It’s a question worth asking in the wake of Saturday’s game between the Bruins and Canucks, an affair that lasted no more than 150 minutes but continues to ignite emotions from coast to coast days later.
You like sports because you love the game, and you love your team, or your favorite player, or just great competition. You love the action, the speed, the emotion. You don’t like sports for bickering, for constant fighting among fan bases and for media games played by the figures involved.
But that’s all we’re left with now, and quite frankly, it stinks.
The biggest point of contention is the hit Brad Marchand made on Sami Salo. Marchand insisted he was protecting himself, and coach Claude Julien had his player’s back.
The Vancouver perspective, as you can imagine, was a bit different, with general manager Mike Gillis coming out and saying it was “a dirty hit by a dirty player.”
And that’s where the issues begin.
The players, coaches and management of the Canucks seem intent on painting a reality where the Bruins are a collection of thugs and the Canucks are a saintly group incapable of any wrongdoing. It’s misinformation, to say the least, and too many fans and Vancouver media members are falling for it hook, line and sinker.
There’s no question the Bruins play a physical game — they are celebrated as the Big, Bad Bruins after all — but there’s a distinct difference between playing tough and playing cheap. And Maxim Lapierre knows all about that. Despite building that reputation over the course of several seasons in Montreal, Gillis hired Lapierre to play a role on his hockey team.
And he also employs Alexandre Burrows, a man who bit Patrice Bergeron, one of the more universally respected players in the game. He bit him. How many men do you know who have bitten other men? That’s hardly the only knock on Burrows, either (check out this video of him saying “How do you do?” to Marc Staal) , and his back-and-forth with Shawn Thornton that precipitated Saturday’s line brawl has been mostly glossed over, with only Milan Lucic painted as some sort of uncaged animal for jumping to his teammate’s aid. That teammate, of course, was Shawn Thornton, and he was at the bottom of a pile of five white jerseys (the last of which belonged to Lapierre, who flew in as fast as he could to join in on the mugging).
But yeah, the Bruins play a “rough-and-tumble, dishonest game.” The Canucks don’t. Sure thing.
And aside from those two players, the Canucks are not the holy crew they claim to be. Should they be upset that Salo suffered a concussion as a result of the Marchand hit? Sure, any team would. But was Marchand justified in putting that hit on a Canuck?
This video of Mason Raymond putting a nearly identical hit on Marchand in last June’s Stanley Cup Final says yes, perhaps he was.
Gillis, you’ll note, didn’t go out and say that Raymond was a dirty player after that one. Nor did anyone have much to say about Keith Ballard‘s low hit on Gregory Campbell in the second period that looked similar as well and drew some ire from Campbell.
But it doesn’t matter. The point isn’t to villainize the Canucks or canonize the Bruins. They’re two hockey teams that are more similar than they may want you to think. The Bruins score the most goals in the NHL, and the Canucks are third. The Bruins allow the fewest goals in the league, and the Canucks rank eighth. The Big, Bad Bruins rank third in the league in penalty minutes, and those saintly Canucks rank fourth, with a whopping seven fewer penalty minutes.
Despite those facts, the Canucks want to shape public perception by saying the Bruins “want to play a certain way” and “take free whacks after the whistle.” And it’s working, to an extent.
Kevin Bieksa informed the media after Saturday’s game that “This isn’t boxing. This isn’t MMA. This is hockey.”
The insinuation was that the Bruins use pugilistic tactics rather than play hockey. The league standings — again, another little, pesky fact — say otherwise.
At the end of it all, what you have is a very unenjoyable atmosphere. As a fan, is it fun to spend your time so angry at another team and its fans? Is it fun to engage in profanity-laden fights with those fans on Twitter or message boards? Is it fun to read reports and feel your blood boil as you read hypocrisy thrown about from every which way?
Is it why you love sports, or is it an unfortunate byproduct of having so much passion?
You hear a lot of people saying after Saturday’s memorable showdown that they’d like to see seven more games of this again in June. Personally, I’m not so sure.
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