In the wake of last night’s apparently controversial hit on Christian Ehrhoff by Ryan Reaves, Mike Milbury accused Ehrhoff of faking the injury, despite Reaves’ obvious attempt at taking his fucking head off.
The issue of fifth-line tough guys controlling the public message about the sport and justifying their own existence was actually covered in longform in Sunday’s print edition. And there’s no further proof of that than the fact that somehow even Hawks fans are defending known shitpile Ryan Reaves’ unmistakable actions in the aftermath. Read it after the jump.
Much like the undercurrent of the American political landscape, similarly there is a rising tide of dissatisfaction in hockey in the form of a renewed appreciation in the useless role of The Goon. And if an 80-inch tall useless hypocrite of a hockey player can be not only voted to the NHL’s farce of an All Star game but also made its MVP by a populist movement, then a shrieking orange charlatan for a President can’t be far off, even the constituencies for both of those disparate groups have drastically different motivations.
While the ultimately successful campaign to get John Scott into a 3-on-3 format All Star game was intended to make a league that needs no help looking stupid on its own look even stupider, all it proved was just how self-congratulatory everyone could be in the process from the fans, to the League, to Scott himself, along with proving just what a clown act 3 on 3 overtime deciding games of consequence is by virtue of the fact that Scott could score twice among the league’s best players. But it’s also merely a symptom of a hockey tradition as old as coverage of the game itself: the attention seeking tomato can.
For as long as there have been reporters with notepads and recorders covering professional hockey games, there have been fringe players so craven for attention and desperate for their spot in the league that they’ll buddy up to the press for any reason for the sole purpose of justifying their existence in the sport. John Scott has always received the label of “nice guy” because he’ll talk to the press despite the fact that he has viciously attacked players with the sole intent of injuring them, and has a college degree that he can’t wait to remind he posses. Brandon Prust has conned so many Canadian markets into believing he has any value whatsoever by virtue of the fact that he’ll run his mouth and let all sorts of moronic thoughts fall out of it. Rich Clune showed his ass recently with an embarrassing wrestling style-promo egging on Cody Bass during an intermission interview as if anyone gave a shit. Shawn Thornton was just given yet another contract extension based solely on his ability to talk for hours if someone puts a quarter in him.
Even recent Blackhawks, a team that’s supposed to be above it all, have a storied history of employing such moths, with Scott, Adam Burish, Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, and the detestable Brandon Bollig all taking turns as the resident parking cone desperate to find a microphone to get in front of. And while current fire hydrant Brandon Mashinter hasn’t actively sought out the spotlight (yet), he has certainly fallen into the same trap all of those other former Hawks have, with delusions of grandeur of being a scorer, now comfortable enough to bang his stick on the ice to call for the puck as if this team doesn’t have enough Hall of Famers to take care of that. Listen Knuckles, if you were that open or had even a snowball’s chance in hell of actually scoring from above the rings, you’d already have the puck.
It’s understandable on both sides of the equation to a certain extent. Reporters have a job to do in relaying information to their readership, and the culture of hockey doesn’t lend itself to a lot of after-the-fact articulation from even the game’s brightest stars. So seeking out the guy who had less than 5 shifts a night because he’ll be self effacing out of a lack of other options seems like a good idea rather than trying to get blood from a rural Manitoban turnip on deadline, particularly in today’s instantaneous news cycle. And on the flip side, on a certain level these plugs cannot be blamed for doing whatever it is they have to do to stay in the league and fulfill their dreams of playing hockey. It gets them good press and permeates the thought among the consuming public that these are good guys who need to be on the team. And if the choice is doing that for $550K a year for five or six years or jockeying a cash register at a Tim Horton’s drive-thru in Swift Current, then the choice is obvious, even if Ryan O’Reilly is driving around both jobs share the same physical risks. The exception of course being John Scott, who cannot wait to remind everyone that he could have a good real job as an engineer if he wanted one; he does not get to have it both ways.
But the problem then becomes that these players become media upon retirement, and cannot shake their tendencies to extol the virtues of toughness, accountability, and physical vigilante justice, often times to an international audience. Nick Kypreos and PJ Stock regularly spout garbage to Canadian audiences despite barely being aware of a puck being on the ice during their playing days. Don Cherry is a racist, xenophobic war monger who is given his own dedicated segment to spit bile during the sport’s biggest weekly broadcast. Mike Milbury literally climbed up into the crowd and attacked a fan with his skate, and he was entrusted as the general manager of a franchise before being thrown on American TV nightly to lecture the masses about the right way to play the game. Tyson Nash, Stu Grimson, Sean O’Donnell, Craig Ludwig, Rob Ray, Chris Nilan, Chris Dingman, Shane Hnidy, complete piece of shit Matthew Barnaby, and even locally Jamal Mayers. There are surely some being left out, and to list all of the bad goalies doing color work could fill this whole issue. But the point of the exercise is that this is bordering on a pandemic in the sport, as every last one of them do nothing but spout tough guy clichés to the point of them all being nearly interchangeable. John Scott will surely be offered a television gig when his playing career comes to an end, Shawn Thornton will be personally hired by Joe Haggerty in Boston, and Brandon Prust will set himself on fire just as a resume builder to keep himself on TV.
The solution to this is the hockey viewing public needing to disabuse themselves of the notion that hockey player will ever have something interesting to say. Even the spotlight seeking bowling balls still all toss out the same tropes about accountability, sacrifice, physicality, and the occasional “reluctant combatant” angle when prompted. No one has ever actually learned anything from a post game quote from a hockey player, and these aren’t admirable everymen to live vicariously through. And if fans and the hockey press can stop giving them the attention they’re so craven for, maybe at that point the sport can finally move past some of the more ugly and violent aspects of this game that currently exist strictly for the sake of getting noticed.