Hockey Is Not For Everybody

The NHL is always keen to spout that their sport is for everybody – but it’s not.

Hockey is a far more expensive sport due to the costs of ice time, travelling, and equipment than soccer or basketball. This required wealth acts as a barrier to entry therefore hockey becomes accessible to upper/middle-class families and disadvantages those with lower incomes. Black people make up about 5% of the NHL’s population – when we compare this to the NFL (67%) and the NBA (77%), one has to question whether this is tied into socio-economic factors.

Hockey exists outside of North America, and although people will argue that European countries are predominantly white – black people still exist here too and do play hockey, for example Johnny Oduya who is black and Swedish. For argument’s sake, this piece will focus solely on North America. In 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median of black families. That is a huge difference in expendable income and likely a reason why people black people are not accessing hockey.

Hockey seems to be stuck in a self-perpetuating loop whereby there are very few non-white players in the league therefore very few idols for non-white kids to look up to and want to emulate. It gets boring never seeing someone like yourself represented.  How many black boys are looking at PK Subban and imagining they’re him out there on the ice? The lack of diversity in the players is reflected by the fan base too; a pre-cursor to attendance at sporting events is previous exposure or experience to that sport. If you’ve never played hockey or ever watched it, you’re unlikely to want to be involved with it. The take home message is hockey has always been seen as a white sport and although there are people of colour in the league, not seeing them on a regular basis or being exposed that to reinforces that hockey is a sport for white people.

Black people are not a new commodity; Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL and made his debut in 1958. He was celebrated for breaking the colour barrier and is often cited as an inspiration of non-white players, but O’Ree’s arrival didn’t open the floodgates to make hockey more diverse. It took twelve years before another black man entered the league.

Racial remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto or Montreal. I particularly remember a few incidents in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South,’ and, ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.

Racism existed then and it exists now. Val James, the first black American NHLer, had bananas thrown at him, and even a toy monkey in a noose was hung in the penalty box. In 2011, a banana was thrown at Wayne Simmonds. Heck, there’s a racist sat in the White House. Trump cannot condemn Nazi’s, but black athletes kneeling during the anthem to protest against police brutality? Sons of bitches.

As spoken about previously, the NBA champions declined to attend the White House. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, continued with their visit to “respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House”. The team showed they were either completely oblivious or simply do not care about the struggles of minorities in America. Captain, Sidney Crosby, tried to explain the team’s decision:

I’m pretty aware of what’s going on . . . as a group, we decided to go.

Police might have killed 309 black people last year, and Trump creates racist atmospheres at rallies, and displays openly racist behaviour towards Mexicans, but it’s an honor to go to the White House and the team only had one black player, so what’s the issue!

Joel Ward, from the San Jose Sharks, expressed an interest in kneeling during the anthem however decided not to because the message behind the protest had been lost. Instead of a protest against racism and injustice, kneeling has become a way of offending a flag or a song.

It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever.

Ward could have knelt. And if he did, he’d likely be ostracized by the team. If Trevor Daley had said to the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins “as a black man, I’m not comfortable meeting Trump” how many of his teammates would have been on his side? How many would support him and also refuse to attend? If Joel Ward took a knee, how many white teammates would have done the same out of solidarity? Devante Smith-Pelly, explained the situation in a sad but honest way:

Yeah, there’s a little bit of a lonely feeling. I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you’re really by yourself. I can go to Joel and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America. I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.

The only player to have protested so far is JT Brown. In homage to the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, JT raised his fist. Although Tampa Bay Lightning released a statement saying they supported their players choices on political/social issues, he was dropped from the team for a short time and has since said he will no longer protest. Brown will be working with local police and community organisations to foster better relationships.

No matter what they say, hockey is not for everybody.

We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat – John Carlos

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Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Or is it?) (Are we seeing a pattern here yet?)

The battle for the Western Conference Championship is in full swing and things are getting nasty – of course they are, the Ducks are playing. Nashville’s Ryan Johansen has had a pop at Ryan Kesler saying “his family and friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that“. Beats me! What’s more, in game four, captain Ryan Getzlaf shouted a homophobic slur at the referee “f*cking c*ck s*cker”.

