NOTE: I’m stepping into a potentially dangerous zone of commentary here.
The easy thing to do is to hit back.
The 2011 Stanley Cup final was a brutal affair that made for great television and drama, even as it threatened to set hockey back 20 years. There was an unpunished incident of one player biting another, three players were knocked out of the series with serious injuries, and there was almost as much back-and-forth sniping in the media after the games as there was ankle-chopping and ‘face washing’ during the games.
Late in game 6, with the Bruins comfortably ahead, a series of scrums broke out on the ice. Boston ‘superpest’ Brad Marchand grabbed Vancouver superstar Daniel Sedin and did this:
The reaction of the person who recorded that was echoed across the hockey world.Sedin was ridiculed for not being tough enough, for not having ‘grit’ and ‘heart’ and all the sort of stuff that hockey fans in Canada and the US value over everything else.
Last Thursday, Marchand was on the receiving end of a bad hit to the head by Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog. Marchand, who had already missed two games earlier this year due to a concussion, was pissed. He picked himself up off the ice and did this:
Landeskog received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play. It meant he was tossed from the game and Boston would receive a five-minute powerplay (he was later suspended for two games by the NHL). However, Marchand’s punch earned him a roughing penalty, negating two of Landeskog’s five minutes. Boston did not score on the three-minute powerplay they ended up with and ended up losing the game 3-2.
Had Marchand not reacted the way he did, would things have worked out differently? We’ll never know, but the reaction of the hockey forums I check out indicate that most people didn’t blame him (and that’s saying something; Marchand is popular pretty much only with Boston fans). After all, it’s about “sending a message” to the other team, “sticking up for yourself”, showing others that “you can’t mess with us.” It’s the way of hockey.
Looking at the two incidents, though, Sedin’s reaction is actually the harder road to take than Marchand’s. There’s almost no thought process to Marchand’s; it’s a straight-up reaction. Meanwhile, Daniel Sedin, even though he’s no fighter (not that Marchand is; he starts trouble but rarely fights), surely had to want to sock Marchand in the jaw. Instead, he took the punches, trying not to put his team at a disadvantage, or potentially get himself injured in a fight with a Stanley Cup-deciding game coming two nights later. Having been in both positions while playing hockey, it’s far, far easier to react, to let your temper get away from you, even if it costs the team.
Having been both Marchand the instigator and Marchand the reactor, I can tell you that goading an opponent into taking penalties is satisfying. I can also say exacting some form of ‘frontier justice’ with a cross-check, a two-hander, or a punch to the chops is also satisfying, in the moment. However, when you’ve been tossed from the game or you’re sitting in the penalty box watching the other team score on the powerplay, you realize your short-term satisfaction can hurt the team.
In the wake of two horrific attacks last week that killed close to 200 people in two cities, it’s easy for people to react like Marchand in the second instance and look for someone to hit. We’re already hearing a lot of noise about refugees in Europe, and immigrants here. My fear is that we’re going to see vigilante–or worse, state-sanctioned–acts carried out against Muslims in Europe and America. Will we see crackdowns and brutality? Bombings of mosques and beatings of Muslims in the streets and in their homes? I surely hope not. Aside from the potential loss of innocent lives, acting out will only serve to drive more people toward the Islamic State. It might actually be a better recruiting tool for them than mass killings.
My heart goes out to all who lost their lives or had them disrupted forever. I don’t know what the solution is to the mess in the middle east, but I know it’s not throwing a punch at the nearest target.