Guest Post – Callum McCarthy’s Piece “NHL’s Cold War on Character”ShareThis
This piece is absolutely tremendous. Enjoy.
NHL’s Cold War on Character
-by Callum McCarthy
Hockey has always been a sport filled with consummate professionals — real men with stiff upper lips that grew moustaches for no other reason than to wear them as a beacon of sheer manliness. The sort of guys that your manly Dad wouldn’t mind your sister marrying simply because they could go on fishing trips together. In fact, they are the sort of men who enjoy fishing, period.
Being from The Middle of Nowhere, Sweden, Linus Omark is more than likely to have cast a line or two in his time on Earth, but it appears that despite making fish late for something being a likely hobby for a young man born in a shack somewhere in the hills, Omark is not the sort of guy who would grow a moustache. No, sir.
Omark is the possessor of something that has been beaten out of most in the NHL — a genuine sense of fun. I’m not talking about your average douchey jock-in-a-dressing-room sense of humour, where lining someone’s jock strap with deep heat is deemed the pinnacle of wit, no. I’m talking about someone who has the social and mental maturity to have a little fun whilst plying his trade.
Hence, Omark felt that it was time to bust out a spin-o-rama move to begin a shootout attempt. He scored, but after the game, several members of the opposing Tampa Bay Lightning deemed his play to be disrespectful, and that this just showed “what sort of person he is.”
Yes, Dan Ellis. he’s the sort of person that can do a spin-o-rama 80 feet from net and still have it confuse you 3 seconds later. That either makes him a hypnotist, or you a terrible goalie.
It’s no surprise that hockey is the last of North America’s big four to embrace and accept those who display signs of “eccentricity”, and it seems that even after 30+ years of the NHL being a multinational entity, the idea of multiculturalism still has those in the higher echelons of the sport reaching for something to throw up into.
In a league where, as of 2008-09, 27.3% of the players are of European origin, the culture of hockey hasn’t changed anywhere near accordingly. In fact, the only real change within the NHL’s unwritten “socially acceptable behaviour” laws are that moustaches are now grown ironically.
Instead of the influx of Europeans balancing the NHL’s style of play to represent the world game, imports are expected to play the Canadian way from the very beginning to have any hope of making it as a professional in North America. Unless your talents are at the level of Alexander Semin (The Most Talented Guy In The League), deking a D-man at the blueline will have you benched for the forseeable future.
Being the lifeblood of a nation, hockey in Canada has come to represent its people in a most unflattering manner. Conservative, respectful, focused and modest are four qualities that, without context, are almost universally seen as positive characteristics.
However, in the cases of Omark, Subban, Kabanov (to an extent) — and in times gone by, Pavel Bure — these qualities do not apply, nor should they. Outgoing, playful and human to their very core, these men will never fit into the mould that coaches and GM’s pour their draft picks into from the very moment they take the stage wearing the team hat.
Beyond nurturing youngsters to be ready for draft day, Europe’s contribution to hockey outside of international play in the last 20 years has been almost unnoticeable. There are no European coaches in either the NHL or the AHL, and most notably, there are none in junior hockey either. From the moment that those from different cultures come to North America to ply their trade, it’s either play our way or not at all.
For Omark in Edmonton, it may well be exactly that attitude that is taken with him. His showboating that brought smiles to so many has no place in an asylum still under the vice-like grip of its wardens, who are keen to fight change from the ground up until they are nailed into a box.
Once the current generation of overseers die out, there will be hundreds of like minded simpletons to take their place. Men like Brendan Shanahan — one of the few talented enough to make it as a hockey player and a socially skilled human being — are few and far between.
In order for the NHL to follow suit, grow and build a product that is both entertaining and welcoming to those outside of its borders, it must allow other cultures to flourish and blend within its ranks instead of forcing them to conform to the Canadian way.
But for as long as people like Don Cherry and Dan Ellis have any say as to what is deemed acceptable behaviour on NHL ice, that idea will continue to be a pipe dream — a dream that was crushed by an archaic Cold War mindset that will prevent the natural progression of a game that does not belong to any one nation or set of values.