Work in Sports
NHL has become an 'eye for an eye' league
Posted: Sunday June 11, 2000 03:43 AM
By Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated
DALLAS -- In the first period of Game 6, long before Devils center Jason Arnott's overtime goal brought the Cup to East Rutherford, Arnott gave Stars forward Joe Nieuwendyk a little push. It was two hands to the mid-section right off the faceoff. Nieuwendyk lost his skates, fell and knocked his head pretty bad on the ice. He lay on his back for several seconds
As Nieuwendyk rose slowly, and made his way to the bench, repeated replays of the Arnott shove -- the sort of nudge you might see a dozen times in an NHL game -- appeared on the jumbo screen. With each airing the boos and the angry yells grew louder. "That's what we do here," said Stars vice president of marketing Jeff Cogen who directs the big screen programming during games. "We get the fans riled up."
To incite the white-towel whipping multitude even further, Cogen then aired a clip from The Untouchables: Robert Deniro declaring, " Somebody messes with me, I'm going to mess with them."
So now Stars management was urging their players to seek physical revenge, and the home crowd was jacked up on something more than Texas tacos. With 7:52 left in the period everyone's thirst was slaked. Stars defenseman Derian Hatcher delivered a thundering shoulder to the skull of Devils forward Petr Sykora. As Sykora lay motionless on the ice, and players for both teams gathered around in concern, many fans stood and cheered and cheered. One member of the faithful, belligerent in his Stars sweater, the scourge of section 203, shouted gleefully, "Call the coroner!"
Cogen said he didn't show a replay of the Hatcher hit -- vicious but within the NHL's generous bounds of legality -- because before he could do so a stretcher was already being wheeled onto the ice to take Sykora away. "I thought it would be in bad taste," said Cogen.
Later, as the Devils hoisted the Cup, Sykora was in a nearby hospital. And that, as much as the tense, well-played hockey we've seen in these finals, as much as the brilliant goaltending and gorgeous breakaways, is a reminder of what the NHL is very much about.
Much of Game 6 had a roller derby-type appeal. There was Claude Lemieux head butting Derian Hatcher at the end of the first period, and Scott Thornton punching Colin White three times in the head during a stoppage of play late in the second period. The catalog of such incidents in this game would be too cumbersome to list-and would almost certainly be incomplete.
Yet let us look at one last wrangle: Late in the first overtime Arnott made himself felt again. He was on top of Stars forward Blake Sloan who has been playing with a football-style jaw protector. He broke his jaw during the regular season. Sloan's helmet had come off at this point and Arnott was pushing his stick hard and relentlessly into the tender jaw and hard on Sloan's neck.
Without any doubt Arnott, who was given penalty for his misdeed, was hoping to hurt his opponent. And that, as much as Arnott's game-winning conversion of Patrik Elias's sweet feed from the corner game, is what the NHL is all too often about.