and needed to sell tickets. How do you do that? Bring on the goons!
    Watch an NHL classic game from the 50’s. It’s like watching pond-hockey. There might have been a tussle or two, but for the most part, there was barely any hitting or rough stuff.
    In fact, if a player slid into a goalie, the skater got up and walked away without so much as a word spoken.
    Now, if you even look at a goalie, you get a stick in the teeth.
    Want to deliver a clean, hard hit? Better be prepared to drop the gloves for it!
    The NHL product continues to degrade. Low scoring, dangerous hits, staged fighting, inflated goalies, poor disciplinary leadership, etc, etc.
    The NHL is bragging about how it’s tv ratings have gone up 50% in this years playoffs. It went from 1.2 to 1.8. Wow!
    Ratings have been the same for 25 years.
    If you want to be taken seriously, stop with the shenanigans.
    Clean the game up and allow skill to be injected into games.
    Out of the 10 skaters on the ice, maybe 2 of them care about the puck.
    The game’s gotten to be a joke.

  13. @ PETE: I understand your perspective regarding Crosby getting into scrums, and talking tough, to rally his team. But I can’t stomach his petty little poke of the glove in the video above… man, he seemed like a petulant child right then, rather than a leader.

    Still, love it or hate it, one cannot deny this series is riveting television.

  14. Joe says:

    @KellyChuba really, Kelly? we need to pull in more fans so we should abolish fighting??? Watch the game again – the crowd was crazy. Every single one of them was on their feet cheering. Look at the ratings – NBC’s ratings were up 50% from last year. and i’m sure that there will be even more viewers tonight. it’s part of the game. it always has been, always will be, and its one more thing that draws in and entertains the casual fan.

  15. Jason Mitchell says:

    @Hank You’re the first hockey fan I’ve ever met that thinks that there’s more skill on display outside of the NHL. It’s the elite league of the hockey world and that’s why every hockey players’ dream is to play here.

    I’ll admit that the Pens/Flyers game got out of hand but to just dismiss all rough stuff is not the way to get more ‘skill’ in the game again. In fact I’d say the biggest reason scoring is down again is because they’ve stopped calling a lot of interference penalties. Start enforcing that rule more often again and it opens up the ice.

  16. prole30 says:

    Those who think the Olympic hockey model would produce a kinder, gentler game in the NHL are totally out to lunch. In 2006 the Finns played the Czechs. Jarko Ruutu of the Finns took a horrendous blindside run at Jagr, the heart of the Czech team, driving him into the boards. He could have ended Jagr’s career. What did Ruutu have to worry about? No enforcer is going to punch his teeth in. Most he’d get was to be thrown out of the game and perhaps a suspension. So what? If he had injured Jagr, his team’s chances for the medal go up and those for the Czechs go down. (See it on You Tube)

    You don’t think that writ large wouldn’t happen in an NHL where fighting was banned? It would happen big-time and actually put all the big stars at risk. Or who would you rather have protecting Gretzky, a referee or his bodyguard Cementhead Semenko?

    In the 50s the violence was far worse. Remember the Montreal riots? Rocket Richard had punched a linesman during a wild brawl in Boston. He claimed he couldn’t see because of the blood streaming down his face. He was suspended for the playoffs and the fans ripped that city apart. Or Boom Boom Geoffrion bringing his stick down on Ron Murphy’s head. It’s always been that way. In the 30s Eddie Shore whacked Ace Bailey from behind. Bailey hit the ice with a fractured skull. He hovered between life and death for 10 days and received the last rites. Shore was there when Bailey regained consciousness briefly. Shore tried to apologize, but Bailey stopped him, saying “it’s all part of the game.” .

  17. nadir says:

    I watched the last 15 minutes of the game yesterday and all I could hear is Mario in the back of my head complaining about how the NHL allows teams to take liberties with his players and his general crying that he passed onto Crosby when he came into the league. This, from the owner of the same team that saw a fight lead to a Stanley Cup win a couple years ago.

    Remember the Pens were down 3 games to 1 (if I remember correctly) going into Philly and there was a fight that the Pens started and it kick-started the team and they ended up with the Cup. So now, they are trying it again and well, lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place. Read some stuff today and also heard some sports radio and one of the things they clued in on was the guy that has had concussion issues and who blames everyone else for them instead of taking personal responsibility is out there instigating much of the fighting. He instigates and then one of his teammates jumps in to “protect” him. He will get his one day and it won’t be pretty.

  18. HBH WC says:

    I absolutely love hockey, it is by far my favorite sport. I’m 58 years old and I’ve been watching it since I’ve been 10. I also play hockey…still. 3 to 4 times a week.
    I like hockey so much that I even watched the game between the Phliers and Boltz when the Phliers just practiced D 2 D passing while the whole Boltz team stood behind their side of the red line. Boring as hell, but I watched.
    On the other hand, I don’t watch WWE ever and I’m not going to start. What happened in Philly yesterday was not Playoff Hockey. It was Goonery, Thuggery, dirty, nasty play. Play off hockey keeps a player from taking stupid penalties so his team doesn’t suffer a loss. Ask Chris Kunitz. The Pens got within 1 goal twice and he committed two consecutive penalties that allowed the Phliers to regain a 2 goal lead. Watch video of Dino Ciccarelli getting slashed between the legs by Ed Belfour during the playoffs. The ref never saw it and never called the penalty. Dino so badly wanted to pop him but he didn’t. Why? Because it was the playoffs! Dino understands playoff hockey. That is playoff hockey, not that crap that happened yesterday. What happened yesterday was WWE. I turned it off, did some stuff around the house and then watched Panthers/Devils to see how Thomas Fleischman would do.
    @Jason, I also agree with you. Where are those obstruction calls?
    BTW, did Weber shoving Zetterberg’s head into the glass at the end of the game remind you of any other spectacle? WWE maybe. What the hell is Shanny thinking??

  19. penguin pete says:

    @ MIKE:i smell what you’re cooking regarding crosby.

  20. joe says:

    check it out guys, i’ve lived in the UK and i can tell you that hockey is sesame street compared to the violence after soccer games. people get stabbed, get murdered, and wars start over this stuff. it’s what men do. it’s in our blood and it will never go away no matter how emasculated we become

  21. HBH WC says:

    People in Vancouver did their share of rioting, burning, fighting and killing (I don’t believe any wars were started though, but I don’t recall any recent wars started because of lost soccer games either), that doesn’t make it right. It’s called mob mentality and idiocy.
    I’d prefer to keep the conversation focused on what happens on the ice though.

  22. Random Hockey Fan says:

    I get what you’re saying, but to compare two hockey teams’ dislike for each other to the Arab-Israeli conflict is narrow-minded. (And, yes, it’s Arabs and Israelis, not Arabs and all Jews, but I digress.) There is a large section of people in that conflict who don’t believe Israel should even exist and Israelis must literally fight for their lives on a daily basis.

    Yes, the Penguins and Flyers hate each other, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game. Like Joe wrote above, some soccer matches end in death. Pittsburgh and Philly don’t want to kill each other, they realize they’re in the entertainment business.

    Next time you bring a real issue into the world of hockey — even if it’s a bit of tongue and cheek — please be a bit more sensitive to actual issues of life and death, and not just a game.

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