I have no idea what the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Cooke was thinking as he glided over to New York Rangers’ forward Ryan McDonagh. I can’t even imagine what made him want to deliver a ferocious elbow to McDonagh’s head. The attack was unprovoked and senseless but, hockey is a violent sport by nature and these types of incidents are not uncommon. The speed and intensity of the game compiled with ferocious hitting can be a toxic tonic for hotheadedness. The history of the NHL is spotted with horrific incidents that make what Cooke did on Sunday look like a silly gag from a child’s cartoon.
In the age of Wifi, 3g, 4g, twitter, etc what happened after the hit became a modern digital aged witch hunt. I myself spend too many hours on twitter and in the moments after the elbow was thrown my twitter stream became riddled with anti-Cooke sentiment. As the word spread about the incident it was the main topic of discussion in NHL fan circles. You would thing that good had just killed somebody. Obviously hockey fans have short memories.
The game was nationally televised on NBC. I was watched it happen live and I was just as shocked as everybody else. That type of behavior has no business in a professional sport, or does it? During commercial breaks NBC would promote upcoming games on their network and it’s affiliate VS including games featuring the Detroit Red Wings.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. The Wings have a fellow by the name of Todd Bertuzzi playing for them. Few remember that Bertuzzi was involved in one the more brutal on ice attacks in recent memory. Ironically, Cooke played in that game too.
On March 8, 2004, Bertuzzi was playing for the Vancouver Canucks. In the first period of a game against the Colorado Avalanche, Steve Moore fought Cooke in a fairly even bout. The fight was in retaliation to a hit Moore laid on Vancouver Captain Markus Naslund in the teams previous meeting. There were no further incidents until late in the third period. Bertuzzi tried to mix it up with Moore again but Moore refused, Bertuzzi skated after him and punched Moore in the head from behind. Moore’s head was driven into the ice during the fall, causing three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and a concussion. Moore was knocked out, and lay motionless for ten minutes before being carried off on a stretcher.
Yet, here NBC was including Betrtuzzi in a highlight real promoting the NHL on their network.
The rusted wheels in my head started to spin. How many good or great players get a pass or have their lapses in judgment pushed under the rug because of who they are?
On February 21, 2000, in yet another game that Matt Cooke took part in, Boston Bruins defenseman, Marty Mcsorley, swung his stick and hit Canucks tough guy Donald Brashear in the head with 3 seconds left in the game. Brashear fell backward and hit his head hard on the ice as a result of the stick’s contact with his head. the blow knocked Brashear’s helmet off and he hit the ice with his head. Brashear, laying on the ice bleeding from his nose lost consciousness and suffered a severe concussion.
As a result of the stick incident, McSorley was charged with assault and suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the 1999–2000 season (including playoffs) missing 23 games. In 2000, a jury found McSorley guilty of assault with a weapon for the attack on Brashear. He was sentenced to 18 months probation. McSorley’s suspension was later extended to one full year and he never played in the NHL again.
The trial was the first for an on-ice attack by an NHL player since Dino Ciccarelli in 1988.
On January 6, 1988, Ciccarelli attacked Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Richardson with his stick. Ciccarelli was convicted of assault, fined $1000.00, and sentenced to one day in jail. Ciccarelli scored over 500 goals in his career and the attack is almost never even mentioned when his name is brought up.
I can keep going.
Boston Bruins colorful legend Eddie Shore is mostly remembered for his four MVP awards and two Stanley Cups and less for the incident that took place on Dec. 12, 1933. The Bruins were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shore was taken down by Toronto’s King Clancy at the blue line attempting to head up ice.
No penalty was called.
Shore went bananas. He looked around and spotted the Leafs Ace Bailey, thinking he found the guy that tripped him he charged Bailey, flattening him with a tremendous hit from behind. The force of the hit sent the future Hall of Famer crashing head first into the ice. Bailey suffered a fractured skull. Surgery saved his life but he too never played again.
Yet, Shore’s legend lives on nearly untarnished.
Then there was Montreal Canadiens’ superstar, Maurice,”Rocket” Richards temporary loss of sanity in 1955. Richard was given a match penalty for retaliating against the Bruins Hal Laycoe by whacking him over the head with his stick. As if that was crazy enough, he unleashed a barrage of punches on linesman Cliff Thompson. Richard was ejected and given a match penalty. Richard was then suspended for the rest of the season. The hockey crazy fans in Montreal flipped out and the uproar carried over into the next season.
During a game between the Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings at the Montreal Forum, fans took out their anger on NHL president Clarence Campbell pelting him with eggs. Montreal forfeited the game and the arena had to be evacuated when a mob of irate Habs fans hit the the streets. A riot started, causing nearly $500,000 in damage.
Throughout the history of Hockey sometimes these violent episodes are considered heroic and fans forget the brutality behind these attacks.
For example Bobby Clarke’s attack on Soviet superstar Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Clarke gave a vicious two handed slash to the ankle and Kharlamov, the Soviets’ most skillful player. He was never the same. The Canadians rallied from a 3-1-1 deficit to take the series. Clarke became a national hero.
In the 1970′s and 80′s hockey fans idolized the game biggest “goons.” For example pugilists like Steve Durbano, Joey Kocur, Bob Probert, Dave “The Hammer” Shultz and Dave “Tiger Williams became household names for hockey fans. Even non-hockey fans cheered a good fight.
So why in Matt Cooke so vilified by fans today? Is it because we have become digital mobs, stoking the fire through fan forums and blogs?
I don’t condone what Cooke did but I also won’t forget that he’s not alone. Even hockey’s greats sometimes lose their cool.
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Violence in Nothing New to Hockey, NHL
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