Maybe it’s not as bad as what Andrew Shaw said, maybe it’s not as bad as other things that have been tossed around the league that haven’t been captured on camera, but it’s not a sliding scale. None of these are acceptable. Getzlaf was fined the maximum $10,000 – but that’s pocket change when you’re on a $9.25million salary per year. The money will go to the NHL Player’s Emergency Assistance Fund which supports players and their families who are facing financial hardship as a result of various reasons such as failing health or salary mismanagement.

For a league that puts a lot of emphasis on hockey being for everyone, they are not doing enough to drive homophobia out of the league. Rainbow tape on a stick one month out of the year is not enough. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. Getzlaf isn’t going to be ostracized by his team or the league for his comments; he’ll continue playing and continue receiving sponsorship deals because he’s a good player, a captain, and a gold medalist. He gets a free pass.

Know how to stop players from saying offensive remarks? Fine them. Ban them from games. Ban them from playoff games. Then they’ll learn. And for all the arguments that he didn’t mean anything by it, he was in the heat of the moment, it’s an emotional game – that vocabulary exists in his vernacular. Receiving a fine is not enough to stop that behaviour. The league needs to drive home the lesson that winning is less important than being a decent human and not treating others like crap.

Maybe Getzlaf wasn’t targeting the LGBT community – he just said something that happened to be homophobic because he was pissed off. And that’s fair enough. The words slipped out with no particularly malicious intentions behind it. But the fact remains that these slurs are heard day-in-day-out by non-heterosexual people who face  being bullied, beaten up, or murdered just for who they love. Right now in Chechnya, Russia, gay people are fleeing the area in case they are detained and tortured. But hey, it’s just words and hockey is for everyone!

Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Mostly Everyone)

During February, the NHL hosted a “you can play” month whereby they declared that hockey was for everyone. One of the prospects in this year’s draft is Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was raised by two mothers. Nancy and Fran met whilst playing hockey, and had Jaret skating at 18 months old.

Anderson-Dolan is expected to be picked by the second round. He had a 70 point season with the Spokane Chiefs. Whilst at pre-season camp, he was invited to participate in VO2 testing – to measure the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles. This is usually reserved for veterans, but Jaret, at 16 years old, had a test number in the mid 60s and not a single other player reached 60 – then in his second season with the Chiefs, he hit high 60s which is generally the highest score in the NHL combine.

The player is hard working, eats organically, and studies sport psychology (good lad), and during “hockey is for everyone” ensured his stick was taped with the rainbow pride tape. The entire team followed suit despite issues with the tape being poor quality and breaking some players’ superstitions about their equipment.

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In a sport where trashtalking is the norm, he has faced backlash over his two mothers in the past. Whilst going through the WHL bantam draft, he was told by some teams that they would not take him because of his two mothers. But sure, hockey is for everyone, right?

“I can’t change people’s opinions. If that’s how they feel about it, I’d honestly rather not be in that organization if they’re going to be like that. I’d rather be in an organization with the Chiefs where they support it completely. Maybe that ended up with me falling in the draft a little bit, but I don’t really care, honestly. I’m proud of my moms. I’m proud of my uncles, my aunties, everyone I know that is openly gay. I have no shame about it, and neither do they.”

Good luck to Jaret in the lead up to the draft and beyond. He’s sure to be a great representative of the sport!

Congratulations Team GB!

Team Great Britain’s men’s ice hockey team have won 4-0 over the top seeded country, Japan, to secure promotion to the World Championship Division 1A. It’s their first promotion since 1993.  They ended the competition unbeaten and played in a group with Japan, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia, and the Netherlands.

Head coach Peter Russell said:

This is the biggest moment of my career and it is a fantastic feeling.

Ben O’Connor and Colin Shields of team GB were chosen as the best defenceman and forward of the tournament. Yutaka Fukufuji, of Japan was the tournament’s best netminder. Russ Cowley, ex-player for Coventry Blaze and Cardiff Devils, announced this would be his final season as a professional after sixteen season and over 900 games – and he signed off with a gold medal for GB.

