It’s that time of the year when we go crazy over our sport, racing home from work, six-pack in hand, to catch the Eastern Conference games at 5 p.m. before settling in for the tougher western hockey that follows later.
As a Flames fan, I’ll admit the playoffs aren’t quite as awesome this year as they could be with Calgary in the mix, but my team had a great season as far as rebuilds are concerned. Anytime I start to feel a little blue about my team’s prospects, all I have to do is look a bit further north to the hapless Oilers and it makes me smile. (Flames fans actually have another name for Alberta’s other team that rhymes with “Oilers,” but it’s not fit to print in a paper as awesome as The Times).
Along with the great hockey comes the real reason I love pro sports. Believe it or not, it’s the storylines! Not only do we get to watch rivalries and dramas unfold from game to game as teams battle it out for a chance at epic hockey glory, but there are a number of overarching storylines for this year’s playoffs I’m really looking forward to.
For example, will the San Jose Sharks finally shake off their playoff demons and prove their reputation for being playoff flounders wrong once and for all?
Do the Montreal Canadians have what it takes to shoulder Canada’s hopes and dreams in the east and rekindle some of the magic of hockey’s most storied franchise?
Can the Chicago Blackhawks pull off a repeat of their Stanley Cup run last year and be the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in nearly 20 years?
Just how long will Jarome Iginla’s playoff beard get?
That last one is of particular interest to me, because I loved Iggy as the face of the Calgary Flames and was sad to see him go. I’m pretty conflicted though, because as much as I love Iginla, I hate his current team. The Boston Bruins are a bunch of thugs, in my opinion, and this isn’t just spoken as a bitter Flames fan. It’s also speaking as a bitter Leafs fan.
As much as I love playoff hockey, however, there is something that bothers me every year. In my previous life as a reporter in Claresholm, I had many conversations with my editor there about how the “let-them-play” mentality hurts the sport during the quest for the Cup.
I understand the reasoning behind it, and I can even appreciate it a bit. Nobody wants to see tough hockey tempered by an endless line of players headed to the box. Nobody wants to see a series decided by too many infractions called, or games where the teams spend all their time either attacking on the powerplay, or defending against them. By not calling the penalties, it’s viewed as allowing the players to decide their own fates. And that’s a pretty noble sentiment, but it’s completely wrong.
By not calling penalties, the only thing happening is that everybody is playing from the position of the lesser- skilled players. In this lack of rules, players get injured, plays break down into chaos, and slower, dirtier players have a huge advantage over high-skill players.
Think about it. What takes more skill: to weave through a team’s defence on your way to the net or to get halfway there and have your legs chopped out from under you by some guy who can’t turn around fast enough? Worse, these plays then create scoring chances because the tripped player is on the ice and the puck is going the other way.
In my opinion, this is a big reason why so many high-skill players underperform in the playoffs, and why so many guys who do nothing in the regular season become playoff stars. They are finally allowed to feed lumber to their opponents and get their brick hands on the puck.
So the idea that refs not calling penalties is somehow a more pure form of the sport is a complete and utter load of Oilers. The refs are manipulating the play by allowing teams to cheat with impunity. Let’s look at the Boston Bruins again. Take away their ability to bog down skill players by being nasty, and all they have left is Jarome Iginla and Zdeno Chara’s ability to break feet with his slapshots. Like I said. Thug life, yo.
So if you catch me screaming at the television in the next few months, it’s a sure bet that I’m yelling at the refs to get off the ice if they’re not going to do their jobs.
Or I might be yelling at some neanderthal to dish the puck over to Iggy. Or I might just be yelling because a hoarse voice goes naturally with a full, rich playoff beard, hot wings and cold beer, and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Remember kids: Pain is temporary, but Stanley Cup glory is forever!