Serving Up Penalties To Puckheads

By John Nagle Hoya Staff Writer

It takes a different breed to be a hockey player.

I recognized this difference early in life, growing up in the hockey hotbed of New England. For whatever reason, the hockey kids were not the same as everyone else. They had to get their parents up at 5 a.m. to drive their 8 year-old butts to freezing cold rinks for their Squirt B games an hour away. They had to wear all kinds of equipment that I never had to wear on the basketball court, baseball diamond or soccer pitch – helmets with face-guards, skates that never seem to fit right or stay tied, pads everywhere, and then they were not even allowed to hit each other. They all wore their green corduroy jackets everywhere they went.

My parents were unwilling to drive me all over the eastern seaboard before dawn, so I never played organized hockey. That was fine by me. I was perfectly content playing CYO basketball while satisfying whatever craving I had for the puck with pond hockey, street hockey and floor hockey. I never learned to skate so well, but I don’t think that will prove to be a crucial life skill.

Along the way, however, hockey began to change my friends who did play. First, if they were any good, they immediately transferred to private schools with their own rinks where they could get ice time any time of day. They stopped playing other sports, or when they did play other sports, they were generally useless. You have never seen such a collection of hacks on the basketball court.

Eventually, hockey hardened some of their brains. It was at this point they became something we liked to call puckheads. Puckheads are something like meatheads, except specific to hockey players. These people are overly aggressive, prone to attacks of stupidity and generally oblivious to anything outside the realm of hockey. Some of them even wish they were Canadian. None of them should be allowed to carry big sticks.

Puckheads are something foreign to us at Georgetown. While we may have a club hockey team, and probably several Canadians in our midst, I like to believe those are all relatively well-rounded individuals. The puckheads are all at schools with varsity hockey programs, on junior hockey teams, in their seventh year of prep school or, as it has become increasingly clear, in the NHL.

Over the past few months, the NHL has come to resemble Slapshot more closely than a league of professional athletes. If you are involved with the organization right now, you feel shame. It began with the strange case of Kevin Stevens, a former star in the league when he played alongside the great Mario Lemieux while with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was never really the same player after leaving Pittsburgh, but he remained a respected and well-paid hockey player up until this season, when he was facing the possibility of ending his career with the New York Rangers.

Staring down retirement and not liking the prospects, Stevens evidently went on a binge of enormous proportions following a game in St. Louis a few months ago. After some heavy boozing at local strip club, he hired a cab to find some more fun. Unlike other famous, wealthy athletes, however, he did not go to a fancy hotel with a high-priced call girl to do designer drugs.

Instead, he picked up the first cheap hooker he could find in the decaying city of East St. Louis, scored some crack, manufactured a pipe out of a glass tube purchased at a drive-through liquor store and headed straight for the nearest flea-bag motel. Once he arrived, according to his addict escort, he proceeded to plough through the crack like a monster, not even pausing to offer a hit to his craving companion.

Far be it from me to make fun of someone who clearly has problems. I would not generally mention a drug arrest in this column, but the nature of this scenario was just too bizarre. Most of the time, when an athlete has a drug problem, it is a little more rock star-like. This type of behavior could only belong to a puckhead.

Shortly after the NHL recovered from that shocking development, along came the Boston Bruins’ Marty McSorley, a classic puckhead if ever one existed. Here is a man who has spent the better part of two decades in the sport exclusively on his ability with his fists. He does not score, he does not defend, he merely hits. He is known in hockey parlance as an enforcer. That means his job is to start fights and “protect” the more talented players around him.

Remarkably, that role had earned him great respect in his profession, and it resulted in a long and somewhat distinguished career. It was not until he got so frustrated with his inability to revisit hostilities with Vancouver’s Donald Brashear that he ever got in much trouble.

It seems that Brashear had previously thrashed McSorley in a fight in the first period of the same game but was unwilling to go back for round two. Without Don King around to negotiate the terms of the rematch, McSorley took matters into his own hands and cracked Brashear in the head with his stick with less than three seconds to play. The hit left Brashear with relatively serious head injuries and will probably keep him off the ice the rest of the season. It will definitely keep McSorley off the ice, as the league has suspended him for the remaining 23 games of the season with an eye toward more disciplinary action next year. That is, unless the Canadian justice system does not take care of him first. He is set to face a judge April 4 and could receive 18 months in prison.

The next puckhead award goes to Dallas Stars goalie Ed Belfour. Last week, the greatest goalie in the history of Sega hockey got into a bit of an altercation at a Dallas hotel while checking in with a woman who was not Mrs. Belfour. When the police arrived, they had to pry the inebriated Belfour off a 50 year-old man he was holding in a headlock. What Belfour did next brings new meaning to resisting arrest.

Instead of accepting his fate and sitting in the back of the squad car, he decided he wanted to ride up front. He got in and put his feet up on the dashboard, then threw up on himself. When they finally got him in the backseat, he suddenly became very contrite, if not very sober. According to one arresting officer, he offered the police $100,000 to drop the matter.

When that did not work, he kept escalating his bid, not stopping until reaching (pinky to the mouth) $1 billion! The whole thing is so ludicrous that he is not even being charged with attempted bribery. I have never seen such drunken stupidity, and I have had ample opportunity.

Finally, there is the case of New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer. It is often said that those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. I don’t think Niedermayer was a history major in school.

Less than a month after the McSorley incident, Niedermayer got frustrated with the constant elbowing he was taking from Florida Panthers hitman Peter Worrell and cracked him over the head with his stick. Everyone in the North America had seen the McSorley hit and the punishment it received, but apparently it still looked like a pretty good idea to Niedermayer. Because he is not the goon cSorley is, and Worrell was not hurt as badly by the hit, Niedermayer was only suspended for 10 games, although he will lose more money because he is paid better than McSorley. For his part, he is sorry and thinks the suspension will act as a deterrent against future stick attacks.

Looking at the brainpower of many of his colleagues, I doubt it.

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