I’ve had so many successes as a player, this ranks up there with the best nights of my career. Tonight is the icing on the cake, it was our best performance of the week by far and to win here with a big home crowd was special.

Congratulations to team Great Britain on your promotion and best of luck next year in the second tier of the World Championships!

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Playing On Through Injuries

Considering that one of the NHL’s issues with the Olympics is potential injury risks to players, they sure do an absolutely horrendous job at managing safety throughout the league. Back when the Mighty Pucks was just starting, there were a series of posts about toxic masculinity in particular I wrote about playing through injuries being seen as a sign of manliness. The more “manly” a player perceives himself to be, the less likely he is to seek psychological treatment following significant injury, and although there are many reasons for playing on – including to benefit the team – in my personal view, one of the biggest road blocks is peoples’ attitudes.

NHLers are expected to be tough, to suffer through broken bones, stitches, busted teeth etc. They’re tough guys. They battle every night. They’re warriors, etc, etc, etc. It’s boring. Hockey culture has normalised playing on through injury to the point that players in the NBA are laughed at for leaving the court with sprains. Consider this: These are professional athletes whose income depends on their body’s ability to perform. It would take a lot of courage for a hockey player to say “you know what, I’ve done something to my ankle, I’m taking a couple of games off to rest”. However, say there are around 82 games in the regular season, NHL players have little time to recover from their knocks and if they took the time to fully recover, there’d likely be nobody in the roster. It’s been said that they can only really get to grips and heal in the off season and just “put up” with all their injuries.

Thank goodness that the San Jose Sharks have been knocked out in round one of the playoffs because Joe Thornton has been playing with a torn ACL and MCL. What did head coach Peter DeBoer have to say?

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL… It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Courageous?! It’s utterly ridiculous! His knee was floating! The man has torn two major ligaments in his knee. How the hell is he still moving around? Thornton, who is 37, had a 50 point season for the Sharks, and even in his four playoff appearances notched up two assists, however this was his lowest season since 98/99. The veteran player is a free agent this summer, so perhaps he was keen to show that he was still a valuable player. He has since undergone surgery for the tears with no timeline of return announced which leaves his future up in the air. A fellow veteran and teammate, 37 year old Patrick Marleau, is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Like Thornton, he was also nursing a broken thumb during the post-season which will have affected his ability to shoot the damn puck.

There must be something in the water over in San Jose because a THIRD player has also been playing in the playoffs with an injury. Tomas Hertl had around 19 minutes of time on the ice during the playoffs despite having a broken foot. Not to mention that Logan Couture took a puck to the face towards the end of the regular season and said that it hurt to breathe. His bottom teeth were being held together by wires and the top had a plastic coating to stop them falling out. A member of the Sharks’ dental team explained that due to the freak deflection to Couture’s face, it was akin to him being hit with a large hammer. Nonetheless, Couture was back for the playoffs wearing a cage – risking taking another knock to the face. It is likely that he’ll need a good number of those teeth removed this summer now he has the opportunity to recover.

“In my mind, I wish I could have played right after it happened”

Is any of this making you ask “what the hell is going on in the NHL?” because I certainly ask that on a daily basis.

Zach Werenski attempted to block a shot and deflected a tumblr_oomvpzixRe1w1rbzho1_500puck into his face but returned to the game in the third period… however due to extreme facial swelling he did not play in overtime and was ruled out of the remainder of the Blue Jackets postseason. He was allowed to play until his face swelled so much! That’s not right! Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators revealed that he’s been receiving injections in his heel because he’s skating on two hairline fractures. What’s scarier is that Karlsson leads in total time on ice during the playoffs with 182.23 minutes.

