I'm sure a number of you know that a hockey game took place on Long Island last Friday night. It wasn't your typical hockey game. It was fight filled, a number of cheap shots, a good amount of blood and lots and lots of whining. By the way, there was a final score too. The Islanders beat the Penguins 9-3.
The unfortunate part of all of this, is the fact that Pittsburgh Penguins announcers Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey, along with Penguins Hall of Fame owner, Mario Lemieux, only wanted to recognize something they have seen on most nights while watching the Penguins, dirty play.
First off, I'm not stating the Islanders were angels in all of this. In fact, both Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin went overboard. To explain every incident that occurred during that game, would make this article seem endless. I will say the nine game suspension for Gillies, and the four game suspension for Martin, were absolutely justified.
Two things that can't be justified are the remarks of Steigerwald and to a lesser note, Errey's remarks. Penguins owner Mario Lemieux also made interesting and odd comments about the punishment the NHL handed out to the New York Islanders.
In between a 9-3 Islanders rout of the Penguins, there were a total of 346 penalty minutes handed out by the officials. This game was a throwback to the 70's and 80's decades of the NHL. The Broad Street Bullies would be proud. It isn't something you would want to see on a regular basis, but when it does happen, there is usually a reason that leads up to it. The case is no different here.
Let's rewind to February 2nd in Pittsburgh. The Islanders lost 3-0 to the Penguins. Rick DiPietro has been tired of continuous hits while in the crease. DiPietro who has a history of concussions and injuries, was obviously fed up. With 17 seconds left in the game, he initiated contact with Penguins forward Matt Cooke (no stranger to dishing out cheap shots and serving suspensions himself), DiPietro gets into an altercation with Cooke, who is then involved with a scrap with another Islander.
During that time, he waves over Brent Johnson, his counterpart in goal. Both goalies begin to fight, DiPietro embarrassingly gets knocked out with one punch and the fight is over within a five second span. Johnson skates back to the bench and receives cheers, congratulations, pat's on the back, every kind of response you would expect from teammates, all this while DiPietro gets taken off the ice with what became facial lacerations; he will be out 4-6 weeks.
The one response that the Islanders and one of the team leaders, Zenon Konopka, didn't like, was the laughter. Konopka, along with other players, found that to be disrespectful and unprofessional. This, along with the hit to the head on the Islanders Blake Comeau, by Maxime Talbot, was the last straw as far as Konopka and his peers were concerned.
The reaction by the Islanders shouldn't have come as a surprise to the Penguins, their fans or the NHL. The team has felt that they don't receive the same respect other teams do in the league. John Tavares constantly take shots to the back, slashes to the knees, gets roughed up in the corners, while there is no penalty call. This hasn't happened to just Tavares, but every player on the team at some point or another.
Did Mario Lemieux and Penguins announcer Paul Steigerwald come across hypocritical regarding their comments towards the Islanders and the NHL?
If you feel it isn't an even playing field, sometimes you have to take it upon yourself to show the powers that be in the league, that you simply aren't going to take it anymore. You can argue for a long time debating how the Islanders went about it, but did they get attention? Did they open up some eyes around the NHL? Both questions are answered with a very big YES!
What took place on Friday night on Long Island was not your typical hockey game. Any loyal hockey fan can tell you that. That being said, sometimes those games are needed. If one night of borderline "Friday Night Fights" is what it takes to make that point, so be it. Unfortunately announcers like Paul Steigerwald and owners like Mario Lemieux, don't see it that way. During the Penguins telecast on FSN Pittsbugh, Steigerwald went out of his way to make the on air comment, "When your one of the worst teams in hockey, and an embarrassment to the NHL as it is, I guess really nothing makes a difference at this point."
Steigerwald wasn't close to being done, he later proceeded to make a statement regarding the Islanders general manager, Garth Snow. "I'm sure Garth Snow is as proud as punch about his team right now. He's loving it", said Steigerwald. To make derogatory comments regarding a organization that you don't broadcast for, and have no involvement with, is absolutely wrong. Even worse, to bring Garth Snow's name into his rant, is ridiculous. Snow did nothing but sit in his sky box during the game.
Look, every announcer who broadcasts for a specific team will become attached to that team in some way. That goes without saying. When an announcer makes damaging and unprofessional remarks about another team, that is where the line has to be drawn. As an announcer, Steigerwald's job is confined to, play by play, giving the score, update viewers on out of town scores, give viewers injury updates regarding the team they are broadcasting for, and give opinions about the team they announce for.
If I wanted a Final Thought, I would watch Jerry Springer. Not to mention, although an announcer will be biased, he or she is at least supposed to try and be fair. Steigerwald did none of that. He came across as a whiner and a so called "professional" who verbally tore apart a proud franchise. It wasn't too long ago when the Penguins were in the same boat as the Islanders.
Lemieux retired, Jagr was gone, no Crosby, no Malkin, just a team with dwindling attendance, no face of the franchise, no new arena on the horizon, and threats to move to another state. Kind of sounds familiar. Sounds like a team Steigerwald was referring to on Friday. I wonder if he believes the Penguins were an embarrassment about five years ago. I wonder.
The second comment came from the Penguins part owner Mario Lemieux. The former player let his thoughts be known regarding the suspensions and fines the NHL handed down. Lemieux stated, ""The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed," the Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner said in a statement released on Sunday.
"We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action." Like Steigerwald, these comments come across as immature like and makes him look like a whiner.
Being in the ownership group of the Penguins, I'm sure Lemieux is aware the Penguins lead the league in fights, and they employ forward Matt Cooke, who is currently serving a suspending for a hit from behind. Something he does often. If he is really sincere about the league protecting the integrity of the game, why doesn't he go to board meetings when these topics are on the agenda? He doesn't. If he doesn't take the time to attend these meetings, the NHL shouldn't worry about what he has to say. Just a question. Is Matt Cooke still on the Penguins roster? That is also a yes!
I think Zenon Konopka can sum this up best. "As soon as I get home I'm going to take the poster off my bedroom door of Mario. I can't believe he is that far removed from the game that he doesn't realize in the heat of the moment what happens. We're trying to keep our best players on the ice. We want John Tavares to be a superstar in this league and play every night. Obviously, we're going to do everything we can to protect our players in here. It's not an easy job to do it, but we're worried about each other, not outsiders."
Konopka made those statements yesterday morning after the Islanders morning skate in Ottawa. Maybe Steigerwald and Lemieux should should see things Konopka's way. Probably wouldn't help though. I'm sure they would still just want to blame the the Islanders organization, Garth Snow and the NHL.