May 8, 2021
Keith Magnuson was a defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks back in the 70s. He led the NHL in penalty minutes as a rookie… specializing in losing fights. One of my fondest hockey memories is of Boston’s Derek Sanderson beating up on Magnuson… taking his uniform jersey. Skating around the rink with it hoisted on his stick before throwing it into the stands like red meat.
Another is of Buffalo’s Rob Ray who twenty years later took to taking his own jersey off before engaging in one of his many fights. That way his opponent couldn’t pull it over his head. A tactic so impressive the league banned it. That was hockey in the old days.
I used to believe this kind of stuff was part of the culture. Fans loved it. I loved it. But it isn’t too unlike the joy we experience watching the Buffalo Bills security guards descending on some drunk at a football game. Or slowing down to rubberneck a car crash.
Hockey has distanced itself from much of the insanity. But it can’t seem to get a handle on Washington’s Tom Wilson. A repeat offender who was fined but not suspended for pounding New York’s Pavel Buchnevich face down on the ice in the back of the head. And then injuring another Ranger in the brawl that ensued.
The outrage is not so much for justice as it is for what the sport wants to be. Sometimes hockey seems to want to legitimize itself. But it still seems to cater to the rubberneckers.