Here we are several days removed from the Brawl on Long Island and the backlash is still being felt. The Penguins have lost two games in a row, in not so impressive fashion, and will take on the struggling Colorado Avalanche tonight.
Would we still be talking about the incident this much had Mario Lemieux not issued a stern statement about the state of the game?
Whether intended or not, Mario’s statement drew the proverbial line in the sand. Either you agree with his assessment of the current state of the game, or you don’t. Those who don’t are calling him a hypocrite based solely on the fact that Matt Cooke wears a Penguins’ sweater.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can only defend Cooke’s actions to a certain point. He’s an agitator. I even refer to him as the Sidney Crosby of agitators, but he does cross the line. When you play the game with an edge like Cooke, you’re going to cross that line from time to time.
Again, I’m not defending the man. This is simply how it is.
Look around the league. If you’re not a Penguins fan, look at your own team. I guarantee you, 100 percent, that a player of Cooke’s type owns a roster spot on every team in the league.
The problem in all of this is that Cooke had nothing to do with the incident Friday night. He was serving a suspension for hitting Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin into the boards from behind. I’ll reiterate this again. He deserved the suspension.
Islanders’ goaltender Rick DiPietro obviously had a score to settle for Cooke running him over on three occasions (one was an acting job by DiPietro) during a previous game. As such, DiPietro took a cheap shot at Cooke during the game on Feb. 2. His actions triggered what led to a goalie fight between him and Brent Johnson. He even admitted as much after the game.
However, those who don’t agree with Lemieux still see Cooke as the reason for supposedly being a hypocrite. What if another owner comes out and agrees with Mario? Would they be hypocrites too because they employ Sean Avery, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Carcillo, etc.?
Okay fine, let’s leave the owners out of the equation for a second.
Lemieux’s comments must have some merit for current and former players to come out and support him. On Monday, Kris Versteeg and Jay Rosehill voiced their support.
Mark Recchi backed Lemieux about the suspensions not being long enough for New York’s Matt Martin and Trevor Gillies.
On Tuesday, Bobby Holik joined the ranks of Lemieux supporters by calling the Islanders’ actions “bush league.”
Former Penguin Rob Brown rode the fence on the issue saying he agrees with Mario, but people are going to see Mario as a hypocrite for having Cooke on the roster.
The other thing I’ve noticed over the last few days is that there appears to be differing opinions over the perception of the incident between casual fans and hockey purists. Most casual fans look at the brawls and chalk it up to being part of the game and fun to watch.
The purists and die-hard fans saw what Lemieux saw. The incident was embarrassing.
What transpired Friday night was not hockey. I fully believe that fighting has a place in the game. Things happen in the heat of the moment, but sorry Zenon Konopka, your team’s actions Friday night were not made in the heat of the moment. It was a premeditated attack.
Claiming that if Max Talbot fought in a previous game would have prevented anything from happening Friday night is asinine. What did Talbot do to offend the Islanders so much as to call up an AHL enforcer as reinforcement for Fridays tilt? Was it the two hits he dropped during one shift on Feb. 2, with the second leaving Blake Comeau concussed?
Both hits were clean and you’re going to hold a grudge because someone got hurt? I’d hate to see what would happen if a Cooke “cheap shot” left an Islander incapacitated if that was their response on Friday. Injuries are a part of the game. Just look at the Penguins’ injury report right now.
The fact is, I’m glad Mario spoke up. Someone needed to.
The league is cracking down on headshots, which is a great thing. Yes, I hear you loud and clear Cooke haters. Yet, the league had a blatant headshot and subsequent attack on a defenseless Eric Tangradi and the best the NHL could come up with was a nine-game suspension.
The NHL could now be at a crossroads. I don’t really think Mario would pack it up and bail on the franchise, at least I hope not. However, love him or hate him, when Mario speaks people listen.
You can sit there and call him a hypocrite all you want, but doing so will not usher in the change that the game needs. It’s not whining to see the game that we all love change for the better. Events such as the brawl, put hockey in the spotlight.
Under normal circumstances, that’s not a bad thing. However, ESPN seems to forget the sport exists until these incidents occur. For a league that is trying to win back fans and shed the “niche sport” title, failing to crack down on Gillies and Martin is just another step back.
I would love nothing more than to see the popularity of the sport start rivaling that of the other major sports leagues. Obviously, the game will probably never reach the level of popularity in Canada, but it would be nice to stop hearing how television ratings compare to MLS and the WNBA.
Baring further developments on this issue, I’m done with it.
It happened, the NHL feels it responded appropriately and the anti-Penguins fans are going to say what they’re going to say.
Let’s just hope we don’t get a repeat performance on April 8.
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