Beyond the Bison: Inconsistent rulings irritate hockey fans

By Winnie Warner
Arts & Life Layout Editor

It’s NHL playoff season and it has started rough. Rough for heartbroken fans, rough for the losing teams, and especially rough for the players at the mercy of the string of dirty hits and scrums that have defined the first round of playoffs.  In the 28 post-season games that were completed by Wednesday night, there were 1,006 penalty minutes, seven injuries caused by dirty plays and eight suspensions. 

At the center of these controversies is the series between longstanding rivals the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose Game Three resulted in 158 penalty minutes caused by a multitude of scrums, fights, and “chippy” plays.  While Game Three stood out for its more-than-usual rowdiness, it wasn’t that far from the norm of recent Flyers-Penguins games.  The next-to-last regular season match between the two concluded with an end-of-game brawl in which the coaches were climbing over their benches to yell at each other.

Games like these have created the need for the NHL to step in to try and take control of the situation by issuing fines and suspensions. Dirty plays and suspensions are nothing new to the game, but recent years have seen a rise in disputes over hits with intent to injure, such as knee-to-knee hits and “headshots.”

At the helm of this decision process is Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s Vice President of Hockey and Business Development and lead disciplinarian. Shanahan assesses plays in question based upon the extent of the victim’s injury, whether the play appeared intentional, and whether the player in question possesses a history of similar plays.  Now, Shanahan is garnering some flack from fans who feel that the decision processes is flawed and uneven.  Their main rallying point is one of the most controversial plays in the playoffs so far.  In Game One of the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings series, Predators captain Shea Weber checked veteran Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg into the boards and then proceeded to grab Zetterberg’s head and slam it into the glass, all of which occurred within the last seconds of the game.  Zetterberg fell to the ice immediately, but with the protection of his helmet he sustained no injury.  For this, Weber was only fined $2,500.

Fans are becoming more and more irked as they watch their teams’ players receive suspensions while others, like Weber don’t. Their annoyance deepens into anger when they see their favorite players injured by such play time and again.

When a game becomes marred by the loss of a favorite player to injury, or loss of respect for a favorite player who intentionally causes injury, it loses a bit of fun in watching the sport. The playoffs are inherently watched by a larger audience than regular season games, and the large amount of dirty play does nothing to dissuade those who only see hockey players as barbaric thugs on skates. NHL, it is your time to act!

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