**Author’s Note: This is an article that conveys my personal opinion and mine alone. This article in no way reflects the sentiments of any others who have commented on this particular subject or the proprietors of this website.**
Hockey is a game of respect, honor, skill, speed and finesse. It is also a game of violence and brutality that separates it from the rather pedestrian walks of many other sports. Fortunately and unfortunately, all of these qualities of the game were on display Friday night between the Isles and Pens.
When I look back on the last few years of watching the Islanders, I’m found wanting for any kind of passion or desire. As the old cliché goes, "As a hockey player, you play for the crest on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back". It just hasn’t seemed that the Islanders teams of the 2000’s portrayed that quality of wanting to play for each other. There was no accountability. To finally bear witness to players wanting to uphold their honor and their dignity was refreshing and horrifying at the same time. What follows is my opinion regarding last Friday’s "I went to a fight and hockey game broke out".
Many talking heads, analysts, mainstream media types and sportstalk radio jocks have spoken out against the Islanders form of "Frontier Justice" on display against the Penguins last Friday. There were acts of pure desperation and frayed nerves. Were some of them deplorable? Yes. Were some of them justified? Yes. Do I believe that the Islanders exacted their pound of flesh in an adequate fashion? Absolutely.
I can’t sit here and exalt the actions of Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin. Gillies’ bionic elbow and Martin’s sucker punch were uncalled for and harshly, yet rightly punished (9 games for Gillies and 4 for Martin). The finite patience of any team faced with countless wrongdoings by the league, by fellow teams, by officials, by the media had finally taken their toll to cause the Islanders players to snap. It’s not simply about what happened February 2nd, when Blake Comeau felt the sting of a blind side, head-hunting hit from Max Talbot or the anvil of a left cross of Brent Johnson on Rick DiPietro’s fragile skull (in my personal opinion Johnson did the Islanders a favor). It is a culmination of so many missed calls and undisciplined illegal acts by other teams that I am not surprised that the patience simply ran out.
Again, I’m not here to be apologetic for the Islanders. Garth Snow may have said that his players actions weren’t pre-meditated to the media, but let’s not bullshit the people who know better. This had been festering ever since Zenon Konopka shouted to the Canadian Press that the team was no longer a doormat to be mocked and cajoled (they subsequently lost that game against the Sens and not by a small margin either). The Penguins were targeted because of their actions of the recent past which needed to be answered for.
There are those who speak from on high and call last Friday’s game a "travesty" (*cough* Mario Le Pew*cough*). I can agree that, that owner’s team certainly looked quite defeated before the real festivities started, but let’s not kid ourselves. The Pens are no angels. Whether you want to bash on Matt Cooke and his destructive and detrimental acts or Sidney Crosby’s whining about everything and then turning around and spearing opposing players (bet you thought I forgot about you spearing Jason Blake in the balls you little whiny bastard), the utter hypocrisy that has arisen from the NHL, the Penguins and the rest of the media is enough to make me sick.
The League is just as much at fault for the fracas of a game on Friday as much as the teams that were involved. Had Colin Campbell ever done his job (this is the only time I’ll beat that dead horse) or the referees learned game management (those who know me will acknowledge the fact that I do not bash on my brethren often) then this whole debacle could have been avoided. It’s simple attrition. If you don’t call the penalties when they occur on the ice or dole out consistent supplemental justice to those deserving of suspensions, this is the end result: teams will stick up for themselves and exact their revenge the only way they can.
The events of Friday night will be forgotten by many around hockey in a matter of weeks or even days. However, here are things I think came out of this mess:
- The Islanders have finally realized that they needed to come together as a group of men and draw a line in the sand. Enough was enough. I give them full marks for sticking up for themselves, however in Martin’s case, I would have waited for a more opportune moment to go after Talbot and hammer the point home as it were. The Islanders have finally gelled together as a team. Whether they reap the benefits this season or seasons to come is yet to be seen.
- The NHL and the Penguins have shown their true colors once again. For Colin Campbell to come out and say that the Islanders did not restrain their players and levied a $100,000 fine is okay with me. Money well spent. However, for the league not to acknowledge that Godard (who was rightly suspended for 10 games under rule 70.3, 70.10) was not held back by his coach and was allowed to leap over the boards in his attempt to protect a goaltender who was already looking for a fight (as a goaltender, you’re not skating out to above the circles to get a better look of the fight at the other end of the rink, you’re waiting for the right moment to jump in). Where are the fines, suspensions and tongue-lashing for the Penguins coaches (why did Bylsma start Johnson over Fleury knowing full well that the Islanders would be sore about their last encounter?) and organization for not controlling their players? I guess we’ll never know.
- Gary Bettman got personally involved in a hockey operations process where his lawyer-ing was not required. For Bettman to openly include himself in the hearings leading to suspension of players is nothing more than the favoritism shown to the "haves" and the utter disgust shown towards the "have-nots". Bettman should have kept his nose out of it and left the decision up to the unsure hands of Bill Daly, Kris King and Colin Campbell. You live by the sword and die by it Gary. Either you hire people who can take care of the job or it’s time to resign, step down and hand the regime over to someone more capable of rendering a proper decision. If you need to be present and make an example out of one team over another then there is something sorely lacking from the people you’ve appointed to take care of these matters.
In the end, this game will in my opinion represent a turning point for the Islanders organization. Finally, after years of inconsistent play and inconsistent management, this team has finally realized what they are capable of if they only come together. What gets lost in this whole thing is the fact that the Islanders won the game in convincing fashion, 9-3. That’s nine goals by six different scorers against a team that has won a Stanley Cup in the recent past (albeit depleted by injury). The hockey part of the game was exhilarating, the rough stuff proved that hockey has not lost its edge; the ridiculous and never-ending barrage of violence was embarrassing. However, when all is said and done, I believe that this will resonate both positively and negatively in the very fabric of the game and with the Islanders organization for quite some time, leaving a lasting impression on the fans, players, organizations and ultimately the NHL.