Dec 23, 2005
Remember way back to 2003-04 with the trap that led to the clutching and grabbing making end-to-end rushes scarce? Goal scoring became as tough as pulling teeth. While true, isn’t that gritty, hard nose attitude an aspect of our sport which makes it unique? Getting to the goal, losing a couple of teeth in the process, then having blood streaming down your face as you raise your hands after a goal – now that’s hockey!
Courage and an unyielding determination to get to the net has been basic hockey philosophy for generations. It is the edge that every player must have to score goals. “Get dirty” our coaches used to tell us. This attitude has made hockey a great game until recent rule changes have inadvertently taken away this aspect of the game.
The NHL tells us scoring is up 24%, scoring chances are up, and most importantly the overall appeal of our game is getting stronger. Much of this excitement has been the result of the new rule changes administered after the lockout ended. One of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators, has scored an amazing 138 goals through their first 32 games. That figure puts them on pace for over 350 goals this season, a feat which has not been accomplished for a decade. In fact, Ottawa still has a chance to score 400 goals to become the first team to break that mark since the Edmonton Oilers pounded 426 goals into the net in 1985-86. The primary aim of these latest rule changes is to enhance the entertainment value of our game by increasing scoring chances. The changes have accomplished that goal. The other major objective is to “reduce the scope of defensive ‘tools’ a team may effectively employ”. One of the most effective tools of a defense, on any NHL team, is physical play.
With the advent of these new rules and a “biggie sized” offensive zone, it is no longer difficult to get to the net. As a defenseman in past NHL years, your job was to make it as physically difficult as possible for an opposing forward to get to the net. Offensive players feared charging towards the goal because the defense was mean and nasty in front of the goalie. Overcoming that fear is a huge part of our game; it is what makes it unique, interesting and entertaining.
Today’s defensive zone is a little different. Instead of forwards battling to the net they simply turn their backs toward the defender and the battle ends. The defenseman will back off, establishing body position while using his stick to swipe the puck away from the player. Talking with Chicago Blackhawk coach Trent Yawney at the beginning of the season, he mentioned how important stick-on-stick play was going to be this year. Could you imagine a couple of years ago mentioning to a defenseman that not taking the body would be important. I like the fact that defensemen can no longer pull out their favorite stick, you know the one with the added stiffness in the shaft for cross checking someone in the back of the head. I would just like to see some physical battles. The new rules enhance the offensive part of the game, but also limit the physical play along the boards and in front of the net.
Talking with general managers and players, there is a definite push to make sure we do not lose the physical components of hockey. We are not talking about re-instituting the Broadstreet Bullies of the 70’s, but I love to see players with the courage to drive towards the net knowing the defensemen will give them the business in front of it.
According to the NHL and Elias Sports Bureau, fighting majors are down a staggering 45 percent. I get it, the NHL doesn’t want fighting. Spike TV has Ultimate Fighting, so if you’re looking for the brawling, that is were I go for my fix of pugilism. Hockey is about accountability. You are accountable to your teammates and to your opponents. What ever happened to the times when the other team ran your goalie and you did something about it? How about the good ole days when the “tough areas” of the ice was in front of the net…Wait a minute, it is the tough area….for all NHL goaltenders getting trampled by oncoming forwards.
Removing obstruction was designed to let highly skilled players in our game shine. But, by removing hooking and holding it has given the green light for players to dive all over the arena. Nothing is worse than seeing a 225 pound, hulking forward get rubbed up ever so gently in the neutral zone or in the corner and go down like a baby throwing a tantrum. Because of the interference rules and the way they are called, our sport resembles European soccer. I don’t care that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. I refuse to watch a sport where players go down with the slightest bump or brush from the opponent trying to draw a penalty. With these types of penalties, defensemen have told me that there has been a definite adjustment period. In the initial stages of the season it forced them to take that extra ½ second to read the situations and determine the appropriate response. For the larger, less agile defensemen that has been a killer. As the NHL wants, slower reaction times in the defensive zone creates more scoring opportunities.
After playing a lifetime of hockey, first as a youth in Canada and then as a professional, I have spent every day trying to build our game south of the border. Our game is about heart! Our game is about determination! We have the most dedicated and indomitable athletes in the world. The new rules have allowed more scoring and we have see our top athletes shine. The NHL has done an admirable job of making our sport available again. The rules changes have been successful. At the same time we do not want to lose the foundation of our game. Scoring is an outstanding part of the game, but we cannot overlook the true essence of this wonderful sport we call hockey.
Brent Severyn is the radio color analyst for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Brent is also President of Severyn Sports Inc. SSI is a multifaceted sport programming company. Sports training, TV and radio broadcasting and corporate events are the divisions of SSI.
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