January 1, 2011. It is a date that two men became forever linked together. Two men at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their status in the NHL. One, the sport’s biggest star, it’s best player and one that had already reached iconic status at the age of 23. The other, a third or fourth line grinder who offers little in the way of point production but has carved out a spot in the league by being a big-body presence and a faceoff specialist.
Back to that date.
On a day where the hockey world was to celebrate one of it’s marquee events of the season, the Winter Classic, the game unfortunately will be forever remembered as the game in which Sidney Crosby suffered his first concussion; one that sidelined him for the remainder of that season and continues to be responsible for sidelining him today.
Sidney Crosby, hockey’s biggest star, someone who transcends his sport both on and off the ice, has been absent for over a year thanks largely in part to a hit by David Steckel, the aforementioned fourth-line grinder.
The hit, which has been replayed over and over and disected by anyone with a voice in hockey, appears at first glance to be an accident and also rather innocent. The more you watch it however, the more you notice the forecful impact of the 6’5, 217 pound Steckel barreling into the unexpecting Crosby who is so stunned by the blow that he is sent twirling to the ice in an uncontrollable manner. Some argued that Steckel was simply skating to a spot and happened to accidentally catch Crosby as he skated by, while others argue that he purposely allowed himself to ram into Crosby’s head while cleverly disguising it as an accident.
Following the hit, Crosby, as we all know, has been unable to recover. He finally made his anticipated return in late November but lasted just eight games before what appeared to be the lightest of contact caused his symptoms to return.
As fans, we have been deprived of viewing a generational talent in the prime of his career for over a year now. A player, who before his injury was playing at such a dominant level that he drew comparisons to the likes of Gretzky and Lemieux before him. A player that just a year earlier had given Canadians one of their greatest sporting thrills by scoring the overtime winning goal in an Olympic Games on home soil.
All of the awe inspiring moments that Sidney Crosby would be providing if he were playing can only be left in our minds as a question; what if? But that is not the question I would like to present in this piece. What I would really like to know is whether or not you consider David Steckel, now playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a villain.
A look at Steckel’s career stats and you will see that he is far from a player that would purposely try to injure someone. His career high 34 penalty minutes in a season shows that he is, in essence, a clean player with no track record of illegal/dangerous hits.
A hardworking, honest player, Steckel has carved out a career in the NHL as a player who can be relied upon to provide solid minutes as a checking center, and a guy you absolutely want on the ice to take important faceoffs.
A soft-spoken individual off the ice, there is little doubt that he did not purposely try to hurt Crosby, and even less doubt that he feels bad for the outcome. But in that split second, did Steckel decide that maybe he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to collide with the Penguins star player? Did it run through his mind that maybe ‘I’ll just give him a little bump to knock him down as the final seconds of the second period tick off?’
Certainly, there was no intent to have the outcome of the collision turn out the way it has, but it is quite obvious that Steckel made little effort to avoid Crosby and likely ‘meant’ to bump into him.
Only David Steckel knows what was going through his mind at that exact moment, but what I would like to know is how you view him. Do you see him as a villain who took away your enjoyment of watching the best hockey player in the world, or do you see him as someone who unfortunately was in the wrong place at the wrong time and will unjustly be remembered as the player who gave Sidney Crosby his first concussion?
Let’s hear what you think.