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The Boylen Point: Respecting the game first

Niklas Kronwall is expected to miss about a month after a knee-on-knee collision with Montreal's Georges Laraque. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Niklas Kronwall is expected to miss about a month after a knee-on-knee collision with Montreal's Georges Laraque. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

In the latest edition of The Hockey News, the philosophy of the bodycheck was questioned and the subject of player respect broached. Both are touchy, but worthy subjects within the hockey community and rightfully so; they go hand-in-hand and are an integral part of each and every competitive game.

I’m not here to stir up another headshot debate or grind the gears of the revolutionaries, but rather to extend a discussion on the topic and share and express my point of view through the words of another, more experienced individual with far more games played, reffed and supervised than myself. Sensationalist, one-sided idealists need not read on or participate.

“I remember back when I played against (Dean) Turner, (Clark) Gillies, a bunch of really big guys, Gordie Howe, and I would run at them when I knew their head was up,” said former NHL referee and player, Paul Stewart. “Especially icon players like Howe and Bobby Hull and Frank Mahovlich, all of whom I played against in the WHA. Because of who they were, even though I knew they could handle the traffic, I still had enough respect for them and the people who paid to see them to give them a little, ‘Heads up, here I come.’ I didn’t mind bumping them, but I didn’t want to embarrass them.”

As Ken Campbell explored in our recent cover story, somewhere along the line the essence of a bodycheck morphed from separating a player from the puck to separating a player from his body.

After every big hit or injury, the idea of respect – or lack thereof – is questioned. Wayne Gretzky said the reason he didn’t put the kibosh on his trade to Los Angeles was because the game was bigger than Wayne Gretzky. Well, maybe respect for the game’s integrity is bigger than respect for the individual.

“I always use this as my litmus test: ‘What would (Jean) Beliveau do?’ ” said Stewart, who is currently the director of officiating in the ECAC. “I always thought he was the cream of the crop as far as class and I think you look at a guy like him and say, ‘Would he do what these guys are doing nowadays?’ When (Sean) Avery spouts off in the dressing room, would Beliveau do that? I don’t think so. With some of these hits, like the Vancouver one on (Steve) Moore, would Beliveau have done that? I don’t think so. You can legislate all you want on these hits, but what it comes down to is each player has to, in his own mind, have a conscience for the game, themselves and eventually for their opponent.”

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You see, hockey is just different. I don’t like when the argument of ‘well the NFL, the most successful league in the world, does it’ is trotted out because it’s irrelevant and diverts from the issue; they are two completely different physical sports. Respect for the opponent is one thing, but respecting the spirit of the game and purpose of a hit is another.

Sure the players are bigger, so the hits are harder now, but the dangerous ones that really make you sit back and say “whoa,” have never been accepted. In the days of old, players might have to answer an over-the-top hit with a fight, but with that act being somewhat clamped down on, the focus turns to suspensions.

There is a hockey hit and then there is an attack on a player’s safety and that is an issue new rules will not abolish. Everything is already in the book and the answer is to reel in these egregious hits and cheapshots by severely penalizing them on the ice and with supplementary discipline.

“What it comes down to is that you have a chapter and verse for supplemental discipline,” said Stewart. “If something is that egregious, just take it into a different path. You take it into a cold case court and you say two weeks after the hit: What were you thinking? I can remember when (Stephane) Richer speared (Jeff) Norton up in Montreal one night and we ended up in a meeting the next day. Norton had a perforated liver. And (former NHL executive vice-president) Brian O’Neill said to him, ‘can you tell me what you were thinking? What was the purpose of your act?’ And he had no defense.

“Realistically, that’s the perfect question. What was the purpose of what you did? I see these guys drilling guys from behind, leaving their feet, exploding out of their crouch into someone’s large numbers on their back and I shudder, I pray it’s someday not my son and lastly I hope the kid who gets hit doesn’t get hurt.

“If they can’t comply with playing the game in the fashion that is hard and clean and tough and the way Beliveau would play it, then I think they should probably be sat down.”

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays.

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