A Test of Character: Remember the Fist Pump

It seems like an eternity ago that Kyle Okposo was blindsided by Dion Phaneuf in an exhibition game. It was actually a little over a half year ago. Islander players insisted that Phaneuf had left the ice to make the hit. Some Islander fans claimed to see Phaneuf's elbow rather than his shoulder hit Okposo. All Islander fans were incensed by what they considered to be a cheap and over the top hit by a player who skated away from the trouble he caused and allowed teammates to fight his battles.

My thought was that if Phaneuf had not left the ice to make the hit, he was in the process of doing so. He clearly launched his whole body at Okposo's head. Contrary to the Calgary fans who insisted that Okposo's head was down, his head was up as he skated up ice. It only went down involuntarily as he was spun around by a check from behind. Moreover, if you look carefully at the hit, you will see that Phaneuf eyeballs Okposo and does not make his move until immediately after the check from behind when Okposo is vulnerable...and then skates away from the retribution he admitted he knew was coming.

What angered me the most was the attitudes of Calgary fans. One after another, they announced that it was a clean hit and Okposo should have had his head up. In fact, they celebrated Phaneuf's cheap shot and defended his gutlessly allowing his teammates to fight his battles for him. The highlight was the infamous fist pump which the Calgary fans all seemed to love but which infuriated me as I am sure it did you.

At the time, I highlighted the date in a fanshot and called upon all Islander fans to give Dion and his buddies a warm welcome on March 25th--which happens to be tomorrow. I also stated that if the hockey gods were watching, this game might well be vital to Calgary's playoff hopes, giving the Islanders and their fans a chance to offer some meaningful payback. Some on this thread dismissed that notion, opining that Calgary would make the playoffs easily.

Much has changed since then. Phaneuf is no longer a Flame and Matt Martin did a good job of paying him back and once again exposing his gutlessness. The NHL is in the process of adopting a headshot rule and it would be interesting to see how a hit like this one would be handled. And Calgary's fading playoff hopes are definitely on the line. A loss to the Islanders would leave the Flames four points behind Detroit with only eight games to play, making it VERY likely that they would fail to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since I do not know when.

The Islanders are coming off one of the worst performances against the Rangers, their hated rival, that I can remember. Okposo and teammate Dwayne Roloson were both disgusted by the team's poor performance.

In fairness, there was probably an issue of jet lag combined with the final realization, after the painful losses to the Ducks and the Kings, that the playoffs are out of reach for this year. Be that as it may, this team has something to prove to its fans but, more importantly, to itself. What better way than to stick a dagger in the hearts of a team and its fans who caused all of us such grief six months ago? This is gut check time. A win against the Flames would be a real statement of how far this team has come. Fist pump anyone?

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