These aren’t just rare superhuman feats found in this year’s playoffs… Back in 2014, the Penguins favourite Finn, Olli Maatta took two weeks out of the season to have surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his thyroid. TWO WEEKS. Also in 2014, teammate Kris Letang, who was 26 at the time, suffered a stroke and took a lengthy six weeks out. Yeah, six whole weeks after suffering a stroke…

I understand that the majority of players in the playoffs are dealing with injuries and we only really find out the extent of them once the team is eliminated, but it is worrying how normal this is to them. Athletes have a very short “lifespan” as a pro and there’s a toss-up between sucking it up and continuing whilst hurt, risking further injury, or taking time away to actually heal and worry about coming back. To the owners of the league, the players are disposable. One of the biggest issues I have is that boys in general are taught from a very young age to be tough and not to cry when they’re hurt, and this seems to be a thousand times worse with hockey players. Granted, it’s a rough game, but there comes a point where toughness becomes a ridiculous rigid resilience where health is neglected and the players are congratulated for continuing to play with their limbs hanging off. Secondly, the NHL is terrible at enforcing safety throughout the league yet have the audacity to proclaim a big reason to not attend the Olympics is due to injury risk. For one thing, players rarely fight in the Olympics because they’re ejected from the game – and fighting increases your risk of injury without a doubt, yet still exists in the league. Then there is the lack of concussion prevention/support which is a huge issue in hockey, but the NHL is too busy lining their pockets than actually focussing on the player’s health.

The short version: Hockey players are applauded for suffering through injuries and continuing to play as a result of a toxic, normalised attitude, and the league is unlikely to do anything about this because players are replaceable cogs in the money making machine that is the National Hockey League.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two

It’s with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to half of our teams until next season. See ya in October: San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, St Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and the Montreal Canadiens. But to the remaining eight… welcome to round two – four wins down, twelve to go.

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Preds/Blues

For the first time in NHL history, an 8th seed swept a first seed and I think we all became fans of the Nashville Predators for the way they took out the trash. When Shea Weber was traded for PK Subban, a lot of people thought it was a crazy move. Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews, certainly was relieved, but too bad… the lmao.pngPreds are more than one man! Elite goal tender, Pekka Rinne saved 123 of 126 shots he faced giving him a tasty .976sv%, but rival goalie Jake Allen has also been incredible with a .956sv%, and since Mike Yeo took over the Blues _ months ago, the team have allowed less than two goals a game average. Yet before players can get to the goal, they have to get past Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban, who have been defending spectacularly. Firing from the offense, Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, who has tumblr_oorr91sO9T1wngza3o1_500returned from three years in the KHL, and Paul Stasyny, back from injury. The Preds have Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Scorsberg Forsberg, and should hopefully have Colin Wilson back from injury after missing round one. This will be the tightest series in the Western Conference because the teams are so evenly matched.
Prediction: Blues win in seven (I’d really love it to be Nashville though…) 

 

Ducks/Oilers

The Oilers will be feeling pretty proud that they knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games as the Sharks were last year’s runners up, and the Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs for a decade. That being said, the pressure from fans is high, but they have captain Connor (McJesus) McDavid who has won the Art Ross trophy this year for most points – in only his second season. (Let us not forget that he spent a few months out in his rookie year following a dirty hit into the boards that broke his collar bone). The Ducks always surprise me when they consistently make the playoffs… I forget they exist because I never come across their fans (should have stayed as the Mighty Ducks). In their 22 year history they’ve made the playoffs 12 times, and of those twelve times, they have been the division champion a staggering six times, and won one Stanley Cup. They swept Calgary, so they’re doing something right. Talbot was outstanding in goal against the Sharks, and the Oilers have no significant injuries in the team, but they’re inexperienced – particularly in the playoffs – and up against a very physical, (sometimes dirty) experienced team with the likes of Kesler, Bieksa, Getzlaf, and Perry.
Prediction: Ducks win in six. 

Rangers/Senators

I’m not sure if anybody expected the forgotten Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, to make it past the first round but the Bruins were sluggish this season and niggled by injuries, so they had an easier opponent. Last time the New York Rangers faced the Canadiens, the Habs were without Carey Price and were beat in six. They declared that if they had their brickwall of a goaltender they’d have beaten the Rangers; well they had him this time and they still got whooped by the Rangers. The Sens are carried more often than not by Erik Karlsson, but so far Bobby Ryan and ex-Ranger, Derick Brassard, are leading in goals and assists in the post-season. The Rangers are favourites to win here. In their last fifteen matches, NYR have taken ten of them. Rangers have good depth; Zuccarello led the team in points, but hot on his tail were Miller, Stepan, and Kreider then they also have the King of Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
Prediction: Rangers to win in five. 

