Top players should not have ‘Jackass’ injuries

Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Prospect Connor McDavid’s injury proves that some players shouldn’t fight

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 17, 2014

Emotions run high in a game of hockey, but when a valuable player goes down for an asinine play such as a meaningless fight, the team pays the price.

In the wake of Erie Otters’ star player, Connor McDavid’s hand injury—received in a fight against Bryson Cianfrone of the Mississauga Steelheads—the hockey community is once against putting the topic of fighting on the discussion table. The debate is not whether fighting is good or bad for the sport, but why do star players continue to risk injuries fighting? In McDavid’s defence, he is 17 years old and probably felt invincible. How could he not? He is touted as the most promising prospect since Sidney Crosby.

No doubt missing five to six weeks out of such a defining year in his career will leave him regretting his decision, perhaps leading him to think twice before dropping his gloves again.

It seems as though every year a top player gets injured. Last year, Steven Stamkos went out with a freak leg injury after crashing into the opposition’s net, and this year Taylor Hall is missing games due to a similar incident. John Tavares missed a portion of last season as well after a hit during the Sochi Olympics. And this year we already saw the absence of top forwards, including Zach Parise, Mike Cammalleri, T.J. Oshie, and Radim Vrbata. Injuries happen all the time and rarely does skill level factor in. Many would say that injuries in hockey are unavoidable.

Nevertheless, fights are always avoidable, especially if it involves an elite player like McDavid. The cause of the fight was because Cianfrone had allegedly slashed McDavid numerous times during the game, and out of frustration, the top prospect took matters into his own hands—thus injuring it. Hockey teams need to protect their star players. It doesn’t matter which league they’re in. If they want to win, they’ll need their best players.

Remember the overall effect of losing Crosby to a concussion? Fans want to see the grittiness of the game, but they also want to see the skills of the elite players. And any player that suffered an initial injury would tell you that the game never feels the same afterward; there is an instinctual need to be careful and stay safe.

For McDavid to injure himself in junior may not impact his draft standing, but in a sport where high impact is part of the game, he probably doesn’t want the label of damaged goods before his is selected either.

There will always be a target on the backs of the best players, and it’s up to the rest of the team to protect their top assets. There was a reason why Wayne Gretzky avoided fisticuffs at all cost. He didn’t need to fight; he had a big guy like Marty McSorley to protect him. The reason why there is still a place for enforcers in the game is because top players shouldn’t get injured fighting. As long as fighting remains, which in my opinion it should, then enforcers need to defend their goal scorers.

Sure, it was McDavid’s fault for getting into the fight and hurting himself, but the player who should feel the worst is the guy on the team assigned to protect him.

Ain’t no butterfly style

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Toughest active NHL goalies

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Nov. 2013

Philadelphia Flyers’ Ray Emery has a reputation: he’s a fighter and a competitor, which are quality traits for any professional athlete—most of the time. He’s bounced back from avascular necrosis, a disease that interrupts blood supply to joints, to win the Stanley Cup and the Williams Jennings Trophy, along with Corey Crawford, as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. There is no doubt that Emery is as tough as they come, but despite all his achievements, his legacy might simply be the hotheaded bully who strayed too far from the crease.

While others debate whether “Sugar Ray” Emery’s actions—which include an altercation with his then team trainer in 2009 when he was with the Atlant Moscow Oblast, and recently instigating a fight against a passive Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals—are appropriate for the sport of hockey, I can’t help but wonder, if goaltenders were to enforce each other, whom would I choose to go 20 rounds, fist to fist against the undisputed heavyweight of goalies.

5. Mike Smith: The Phoenix ‘tender is known for having an aggressive style in net—and for pulling Flames’ right winger David Jones’ hair after the player crashed into Smith. More often than not, Smith lets the opposition know when they are too deep in his crease by giving them a slash or a trapper to the face. He doesn’t wait for the defencemen to come in to protect him. Smith is always a part of the kerfuffle around the net.

4. Tim Thomas: After his yearlong sabbatical, the goalie we remember so well from the 2011 playoffs has returned to the NHL as a Florida Panther, only to be injured early in the season. Although he isn’t at his healthiest state, I believe his track record can speak loudly for him. Thomas is as blue-collared as a goalie can get, and he has often made claims to being a big fan of mixed martial arts. When it comes to his style, he’s as active in the crease as he is out of it. He has scrapped with the likes of Alexandre Burrows, Sean Avery, and Jason Chimera—all tough guys.

3. Jonathan Bernier:  The Toronto Maple Leafs finally have a tough goalie. Gone are the days of Vesa Toskala, Mikael Tellqvist, and Jonas Gustavsson. Although his only NHL fight was against the often tepid Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres in a preseason game, Bernier showed that he indeed has some tenacity. He is young and so is his career, but I foresee many more bouts involving him.

2. Carey Price: The Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender has never shied away from confrontations, and his spunky attitude has both won and lost approval from fans. The days of him mocking the home crowd are now replaced with him standing up for his teammates. Price has matured as a player and is no longer simply looking out for himself. His most recent fight with our number four ranked Thomas showed off Price’s strength, when he pulled Thomas’ jersey over his head and dragged him a few feet across the ice. As tension builds in games, I’m no longer surprised to see Price drop the mitts and throw some hits.

1. Semyon Varlamov: The Avalanche’s goalie has never been in a fight, but due to the charges he is currently facing, I feel he deserves to be first on the list—if for no other reason than to picture him being pummelled by Emery. Varlamov may not have fought any opposing hockey players, but he did allegedly kick his girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, in the chest, knocked her down, and then continued to stomp on her. On October 30, he turned himself in on charges of domestic violence, including second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault. So, wouldn’t we all like to see this tough guy get what’s coming to him?