It’s normal to choke back tears during Coach Brooks’ pregame speech in Miracle that inspires the U.S. to beat the Soviets. It’s motivating when, in Mighty Ducks, Coach Bombay chants “When everyone says it can’t be done, Ducks fly together.” Hockey movies are meant to generate romantic images of the teams and players they portray. Unfortunately, some people are quick to judge the real sport of hockey as overly gruesome and physical. For them, the routine sight of blood and hard hits into the boards are too much to stomach.
For the true fan, though, hockey reads like a romantic tale of warriors willing to sacrifice themselves for not only the people in the stands, but their brothers on the ice. Real life hockey is more intense and thrilling than the fictional hockey depicted in movies. In the 24/7 HBO series following the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers before the Winter Classic, Rangers Coach John Tortorella’s speeches were just as inspiring as the one given by Coach Brooks (with a few more choice words thrown in to rile up the players). Boston’s Zdeno Chara’s big hits are just as exciting and aggressive as those dished out by the Bash Brothers. It might be difficult to accept because of all the missing teeth and nasty scars, but romanticism exists in the NHL. And the team pride and player sacrifice displayed in hockey is unparalleled by any other sport.
Individualism is not a concept that is accepted in hockey. There is no Kobe Bryant shooting 46 field goals or Chad Johnson dancing in the end zone. In an era of athletes more concerned with individual stardom, the hockey world has stayed true to the original concepts of team sport. Triumphs are experienced together, and when a player scores or a team wins, the players flock together to share in the moment. If a player forgets about this and decides to put on a one-man show, there are plenty of others to remind him. Take, for instance, New York Rangers’ Artem Anisimov, whose celebration after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning ignited a powder keg on the ice. The incident began when Anisimov put the puck through the net then skated down the ice using his stick as a weapon toward Tampa Bay’s goalie. Every Lighting player on the ice rushed toward Anisimov and fights immediately broke out. The Rangers player experienced a lot of backlash from that incident and he issued numerous apologies. Most importantly, he learned that an individual celebration of that magnitude is unacceptable in the sport of hockey.
What do you think about the Anisimov celebration?
Just as triumphs are celebrated together, tragedies are also experienced as a team. When an opposing player disrespects or puts a dirty hit on a teammate, it is expected that there will be retaliation. It could come in the form of an immediate push and shove, a challenge to drop gloves, or a hard hit later on in the game. Milan Lucic’s hit on Ryan Miller caused all of the above. After losing the puck during a fast break, Lucic ran into the goalie who came out to get the puck. Also, the 2012 Playoff Series between the Flyers and Penguins was full of brawls: In Game 3, Pittsburgh’s James Neal started trouble after his dirty hits on Philadelphia’s Sean Coutourier and Claude Giroux. The rest of the game was a series of pushes, shoves, and fights. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby exchanged words with Schenn, Craig Adams fought Scott Hartnell to protect Crosby, and so on. The moral of the story is that hockey players celebrate together, protect each other, and fight for their teammates. Their sense of team loyalty and pride far outweighs their desire for individual recognition.
Here is footage of the Game 3 brawls between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia:
The average NHLer is 6’0 tall and 200 pounds. Hockey players are physical specimens and break the mold when it comes to strength and endurance. Not only are they solid and strong, but they are tough; they are completely willing to sacrifice pain for victory. There is no question that hockey players are the toughest group of athletes. Remember Clint Malarchuk’s near death experience after a skate blade caught him in the neck? Do you also recall how he returned to the ice just a few days later? What about San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thorton who played with a separated shoulder in the 2011 playoffs? There are countless stories of players breaking their noses, losing teeth, tearing ligaments, breaking bones, and either remaining on the ice or returning to the game as soon as they are stitched up. During the 2011-2012 season, the New York Rangers were known for diving in front of flying pucks and blocking shots, and many players were injured during the process. But, for them, that was part of the job description. The injuries hockey players endure are enough to sideline most other athletes.
Take a look at this clip exemplifying player sacrifice:
Hockey players understand that they have a responsibility to themselves and their teammates to play tough and endure difficult situations. They take so much pride in their level of toughness that they are particularly critical of other athletes that don’t hold themselves to the same level. They were extremely unimpressed, for example, with Lebron James and his leg cramps during Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals, and took to Twitter to express their disappointment. Washington Capitals’ Ryan Potulny tweeted “Lebron James is embarrassing himself and the NBA or actually all athletes.” Taylor Hall wrote “…Wondering what these bball players would do if they got a skate in the face haha.”
Read some of the other tweets from NHLers here:
In the make-believe world of hockey films, teams are united by overemotional speeches and dramatic events. Players unite as one team to become successful and win major victories. Injuries are used as motivation by others to leave everything on the ice. In the real world, hockey is much more than that…it’s life.
Ashley Coombs is a teacher in Fairfield County. She is a passionate sports fan and follows New York teams. As a triplet, she played collegiate basketball and volleyball on the same teams as her sisters.