Penguins/Capitals

This is gonna be the best match up – without a doubt. I am biased as HELL but I’ll be cheering for Pittsburgh – but they have the players to back it up. They’re without Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin who are on injured reserve, as well as

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The End of Crochkin? Say it ain’t so!

Matt Murray who is unable to skate. Their fourth highest point scorer was Sheary with 53 points in his first full season… to put that into perspective Zuccarello, the point leader for rangers, had 59. Kessel notched up 70, Malkin had 72, and Crosby leads the league with an 89 point season. However, hot on his tail was all star Nicklas Backstrom with 86 points. Ovi scores 33 goals and 36 assists – don’t accuse him of not passing again. Big scorers all round in these battles. It’s not just about the points; both teams are notoriously close in terms of cohesion and play like well oiled machines. Whilst Holtby has a .925sv%, Fleury has the edge at .933sv% for the playoffs. However, the Pens are without Murray to back him up, and Fleury can be shaky at times during playoffs in previous years. The big worry for the Caps – besides the two headed monster and the other penguins – is that they tend to fall apart during the playoffs despite being a regular season juggernaut. Still, the Caps ended Toronto’s playoff dreams in game seven whilst Justin Bieber was in attendance in his Maple Leafs shirt, shame.
Prediction: Penguins take it in seven (I really hope)

 

 

 

RISE AND SHINE… IT’S PLAYOFF TIME!

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing which means hockey season is almost over. However, the race to sixteen wins is underway and the first round has already conjured up some expected and unexpected surprises.

For those unfamiliar with the NHL playoff format, after an arduous 82 game season (that’s per team – bit ridiculous, but if you’re a season ticket holder then at least you get your money’s worth) the top four teams in each division make it through to the play offs. The teams in the Western conference face off against each other, and same for the east then in the final, the champion of the West plays the champion of the East to be crowned the Stanley Cup Champion. Now, you need sixteen wins to lift that cup, four wins in each round – seems simple enough, but each round can go to a maximum of seven games which in theory means a team could have an additional 28 games in the post-season. When you consider pre-season starts up in September, these players give up almost their entire year to hockey.

Here’s how the first round is looking:

stanley.jpg  Toronto managed to sneak into the playoffs, so that city has already gone insane at the prospect of lifting a cup. However, Toronto is leading 2-1 against the Washington Capitals. The Caps are a juggernaut in the regular season, but seem to have a meltdown each year in the playoffs. Maybe one day Ovi will get his cup. What’s great about Toronto is that there are so many rookies on that team (Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Hyman, Kapanen, Brown, Zaitsev, Soshnikov, and Gauthier) who have a combined 112 goals, 283 points in the regular season. Even better is that if they got swept then a Chris Brown concert would have been played at the Verizon Center, however an over time win in game 2 forced a game five which will be played there and Chris Brown will be rescheduled, nice.

Last year no Canadian teams made the playoffs, this year Toronto and Edmonton make a long anticipated come back together with the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are leading 2-1 against the New York Rangers, another of the Original Six teams, so these two heavyweights have had many match ups in their illustrious history. Another Original Six team, the Boston Bruins are currently losing 2-1 to the Sens. All’s well in Canada so far…

Head west to Alberta and Edmonton are leading 2-1 against the San Jose Sharks, last year’s runners up. The Flames are truly going up in flames. They’re facing the Anaheim Ducks who are currently leading 3-0 in the series; the Flames have not won in Anaheim in THIRTEEN YEARS. Yikes!

Another FANTASTIC result is that Nashville are leading 3-0 against the Blackhawks. In the first two games, elite goaltender Pekke Rinne recorded two shut outs and two assists. A goal tender had more points than the entire Blackhawks roster, amazing. Of course, the motto of the Chicago Blackhawks is “one goal” so many memes ensued. Not only are Nashville on the verge of sweeping Chicago, their captain’s wife, Carrie Underwood, sang the national anthem last night and was incredible.

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Elsewhere, reigning champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins are leading Columbus 3-0, and St Louis are leading 3-0 against the Minnesota Wild.

No matter what happens for the remainder of the post-season, we’re gonna see some really great hockey!