Longest. Post. Ever.
Ottawa writer Don Brennan kinda-sorta-but-not-really defends Martin Havlat's kicking.
Even a backhanded defense of this act is unwarranted. Bear with me for a couple of personal anecdotes.
About twenty years ago when I was a bantam, I was intentionally kicked in the throat by an opposing player. It was in the dying seconds of the final game of a tournament, we were in the opposition’s home rink. My team was leading by a goal. There was a faceoff in our zone. I was lined up to ice the puck if we won the draw.
After the puck was dropped, the two centres tied each other up. The puck was sitting there between the opposing centre’s feet – he had his head down and was trying to kick it back. I got there before anyone else and flattened him. He landed on his back and I was leaning over him because of my momentum, but I was still on my feet and trying to keep my balance. Then he started kicking.
One skate came up under my neck guard (a newly required piece of equipment at the time). I instantly dropped to my hands and knees, threw off my gloves and helmet and clutched my throat. When I found no trace of blood (thank God, Allah, Buddha, Ganesha, and the rest of the gang), I went bonkers. I went after the guy in a rage, but was intercepted by an official before I could do anything stupid. I recall screaming at him, “He kicked me in the [flippin’] throat!” several times. That was the only time I was ever escorted off the ice by an official.
On my way out of the rink, I had to pass through a gauntlet of parents from the other team. I’d gotten dirty looks from parents before, but never like this. If a player is escorted off the ice without his stick, helmet or gloves, he’s usually the one in the wrong. Being an adrenaline-charged teenager who was feeling a little scared and more than a little vengeful, I had made quite a scene. After I showed the adults the abrasion on my neck and explained what had happened, their posture changed radically. One woman said, “Oh my God! With his skate?”
I think I was pretty fortunate. The worst that came of it was that the abrasion looked an awful lot like a hickey, which resulted in some ribbing from classmates back at school. I was told by my coach that the player who kicked me would not be playing again that year due to a suspension.
The second incident was a couple of years ago in an industrial league. I was pinching deep in the attacking zone (rarity of rarities) looking to pass the puck to the slot. An opposing defender dove to intercept any potential pass. Showing uncharacteristic patience, I moved the puck around him and tried to step over him as he slid into my feet. I knew I didn’t quite make it when my second foot landed on something too soft to be ice. The sliding player let out a holler and several expletives.
When you grow up playing hockey, you learn at an early age to exercise caution in a dressing room full of guys in their sock feet. You can tell instantly when you’re stepping on something other than ice. When I felt that “something else” underfoot, all my weight was instantly transferred to my other foot. I lost my balance, and we lost a scoring chance. The guy was fine - we had a chat at the next stoppage. I had stepped on his shoulder, and tore a small hole in his jersey but no blood was drawn. Very fortunate again.
My point here is that I would expect anyone who has played for a long time to have the same ingrained awareness of their skates and the potential they have to cause harm. So, I have a hard time buying the uncontrollable-reaction excuse trotted out by Brennan and Havlat himself. I do understand how a player could instinctively stick a leg out to catch a piece of a shifty player, which happens in so many of those “dirty” knee collisions. But kicking? I dunno. Then again, I have always been one of the bigger players at every level I’ve played and I’ve never experienced being caught between an Ogre And A Hard Place, as Brennan describes. Even so, I can’t imagine ever kicking at another player, unless serious personal injury to myself was imminent.
A couple of tidbits to accompany the preceding essay:
Tom Benjamin has commented that the obstruction crackdown seemed to wane in Saturday’s games. I watched Toronto-Montreal and Edmonton-Calgary, and was thinking the exact same thing. Only I didn’t want to say anything for fear of it coming across as sour grapes (the proverbial sour grapes, not Don Cherry) after the Habs lost. I noticed more little tugs on the hands of shooters, more interference with forecheckers after dump-ins than just a week ago. Maybe it was just the officiating crew.
Pat Hickey says we should expect a shakeup on the second line. With Pierre Dagenais dogging it so far this season, and ’03-04 wunderkind Ryder and Ribeiro looking lazy and disorganized, I’ve been expecting that shakeup for a week now Pat.
Saturday, the news was released that Bernie Geoffrion’s #5 and Yvan Cournoyer’s and Dickie Moore’s #12 will be retired this season. What? No Big Bird, you say? According to this article by Dave Stubbs, ‘Robinson’s’ number is already retired. You’ll just have to go read it.
But seriously, consensus seems to be that Larry Robinson is the single most deserving player of having his number retired. My theory is that the organization is going in chronological order, and we have a few years to go before 2009. Number 19 will be in the rafters by then. In the meantime, one has to wonder who else will be up there. Cournoyer was already a little iffy in my book, but then he has to share a banner with Moore. I just hope the organization keeps this whole thing in perspective. With 41 Hall of Famers from the Habs, not everyone can have their number retired. How do you decide? Maybe Stan Smyl and Neal Broten really meant that much to the Canucks and North Stars. But this is the Montreal Canadiens. It’s one thing to say a player is worthy of a retired number. It’s another thing entirely to say they’re worthy of a place beside Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau.