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NHL - The Bad Boys of Hockey

By Lee Manchur
Tuesday, October 16th, 2001

Players in the NHL today are soldiers with metal padding. Tin soldiers with hard plastic for elbow and shin pads. The wooden stick is their sword. The helmet, their shield.

When the NHL made helmets mandatory in the 1970s and the league "grandfathered" helmets into the NHL, concussions became even more common than before. Why? Because players began to feel that they were invincible and started taking cheaper shots at the head.

Hard-hitting hockey with good fights in a fast-paced game with solid two-way hockey like the "Big Bad Bruins," Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and, well, everyone played in the 1970s is all but instinct in the year 2001. Instead, hockey fans today see cheap shot after cheap shot, concussions are all too common, and excellent two-way games are rare.

The 1970s are long gone. Players are bigger than in 1970. Large 6'4", 260-pound defensemen are no longer pylons, but players who can skate and hit. This would seem like a good thing, but in today's NHL, most players are capable of delivering a devastating blow to another. This is not because of brute strength, it is because of equipment "improvements" such as elbow pads, shoulder pads, and shin pads that are rock hard. If you go down to your local sports store and buy new hockey equipment, you might as well be buying an army suit.

Not only is new equipment unsafe, but the most essential part to hockey other than the skates, the hockey stick, is now used as a weapon more than ever.

Think Boston's Marty McSorley, and NHL tough-guy that got carried away on Vancouver's Donald Brashear two years ago and took a whack at him with his stick.

Think Chicago's Gary Suter crosschecking Anaheim's Paul Kariya days before the 1998 Olympic Games, injuring him for the tournament.

Think last week - Bill Geurin of the Bruins, who, despite pleading it was an accident, recently used his stick to break Atlanta's Patrik Stefan's jaw, accident or not.

The New York Rangers received a devastating blow to their line-up because of player dumbness. Dale Purinton and Igor Ulanov, both defensmen, were suspended seven games each last week. Purinton gave the Capitals' Steve Peat a stick-first check, and later in the same game, Ulanov crosschecked Steve Konowalchuk.

With Colin Campbell delivering supsensions, the NHL is finally giving the NHL's "bad boys" what they deserve - longer suspensions and salary cuts because of them to actions of players who overreact, making a bad name for not only themselves, but the league in general.

Hockey is the only sport not played in a ring in the world that allows fights. Fights are allowed. Hard, clean body checks are allowed.

What should not be allowed is body checks delivered with hard plastic equipment and yet, the continue to be allowed because of the "advancements" made by equipment manufacturers. A player like Scott Stevens that wears this kind of equipment, though he is very strong and could probably do it anyway, allows him to deliver concussions to players like Eric Lindros and Ron Francis.

While the NHL can't help these advancements, the league does realize that stick infractions like those of McSorley's, Suter's, and Ulanov's do not belong anywhere in hockey, and are trying their best to rid the NHL's "bad boys."

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