Friday, 23 March 2012

Game 75: Montréal 5, Ottawa 1

As the season draws to a close, there is nothing left for Canadiens fans but to enjoy the games, and Erik Cole took charge of our entertainment value in the first period. He potted 3 goals in the first five minutes of the game, and could easily have had three more throughout the remaining fifty-five minutes, as well as Max. Both big wingers were dangerous all game, generating scoring chances every time they were on the ice.

Again, I tip my hat to Erik Cole for the ensemble of his oeuvre this season, characterized by a fiery will to win, great leadership and camaraderie with his teammates, and a spectacular bull-in-the-china-shop style, crashing the crease as relentlessly as do waves upon a beach. He has persevered all season, during winning and losing streaks, in close games or during blowouts, against physical or finesse teams, through injuries and aches and pains caused by innumerable crosschecks and collisions with the boards or posts. He fought on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and the streets, he never surrendered. My only regret is that we won't see his playoff beard this season.

The second period’s entertainment, however, was ‘orchestrated’ by putrid refereeing, with the culprits wallowing contentedly in the mire provided by the evil triumvirate of Jeremy Jacobs, Colin Campbell and Don Cherry. The Senators came out slashing, crosschecking and generally gooning from the opening faceoff, and the refs were attentively ineffective. You could see them, with furrowed brows, all eagle-eyed, watching everything and seeing nothing. They allowed the Senators to perpetrate their anti-hockey relatively unencumbered. After every stoppage in front of the Canadiens net, the facewashes and rabbit punches and crosschecks came out, and somehow the refs would think these infractions cancelled out on both sides. Which is completely ridiculous.

In rugby, scrums and mauls are sometimes intentionally collapsed by the defending team if they feel they are losing too much ground or are about to be pushed backward over their own goalline. That is, they used to be brought to the ground, because the International Rugby Board, the sports governing body, has now outlawed these tactics, which above all were extremely dangerous for players, in that these collapses will sometimes result in a serious, paralyzing neck injury. This was also seen as anti-rugby, it evened the odds for the less talented teams and killed the flow and spectacle.

A problem might have existed to determine who actually caused the collapse with certainty, since in this roiling mass of humanity it's difficult to see who stopped pushing and standing and decided to drag down his opponents. In theory. In practice, the very easy solution was to automatically ascribe the fault (and penalty) to the defending team, since they have everything to gain by fouling the play, as opposed to the team on the attack. So now, when a maul or scrum is collapsed, the attacking team gets the ball on a penalty. It's automatic. There is no attempt to decide if it was intentional. Or, with NHL-think, if the team on the attack had it coming. Or whether the game is too close and it's too close a score to award a penalty. Or whether this late in the game we should just 'let them play'.

In a game like tonight's game, it's obvious who's starting the scrums, "le niaisage" as Marc Denis of RDS put it. It's the team that's behind in the score, with Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka and Nick Foligno and Zack Smith on the ice instead of Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza. It's pretty flipping obvious who should be marching to the penalty box after every one of these whistles.

As a boy I used to watch a lot of wrestling, and would feel anxiety and panic in response to the incompetence of the referees. It would literally play with my mind, I would verge on tears, I was so outraged at the unfairness of it all, and how the refs had to be blind or crooked. On tag team matches, I would often see two refs push back Jacques Rougeau who had entered the ring without being tagged, and direct him back to his corner outside the ropes. He was only trying to come to the assistance of Denis Gauthier or his cousin Raymond, the other team was cheating, but it didn't matter to the refs, they would escort him back, with their backs turned to the action. Meanwhile, Michel 'Justice' Dubois and Abdullah the Butcher would have hapless Raymond trussed up in the other corner, with a rope around his neck. Justice Dubois would be working his midsection with something he pulled out of his sock, and Abdullah the Butcher might be digging at his scalp with Eddie Creatchman's false teeth. And I would lose my marbles. I'd point at the screen and yell at the refs, point to what they were missing, and to the cheating. "Non, non," my father would say, "ils trichent pas, c'est de la stratégie!" He'd then raise his arms and proclaim in unison with his favourite wrestler: "Justice!!!!"

 In hindsight, that was probably child abuse on my father's part.

During this game, and during many others, notably against the Bruins, I sense the same impotent rage rising. I see Nick Foligno elbowing Josh Gorges in the head, then later punching Andrei Markov in the back of the head, with Paul MacLean smirking behind the bench, the same week that the NFL suspended coach Payton for an entire year in the name of player safety. I see Mark Stuart buffoonishly chasing after Andrei Kostistyn in a circle around the Jets' zone, slashing him ten times by my count in the process, with no whistle. As I've stated before, the two minutes should have been ringing up like in a pinball game, ping ping ping, until the guy spent the whole next period in the box. I see Brad Marchand punching Daniel Sedin five times in the face, with no call. I see him diving at Alexei Emelin's knees mere weeks after being suspended for the very same offence, with no call.

At least at the end of the wrestling match I'd get my retribution, I'd get justice, real justice, not Dubois 'Justice'. The Rougeaus would get a surge of righteous energy and pull it out in the end, they'd fly at the villains from the third rope with acrobatics and somersaults and 'scientific' wrestling, as taught by the chief proponent Edouard Carpentier. I don't get a cathartic apotheosis with hockey like I used to with La Lutte du Samedi, just more of Nick Kypreos, Mike Milbury, Gary Bettman and, increasingly, Brendan Shanahan.

Can I state again my distaste for Chris Neil and all he stands for? He's a downright bully, always cruising around the ice with a scowl on his face and thuggery on his mind. How he gets to stay in this game after shoving a referee aside, to start a meaningless, unprovoked fight against Ryan White after the first period siren, I don't understand.

And as I write this, I'm watching the St. John Sea Dogs playing the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and three or four fights just happened, to the cackles of the announcers who speak of players 'standing up for themselves' and 'sending a message', fully cognizant of the fact that some of these players are not even adults.

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