Andreas Lilja and Dion Phaneuf prepare to square off.
Hockey has so many great traditions, but one of my least-favorite customs was on display last night in Detroit.
Calgary crusher Dion Phaneuf laid out little Jiri Hudler with one of his patented, bone-crushing hits at center ice. Even Hudler’s mother would tell you it was a perfectly clean play. But that didn’t stop Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja from extracting revenge on Phaneuf in the form of a fight.
I admire Lilja’s spirit; teammates have to stick up for each other. And had it been a dirty hit, I could live with retribution by donnybrook.
But the consequence for delivering a clean hit should not be a forced five minutes in the box. Phaneuf had no choice but to partake in the bout once Lilja came after him.
Why should he (and his team) be punished for making what amounts to a great defensive play? Should Phaneuf have to sit on the bench and weigh his options before a shift?
Would the thinking go: “Well, I could give my team a lift by laying somebody out, but is that worth our worst defenseman getting more ice time while I sit in the box for five minutes?”
And don’t try telling me Phaneuf shouldn’t be clipping Hudler’s wings just because he’s a little guy. If Hudler can’t take the hits, he shouldn’t be in the league. If small players didn’t have to endure hard checks there’d be nothing remarkable about them playing with the big boys.
The proper course of action when a teammate gets smacked with a hard, but legal, hit should go something like this; pat him on the back, tell him his still-attached head has to be up at all times and, of course, get the number of the delivery truck and some time when he’s not suspecting it, two months down the road, crunch him with a clean check of your own.
HOLD YOUR HORSES A quick note to all fans and media members completely consumed with playoff races before December: A junior hockey coach once told me bench bosses try not to live and die with each game, but rather approach the season as a body of work. When the season starts you have two goals; make the playoffs and be better in April than you were in October. To some degree, the rest is details.
So next time you’re losing sleep over how your team fared in Game 23 on a Thursday night in Nashville, try to keep the big picture in focus.