“It was a travesty. It was painful to watch a game I love turn into a sideshow like that”. That was the statement that hockey legend and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux released Monday in response to the Penguins and Islanders game last Friday. The Islanders went on to win the game 9-3, but that became an afterthought. What happened that night was sickening to watch as a hockey fan and is something I hope doesn’t happen again. There were a total of 15 fighting majors, 10 ejections, 20 game misconducts, 65 penalties and 346 penalty minutes in what was a premeditated attack for retribution by the Islanders on the Pens. The last time the two teams squared off, Max Talbot of the Penguins left Blake Comeau with a concussion and Brent Johnson – the Penguins’ goalie, mind you – broke the Islanders’ goalie, Rick DiPietro’s face in a fight. We knew there was going to be payback, but nothing like this.
After the dust settled from the game, the Islanders’ Matt Martin was suspended 4 games and Trevor Gillies was suspended 9. Martin had a sucker- punch on Talbot that he luckily saw in time or it could have ended up bad for Talbot. It brought back chilling memories to the 2004 season where then- Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi sucker- punched Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore, ending his career. Later, Gillies launched his body into Penguin’s’ winger Eric Tangradi, knocking him to the ice, punching him in the head and then continued to shout at him and mock him as he lay on the ice, concussed. Meanwhile, Penguins goon Eric Godard, received a mandatory ten game penalty for leaving the ice to come to the aid of his goalie, Brent Johnson, as the Islanders Micheal Haley set his sights on him. I feel this is the reason that Lemieux said what he said. Godard deserves his penalty for coming off of the ice bench, but the fact that the Islanders players did the damage and didn’t get more of a penalty is absurd.
Lemieux has received negative comments since releasing his statement which also including him wondering “if he wants to be a part of this NHL anymore”. Besides his former teammate Mark Recchi, not many people have voiced support for this stance. Most are calling Lemieux a hypocrite because his team has, who many consider the dirtiest player in the league, Matt Cooke. Cooke, who is currently serving a suspension for a hit from behind, is as dirty as they come, in my opinion, but he is a guy that any team in this league would love to have on their roster. Cooke had a knee-to-knee hit this year, as well as an elbow to the head of Boston Bruin forward Marc Savard last season that is having lingering effects to this day. Yes, Lemieux has the dirty player on his team but he has never taken it this far.
For the other owners and NHL executives to say that what Lemieux said is hypocritical is ludicrous because they would claim Cooke off waivers in an instant. Mind you, the Islanders’ attack was a result of their general manager, Garth Snow, calling up Martin, Gillies and Haley before the game to do the dirty work for the team. Cooke has an all-around game but is best served as an instigator. I love what he brings to the forefront but I do think he crosses the line way too often. Lemieux can save face by sitting Cooke down and telling him he loves the way he plays and go 100%, but don’t cross the line. Cutting him is not the answer.
Another reason for bashing Lemieux is that it is felt that he is being self-serving with this concern. The other owners feel it’s nice to hear from Lemieux, but would like to hear from him more often, not just when an issue concerns him or his team. Sure, he’s frustrated that his star player and face of the league, Sidney Crosby, is still out with a concussion, and that had no action was taken on the culprits. I had no problem with the David Steckel hit on Crosby in the Winter Classic,but I did have a problem with the Victor Hedman hit. For this argument, I do agree with the other owners. Lemieux is rarely at the owners’ meetings and keeps quiet most of the time. But when he speaks, he is heard.
How should the NHL control the punishments on the hits? Should it be case-by-case? If the Martin cheap shot on Talbot would have ended the same way as the Bertuzzi hit on Moore, would the punishment have increased? What if Gillies attacked Alex Ovechkin instead of Tangradi? Would the outcry be far greater than it is? I’ve heard everything from eliminating helmets, to reducing the gear, and even having the guilty party sit out as long as the injured party. I find flaws in all of them, and can’t come up with a justified answer. I would have liked to see the Islanders players suspended longer than Godard and the Islanders team receive more than a $100,000 fine. Snow said he was proud of the way his team played and the restraint they showed. Restraint? Seriously, Garth? You sucked as a goaltender and if it is even possible, you are worse as a general manager (remember that DiPietro contract?) and you deserve to be reprimanded. So, Lemieux, from this point forward, you should voice your opinions at other times as well. If not, be prepared for the backlash that will continue to come your way.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com