Pointlessness Disguised as Passion
Man, they have games like that they're going to need to build bigger stadiums and the TV ratings are going to go through the roof.
Two of the toughest, fiercest teams in the sport, both now and by tradition, hammering away at each other. Big, nasty dudes on both sides, more than a few from very difficult upbringings where violence was a part of life.
For 60 minutes in front of a massive, jacked up crowd on its feet for much of the night, full contact on every play, spiced up with some spectacular skill plays.
Yet somehow, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears managed to deliver it all without a single bout of fisticuffs or an incident of idiotic violence outside the norm, and without either coach having to say afterwards "we're not proud of what happened."
Why? Well, because it's the culture of the toughest game on the continent that fighting on the field shows a LACK of manhood and discipline.
And, of course, the NFL, as a league, doesn't stand for it.
At the same time the Bears and Steelers were banging heads, the Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres were demonstrating, one more time with feeling, why the hockey culture's twisted view of manhood remains repellant to so many, and probably why the NHL's version of the sport continues to appeal mostly to Canadians and a tiny demographic south of the border.
The Leafs, it seems clear, will end up with at least one and possibly two suspensions out of it, which won't stop those who believe in this stuff from arguing they did exactly what they had to do (and don't bother mentioning to these folks that the Chicago Blackhawks had one of the NHL's lowest fight totals a year ago en route to the Stanley Cup.)
We can go 'round and 'round with all that happened, and this will be used to justify that and the other way around. Leaf TV, house organ of MLSE, carried it all live, and given that the mentality of the hockey wing of the organization remains to have the biggest brawling team in hockey, it's no surprise the game was broadcast in such a way as to suggest that boy, the Leafs had really accomplished something special on this night.
You had bigger players attacking smaller players, vicious stick-swinging, unprotected skulls being smashed into the ice and the most comical sight of all, goalies fighting.
You'll be able to find somebody in Buffalo and Toronto willing to justify each and every part of it. Only when it was all over and it became clear David Clarkson of the Leafs will begin his tenure in Toronto on the suspended list for leaving the bench to join in a fight did the MLSE broadcast attempt to take a sombre, too-bad-this-all-happened point of view, and even then some were arguing that Clarkson did the right thing.
Phil Kessel, too, may find himself in hot water for his bit of stick-swinging, although the fact it was clearly in self-defence and aimed at the ankles of the pointless John Scott will weigh slightly in his favour.
But the guy who really deserves NHL sanctions for all that ensued?
Try Ron Rolston, the Sabres coach.
A U.S. college guy, no less, who has spent most of his time playing and coaching hockey in leagues where full face-masks are worn and fighting means immediate ejection.
Rolston, after seeing Corey Tropp decide to start a fight with apprenticing Leaf tough guy Jamie Devane and end up groggy and beaten up for his efforts, responded as though it was Devane who had attacked his player and sent out the aforementioned Scott, who for years now has taken up NHL roster spots because he is 6-foot-8 and a fighter of moderate ability.
It was the classic tap on the shoulder, the "and-don't-dance" wordless missive from the coach.
Rolston wanted revenge, so he sent out Scott. Leaf coach Randy Carlyle didn't want any part of it, so he sent out his best forwards, believing the "code" - enforcers aren't supposed to go after non-combatants - would defuse the situation.
Nope. The referees, more concerned with having cameras mounted on their helmets, seemed blissfully unaware that there might be a problem brewing, and did nothing until after Scott had dropped his gloves and decided to go after Kessel, who responded as though he was chopping wood with his stick.
Then came the line brawl. Then came Jonathan Bernier vs. Ryan Miller.
If Rolston hadn't sent out Scott, nothing would likely have happened. Or perhaps Scott, in the way it's supposed to work, would have challenged Devane after he left the penalty box.
But the "code," as we know, is a most flexible philosophy, usually twisted in such a way as to the legitimize the presence of enforcers. "Policemen" like Scott use it at their convenience to rationalize their actions.
Clarkson, it should be noted, really didn't that involved in the mess. The suspension is automatic, although there are cases in which the league has chosen to invent a rationale that excuses the conduct, and Leaf fans can hope that's the case here.
He's a rambunctious boy, Clarkson, and he made a regrettable error in judgement that will likely cost him dearly. Carlyle seemed displeased with Clarkson's decision and the entire mess afterwards.
"We're not proud or happy with what went on," said Carlyle.
But if you really want to pinpoint the blame for Sunday night's ugliness, pin it where it belongs.
On Rolston. Give him 10 games and you're dealing with the actual root cause of Sunday's stupidity.
But that will likely never happen because the NHL unofficially sanctioned this stuff for years, blissfully unaware other sports with much greater popularity, TV ratings and revenues would never stand for it.