NHL dirty “secrets” laid bare and a WILD resurgence underway!

Marc Elliott

Hurricane Nino Neiderreiter battles  Eric Staal in a 6-2 CARO win
Hurricane Nino Neiderreiter battles Eric Staal in a 6-2 CARO win

EVELETH… Hockey is an extremely tough sport. Always has been and always will be. Even as some of the lesser nuanced fans of the sport decry the decline in player fighting, make no mistake, it’s still not a game for the faint of heart. And that goes for on and off the ice in some cases. It has been this way from its inception and is ingrained into the culture and fabric of the sport to the point where it is as certain as day and night. When you are a kid player coming up you slowly pickup on this as you move through the game. It is a bit subtle at the start until you hit a certain level and the toughness and grit required to survive in the game kind of smacks you on the head serving full notice to you on those facts of hockey life. 

When you get to the upper levels of the game, as the saying goes, you have to have your head on a swivel. Physical challenge and the possibility for injury is always one skating stride away. That goes for games, and sometimes it goes for your own teams practices. A player shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder at their own teams practices, but that happens sometimes. Some coaches do not allow those situations to happen, some do or look the other way. And as we are finding out now sometimes those in charge at the coaching level have committed some of the fouls. There has been a recent bevy of allegations of both verbal and physical abuse as well as charges of racist behavior. 

Bill Peters resigned as Calgary Flames Head Coach due to racist verbal abuse of a player 10 years ago. (it wasn’t associated w/the Flames) Blackhawks Assistant Coach Marc Crawford is under investigation for physical abuse of a handful of players. (not within the Hawks organization) Mike Babcock was terminated as Toronto Maple Leafs Coach recently and since then, several allegations have been made about his relationships with some players, centering on verbal and mental abuse. Over the years I have not been unaware that some of this type of behavior is occurring from the Bantam level on up. And stories abound in Junior hockey in Canada, in minor league hockey in North America, and now in the NHL. 

I studied an article this afternoon that said the stories that are coming out now are the “tip of the iceberg”. Well, maybe, maybe not. If we are going to audit for every instance a coach lit into a player at a practice or game, we may be in those “iceberg” waters. Dare I say if you are sensitive to criticism, constructive or otherwise, sports in general and hockey in particular won’t work in your favor. But if we separate out the very serious allegations made of late from the “get your posterior moving” type of comments, we have some issues that need some vital attention. And in my view, the trouble within the hockey world is that most of these situations have been dealt with internally over the years and then buried away from the view of the public. Teams knew, coaches knew, players knew, probably parents knew, (but not always) and more likely than not, fans did not know. But then there can be immense pressure on a victim to go silent lest your positioning upon a team be put in jeopardy. That’s only another personal affront to a victim to be forced into a position like that. The record should show that there are players at many levels that are “button pusher” types towards coaches as well. That doesn’t justify abusive behaviors in retaliation, but let the record show that it’s not a one way street. 

At today’s NHL Board of Governors meetings this issue had been thrust into the top agenda spot at the event. At this time the NHL response is to come up with a “Code of Conduct” to clarify non-acceptable behaviors, and to map out avenues for reporting of them and potential remedies for such. My first thought was that this is merely the culmination of the descending litigious behaviors of the past 50 years or so. Not being racist, a bully, or verbally or mentally abusive toward others when I was growing up was pretty much just simply taught, understood and accepted. Apparently now it has to be mapped out in lawyer speak and be contained within voluminous documentation. 

I read Commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement issued post meeting today and it’s to the point and clearly written. It’s also clear to me that this is uncomfortable for the league and that they want to move on from this as quickly as possible and get focus back on the games and the sport. That’s kind of what started this mess in the first place, and perpetuated it thereafter. There will always be adults in charge of others with renegade behavior. We likely can’t change that. But the game could become better at identifying those that should never be in those positions. If you see something, say something, involve others and fix it. As soon as possible… PEACE 

DON’T LOOK NOW but the Minnesota WILD have suddenly thrust themselves into playoff contention. Since returning home from a West Coast roadie that saw them go 2-2, they  have posted an astonishing 8-4 record in their last 12 tilts. They had an 11 game point streak prior to losing to CARO on the road Saturday. With 30 games played the club is only the 2nd team in NHL history to play 20 of their first 30 games on the road. The travel onslaught isn’t quite finished yet, but almost, and in spite of this were in a Wild Card spot briefly before Saturday’s loss. For the remainder of December the team will play at Home 7 times while the “road load” reduces to 4 tilts away from St. Paul. 

Of the 11 game point streak the WILD beat 3 teams that I consider to be upper level clubs in COL, DAL and TBAY. The other games were teams that you have to “take care of your business” against in my view. They aren’t top teams but you have to have those games in order to get into the Stanley Cup tourney come April. So, the question is, can the WILD maintain?

PLEASE, A HOCKEY BROTHER NEEDS YOU: gofundme.com/f/1u3a6b3240 or
WILD DATA; THE ATHLETIC, 19th, trending for 91 points with a 42% chance at the playoffs, 1% chance for a Cup. THE SAGARIN, 17th on a 14-16 record, 6-7 vs top ten, 6-11 vs top 16 with a 2nd ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; 5th of 7 in the Central (4 of 9 in WC) on a 14-12-4 record, 32 points, 89GF, 98GA, -9 diff. 7-1-2 @ H, 7-11-2 @ A. 1-0 in SO, 7-1-2 in L10, streak of 1L. 18th/GF/89, 25th/GA/98, 13th/PP/19.2%, 21st/PK/78.7%, 13th in PIM’s @ 239. This week; vs ANH, vs EDM, vs PHI. OVER & OUT!