When the movie Miracle depicted the U.S. hockey team's postgame punishment in Norway, coach Herb Brooks sternly told his players, “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates.”
Any skipper in the sport should regularly add that suiting up and getting involved in hockey also mean representing the game itself.
In turn, plays that step indisputably beyond the boundaries of the rules serve as poor representations of a player, his team and hockey in general. Even in a game as inherently fast, physical and kinetically emotional as this one is, there have been more preventable lapses in judgment and plain malicious moves than any devout puckhead would care to recount.
The return of the NHL, the game’s quintessential circuit, comes with the return of rivalries and other wonderfully spicy aspects of hockey. But it also comes with a responsibility to prevent and prepare for unsavory incidents.
Hockey’s detractors will underscore any of the following kinds of plays as an excuse to scold the sport’s enthusiasts and participants. The simple counterpoint is that these plays warrant penalties and supplemental discipline and that good players are usually mindful of the boundaries and respectful of their fellow participants.
On that note, here are the 10 most notorious plays that hockey perpetually combats.
Typically, from a sheer visual perspective, slew-footing comes off as a more malicious means of tripping. It is easy enough to grow desperate in a race for the puck and use one’s stick to inhibit a speedier adversary. But making skate-on-skate contact with intent to make the unsuspecting opponent lose his balance is hardly excusable.
As the Los Angeles Kings television broadcast team notes in the example video, this act is hardly ever committed without intent to injure or at least inflict unnecessary pain. As they also indicate, spearing easily ranks above slashing in terms of egregious ways to use one’s stick as a weapon.
This does not occur very often and requires a lot of “effort” to “pull off,” for lack of better terms. But that is what makes butt-ending even worse than spearing.
Using the blade of one’s stick to hit an opponent, especially in an unpadded area, can be done in the pure heat of a scrum. Conversely, positioning oneself to use the butt end to the same effect is all but always premeditated and thus demonstrates even less respect for the opponent than most spears.
Brad Marchand’s infraction against Sami Salo a little more than a year ago demonstrates how clipping is more injurious than slew-footing. Both are actions that aim for the target’s lower body, but clipping tends to bring about a more perilous fall to the ice.
In the example case, Marchand caused Salo to fall with enough force to sustain a concussion.
Like slew-footing, kneeing involves using a part of the lower body to target the opponent’s same area. However, as Cam Neely knows from one of his forgettable encounters with Ulf Samuelsson, the act of kneeing tends to have worse consequences for the recipient’s health.
In turn, professional players who should know better can't commit a much dirtier act that specifically targets the lower body.
It is hard to believe that it required a hit as injurious and frightful as the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty episode in 2011 to finally convince the NHL to redesign its stanchions between the player benches.
More than two decades before that, Washington’s Dale Hunter threw an ultimately less harmful but likely more malicious hit on Calgary’s Joe Nieuwendyk in the same basic location.
Countless other collisions of a similar nature, intentional and/or injurious or not, have occurred before and after, meaning the setup in that part of the rink was clearly presenting itself as an invitation for reckless, imprudent or just outright dirty hits.
Unlike any open-ice hit or even a borderline or blindside check anywhere near the boards, a hit from behind in the vicinity of the boards or net means the recipient has no chance to brace. That means no chance to prepare to absorb the dual impact of the opposing player’s body and the object being hit.
In some cases, these plays are the unfortunate product of the game's speed, but others are plain malevolent, and all are worthy of review for potential supplemental discipline.
Any head shot is unconditionally unacceptable, but “dirty” is always an especially operative adjective when the offending player’s blades leave the ice while he is delivering the hit.
In the most prominent example from recent memory, when Raffi Torres concussed Marian Hossa, the Phoenix forward conveyed nothing short of intent to needlessly inject more impact into his hit. Few visuals in the sport emit a more egregious loss of consideration for fellow players.
It is bad enough when there are enforcers, goons and even respectably skilled players who percolate trouble by throwing punches even before the game action is considerably heated, sometimes even before an opening faceoff.
By comparison, at least the recipient can see the punch coming when that happens, and the bodily impact is thus minimized. That was not the case when Steve Moore’s career effectively ended after he was ambushed by Todd Bertuzzi in 2004.
Besides the nature of the buildup to and execution of Bertuzzi’s infraction, the horrid aftermath underscores the inherent dirtiness of sucker-punching.
Alexander Perezhogin’s dangerous chop on Garrett Stafford during a 2004 AHL game evoked painful memories of Marty McSorley’s blindsided swing at Donald Brashear four years prior. More recently, in a 2007 match between the Islanders and Rangers, Chris Simon recovered from a hit along the wall and dealt a retaliatory swing at Ryan Hollweg.
Every time this happens, it is sure to draw baseball-bat metaphors from commentators, and even partially learned puckheads know the use of that phrase is a bad sign.
The action of swinging one’s stick across an opponent’s head is in an infamous class of its own, ahead of the abusive use of a stick on any other part of the body and any head shot with the hitter’s arm, shoulder or elbow making the contact.
McSorley, Perezhogin and Simon cannot credibly plea a loss of emotional control when they leave Brashear, Stafford and Hollweg, respectively, in the self-evident states that they did. Nor can anyone make a defense of honest carelessness, as they may regarding certain hits from behind, or the freak misfortune of being in a certain location on the rink, such as near poorly designed stanchions.
More often than not in stick-swinging, the line between intent and result is slimmer than in any other play that has no place in hockey.