Ryan’s Rant - Consideration, Complaint and Compliment for NHL

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By Terry Ryan

I have a lot on my mind lately when it comes to the coolest game on earth. Therefore I have a consideration, a complaint, and a compliment to share with you about the NHL this week.


BetOnHockey_Concussion_350x234.jpgMemo to the league: Someone needs to do something about this horrible concussion trend that’s currently taking over our sport.  I said it before and I’ll say it again; Tough guys – knuckle chuckers in the true sense – are being replaced by cheap shot artists. Low and behold, concussions have skyrocketed.  I get pissed off when people bring up the question of whether we need to remove fighting from the game now, given all these head injuries.  Virtually none of these recent concussions are coming as a result of a fight, they are all from hits (and some of them are accidental).  Isn’t hearing some random doctor on radio or television - who never laced up a pair of skates - ramble on about concussion-related statistics starting to get annoying (well, it has been annoying for awhile, it's now getting unbearable)?  Fights are the least of our worries. The player’s equipment is hard and large, and the glass has less give than ever. Obstruction penalties have sped up the game and make the impact of a hit much harder. The players are enormous and lightning-quick, yet the confines of the rink are the same.  You know what I find interesting? The fact that some sports have playing surfaces that change in size as a child progresses in skill and age, but hockey doesn’t, despite the fact that it is the most physical. For example, in youth soccer there are mini-fields with smaller nets than used in World Cup play and mini-basketball hoops that are much shorter than NBA regulation height are commonly used for minor basketball games.  If you play hockey however, the playing boundaries remain the same size from Novice house league right through to the professional ranks.  The older you get, the less room you have to work with.  I hate to sound European here, but something has to give.  I think a couple of extra feet at each end of the surface would help the status of the many skulls around the league which are being rattled nightly, at record levels.  If you disagree and are a traditionalist, then bringing back the obstruction penalty should do the trick.  After all, guys like Gretzky and Lemieux did alright before the rules changed.  But something has to be done.  Crosby, Giroux, Pronger…the list goes on.  At this point in 2011, if you were to hypothetically make a team with all the concussed players, it would be odds on to win the Cup, and that’s no joke. 


BetOnHockey_Alex_Ovechkin_350x250.jpgMemo to Alex Ovechkin:  Learn a little from Crosby and pick it up buddy, this is getting embarrassing.  Alex Ovechkin is no Sidney Crosby.  I am frustrated watching Sid go through post-concussion syndrome.  He wants so desperately to get back and to help his team, and the handful of games he dressed for this season showed us his greatness, albeit a small glimpse of it.  Even battling the cranial injury and all that comes with it (like giving constant interviews and dominating headlines for the wrong reasons), Crosby deals with the circumstances with a calm and collected approach.  He knows that his situation may be a distraction to his team, and prevents this distraction as best he can with this sense of leadership reminiscent of a young Stevie Y or Mark Messier.  Crosby has learned from the best; his mentor, Mario Lemieux, battled Hodgkin’s Disease in the early 1990’s and lead his team to victory in the process. And, in one of the most unbelievable achievements in sports history, missed the first quarter-season in 1992-93 due to cancer treatments and returned to win the scoring title.   Ovechkin on the other hand seems like a spoiled brat every time he gets benched,  knocked down, or even misses a shot. His body language is defeatist and pessimistic.  No wonder his scoring is way down, Alex is ultra-complacent out there and it shows.  Remember when Ovie broke into the league a few years back?  He was dynamic every shift and paved the way for a new type of European player.  There have always been physical players from Russia (hello Darius Kasparaitus), but no single player has been so tough and at the same time so talented; Ovechkin epitomized what is ultimately great about the game of hockey by being fast (very fast) hard-hitting (very hard-hitting) and skilled (extremely skilled).  Nowadays, I tend to feel discouraged just watching this guy skate around the ice and shake his head at his coach, his teammates, and the referee.  When things are going lousy and scoring is down, Alex’s triumphant leaps of joy into the glass after a big goal are non-existent and he seems happy about nothing, like a spoiled child who takes his equipment and leaves the playground because things don't go his way.  Sack up, pal. There is more to the game than scoring, Alex, and the best opportunities you tend get are a result of your skill and speed combined with your sometimes-unparalleled level of tenacity and physicality, so go back to working like a dog every shift and leading your squad the best way you know how, kid. Washington Capitals odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 10 to 1


BetOnHockey_Winnipeg_Jets_350x241.jpgMemo to all hockey fans: The NHL is thriving in Manitoba and is here to stay. Is it just me or is there more Winnipeg Jets memorabilia being worn by the Canadian public than ever before?  I know they are a fresh, new team, but Jets fever is everywhere.  The team now has a winning record and actually has a chance to make the playoffs in their first season.  MTS centre is constantly filled and the team is generally exciting to watch. The roster features speedy youngsters (Evander Kane), talented journeymen (Kyle Wellwood), seasoned veterans (Nikolai Antropov), and Stanley Cup champions (Dustin Byfuglien) that blend in nicely with the rest of this unlikely cast of athletes.  The team seems to personify the city of Winnipeg right now with its hard working, blue-collar type of reputation, and the rest of Canada is taking notice.  Take a look around at your local arena and you’ll see more Jets jerseys on display than ever before, and this isn’t necessarily due to the fact that they are new arrivals; they are also hip.  Watching a squad full of castoffs defeat teams that have  passed on most of them (and have much better players on paper in most cases) is a welcome occurrence in a season which is shaping up to be remembered more for head injuries than anything else. Winnipeg Jets odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 50 to 1

Let’s hope we have seen the last of this concussion trend.  I am going to close my eyes and imagine my own perfect hockey world – a world whereby Sidney Crosby and company return from their head injuries successfully, Alexander “the Great” snaps out of his slump, and the Winnipeg Jets win the Stanley Cup.  I know this may all seem optimistic, even unrealistic, but so did the thought of Mario the Magnificent coming back from cancer treatments to win the NHL scoring title 2 decades ago. Hockey has unpredictable ups and downs – that’s the nature of sports – but hockey is filled with heroes as well.  It will take a heroic effort for Alex Ovechkin to rebound from his slump. It will take a heroic effort for Crosby and company to return to action. It will certainly take a heroic effort unlike any that have come before it for the Jets to win the season’s final game.  But the biggest hero of all is going to be the one who finds an answer to hockey’s hazy concussion epidemic.  Only time will tell.


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