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Crash! Bang! Splat! Hockey players' refusal to succumb to on-ice violence creates an air of cartoonish unreality

May 03, 1999
May 03, 1999

Table of Contents
May 3, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
Pro Basketball

Crash! Bang! Splat! Hockey players' refusal to succumb to on-ice violence creates an air of cartoonish unreality

By age 18, the average American has witnessed 200,000 acts of
violence on television, most of them during Game 1 of the NHL
playoff series between Detroit and Anaheim last week on ESPN2.
Two minutes into that game, while a trainer ministered to a
player bleeding from the head, announcer Gary Thorne enthused,
"Our first first aid of the Stanley Cup playoffs!" Only then had
the professional hockey postseason officially begun--with a
ceremonial first stitch.

This is an article from the May 3, 1999 issue Original Layout

Hockey belongs on The Cartoon Network, where a person can be
pancaked by an Acme anvil, then expand--accordion-style--back to
full stature, without any lasting side effects. No other sport
has so much violence without consequence. Hockey players are
always hemorrhaging, never hurt. How do they do it? "By the time
this series is over," analyst Bill Clement said of one badly
bloodied Mighty Duck, "Jason Marshall is going to look like he
had his face stuck in a food processor!" Indeed, Marshall
already resembled a man who had been bobbing for piranha in a
Cuisinart set on puree, yet the camera caught even him laughing
sardonically at his predicament, as might a cartoon tomcat who
had just had his face blackened by a bomb shaped like a bowling
ball.

Hockey players, alone among athletes, are bound by the laws of
Hanna-Barbera. In the Detroit-Anaheim opener, Red Wings captain
Steve Yzerman took the butt end of a stick to the face--a felony
in any other context of North American life--and returned
moments later with a black circle around his left eye so that he
looked like the dog on The Little Rascals. As if to clinch the
fact that it was all a cartoon, Yzerman soon scored, and
afterward, on SportsCenter, acted as if nothing untoward had
happened. "There were," he said, "a lot of good bodychecks out
there."

In this same, single NHL playoff game, Anaheim goalie Guy Hebert
lay as lifeless as a sack of rice on the ice after being clipped
in the head by a skate. While a trainer waved a hand in Hebert's
face, Clement said (as if it were barely worth mentioning),
"They're now checking for vital signs." He said it in the way a
baseball analyst might say, "They're now throwing in the Texas
bullpen." As any longtime viewer of Looney Tunes could
anticipate, Hebert skated off the ice in apparent good health,
his head harmlessly encircled by bluebirds.

"Hockey players are considered the most polite and genuine of
all professional athletes," studio host John Buccigross said on
the Deuce's NHL2Night last week. He's right. But that postgame
Canadian courtliness only makes their manifold bloodletting,
their jack-o'-lantern smiles, their incidents of
assault-with-a-deadly-Sher-Wood seem all the more unreal.

I was reflecting on this last Thursday night when a member of
the St. Louis Blues used his stick like a croupier's rake to
rein in Phoenix captain Keith Tkachuk. Struck hard in the face
with a stick blade, Tkachuk reflexively put a hand to his mouth,
then casually checked his open palm, fully expecting to locate
his teeth there. Then he simply skated on, unaffected, as if it
were all a trick of animation, a fact borne out by the logo on
his jersey.

A cartoon coyote.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO