Stick Foul: Another Black Eye to Hockey

New York Rangers left wing Ryan Hollweg is a very lucky individual – and not only because he can pull off wearing a white tuxedo. Hollweg is lucky because he apparently sustained only a cut on his chin after New York Islanders forward Chris Simon swung for the fences with his stick, delivering a two-handed blow that sent him to the showers, Hollweg to the trainers, and the Blueshirts to the 2-1 victory over the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. With only six minutes left to play in the third period, Simon lost his cool after a Hollweg body check sent him face-first into the boards. At this point, Simon spun around and delivered the fateful stick foul, resulting in a match penalty for intent to injure and an idefinite suspension, according to TSN. The ensuing power play resulted in a goal for Petr Prucha – a goal that propelled the Rangers into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

A livid caller on New York sports talk radio WFAN’s late morning/early afternoon show with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts demanded that the hosts “crucify” Simon for his brutal indiscretion, citing that if Simon was in the National Basketball Association, he would be villified across the board as a thug. As a Rangers fan and a hockey fan in general, that is what makes this victory bittersweet. The Simon incident oversahdows the end result, giving the sport of hockey’s detractors more ammunition to fire against it – painting hockey as nothing more than a blood sport. What goes unsaid is that cooler heads prevailed after Simon’s cheap shot and that the game continued without an air of retribution.

To make matters more perversely ironic, as ESPN.com’s E.J. Hradek noted in his blog, it was three years to the day since the NHL’s last black eye – when then Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi jumped Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore, sending Moore out of the sport to this day. The Simon incident, however, mirrors the stick foul committed by former Los Angeles Kings defensemen Marty McSorley, who connected with the side of noted enforcer Donald Brashear’s head and sent him sprawling to the ice.

The new NHL was supposed to excite old fans and draw in new ones by eliminating the clutching and grabbing that hampered the offensive flow, freeing up the more creative offensive forces in the game, like Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. Yet, the response from the uninitiated, both fans and media, is the same – apathy. That is, unless either a goalie fight, like the fight three weeks ago between Ottawa Senators’ goalie Ray Emery and then Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Martin Biron, or a fracas like this occurs.

The bottom line is that with all the negativity regarding a television contract on an obscure network, the friction between the NHLPA and its union head, Ted Saskin, and the possible relocation of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the worst possible scenario would be for something like this to happen to draw neagtive attention to both the NHL and its players. Hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike now await the playoffs to see if Simon’s suspension is lifted.

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